“Dogs and cats, living together...mass hysteria!” (Dr. Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters, 1984). This quote always comes to mind when I see pictures of dogs and cats happily co-existing, snuggled up together, grooming each other, and living a life of peace and harmony. Then I think of my own dog, a Siberian Husky, who, despite growing up with two cats, became a critter killer, no matter what the species. If it was small and ran fast, he was after it, thanks to his natural prey instinct.
As the age-old cliché goes, dogs and cats are as compatible as cats and mice. It may be due to breed, experience, or just personality. But don't let reputation completely deter you from having both creatures in your home. Now, I have two dogs and a cat who thinks he's a dog, and they are living happily ever after.
Every individual dog has his own personality traits, and some don't follow the rules. For instance, although they are a high-risk breed, Alaskan Malamutes are also very protective of their pack. And if they have grown up with or raised a kitten, they are likely to protect it until the end.
Relationships that are built early on in life are usually the safest. A puppy who has grown up around a cat will most likely never turn on it. He may dislike other cats or small animals he meets, but not his own. However, if natural prey instincts kick in, harm may come to your feline family member. There's never a 100 percent way of knowing how it will go between two animals, because they are just that: animals.
Introducing a New Dog to Your Cat
If you have a cat at home and would like to introduce a new dog to the family, it may be best to bring in a puppy. Otherwise, an adult dog can be risky. However, there are ways to tell if that lovable dog at the shelter, begging to come home with you, will work out. Dogs respond well to their natural senses, and you can learn a lot from their body language.
A new study revealed that dogs are more responsive to cat sounds than to the sight or smell of a cat. So, if you are interested in a particular shelter dog and want to assess whether he will fare well in your home with cats, bring a recording of cat sounds to the meet and greet, and see how the dog reacts. A dog with a history of harming cats will take longer to orient himself to the cat sounds, the study found.
Always ask the shelter or rescue organization about the dog’s previous history and his behavior around people and other animals, if available. No matter how desperate those puppy eyes are, trust that history will repeat itself. If the dog has gone after a cat or other small animal in the past, he most likely will again.
All in all, make sure to do your research before bringing a new pet into your household. Look into the dog's breed. Is he bred for hunting small prey, such as sight hounds (e.g., Greyhounds, Whippets)? Does he have a strong natural prey instinct, such as Samoyeds, Siberian Huskies, or Malamutes? Is he a Weimaraner, which is never recommended near cats? If any of these breeds are of interest to you, it may not be worth the risk of endangering your house cat near them.
If you are bringing home an adult dog, be sure to familiarize him with the sounds of your cat, and see how he reacts. And always, always closely supervise first introductions and interactions between any two animals. You can never completely predict or trust how the two will respond to each other, and it is always best to err on the side of caution.
Natasha Feduik is a licensed veterinary technician with Garden City Park Animal Hospital in New York, where she has been practicing for 10 years. Natasha received her degree in veterinary technology from Purdue University. Natasha has two dogs, a cat, and three birds at home and is passionate about helping people take the best possible care of their animal companions.