So we can all agree that dogs are incredible. They are our constant companions, giving us comfort, playtime, and plenty of life lessons. However, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that cats are pretty cool too. Our cat, Kitticus Maximus – or Kiki for short, joined our home around two years ago. We brought Kiki into a home with four dogs: a Siberian Husky, Lab-mix, German Shepherd, and mini Australian Shepherd. That’s a pretty big dog family to step into! Lucky for us, Kiki and our dogs adjusted quickly and never skipped a beat. They play together, eat together, and even sleep together on the same couch.
Creating a cohesive relationship between your dog and cat is important for a number of reasons. It puts less stress on the animals and allows for safer interactions between them. It’s also a huge relief for any pet owner knowing they do not have to run around and police their pets. Safety is the most critical reason for trying to help your dog and cat get along. On the bright side, it’s not too difficult, though it can take some time and patience! We are going to discuss several tips for introducing your pets to one another, keeping the peace, and hopefully creating a bond that will last for years to come!
Kiki Meets the Gang
Kiki’s first night in the home! He was six months old when we officially adopted him. Kiki had already been around dogs for his entire young life, so he wasn’t blown away when we first introduced him to our dogs. However, you still never know how an animal will react when a new animal shows up on their turf, so it’s best to still proceed with caution.
To start us off, I’ll summarize how I personally went about introducing Kiki to the family. Adopting Kiki was, to be frank, a very spur of the moment decision. My sister lived “in the country” and was overrun with kittens. My husband and I had considered taking home one of the young kittens, but never thought much about actually doing it. As we were literally saying our goodbyes one night, we decided to adopt one of the slightly older kittens. Kiki was six months old when we decided to formally make him a part of our lives. Luckily, Kiki had grown up around my sister’s large lab-mix, so he wasn’t as intimidated by dogs as a brand new kitten might have been. When we arrived home, we put all of the dogs outside before bringing our new cat inside. Kiki explored for a few minutes by himself, and then we brought in the first dog.
Ghost seemed like the best choice for initially breaking the ice. He is generally calm, friendly, and overly lazy, so we knew he would be the least likely to chase Kiki or frighten him.
We chose to bring our Siberian Husky inside first. Ghost is the calmest dog out of the group, so we figured he’d be our best bet on making the initial greeting session less scary. I held Kiki in my lap while Ghost frantically sniffed him, wagging his tail with intense excitement. Though Ghost was definitely interested, he was mostly reserved and showed his excitement by just sniffing and staring at him. Kiki reacted calmly, though he was obviously annoyed with the frequent sniffing and “booping” Ghost insisted on doing.
We brought in the other three dogs one at a time until Kiki had met all four pups. It also helped that all of our dogs were each adopted one or two years apart from one another, so they certainly weren’t surprised to find out that they had a new furry brother, though I think the fact that it was a cat was surprising. We made sure to verbally discipline our dogs when they started to chase Kiki and we allowed Kiki to hide when necessary in a few safe places in the house.
Within a few days, our dogs could have cared less about Kiki and stopped harassing him with their constant sniffing and persistent chasing. Today, only one of our dogs actually plays with Kiki and we definitely don’t stop Kiki when he decides to put the smack down on one of the dogs — I call it balance.
So now that you’ve read about Kiki’s personal journey from the country to the dog house, let’s get into the tips for helping your dog and cat get along.
Introducing Your Dog and Cat
So you’ve adopted your new feline companion and are preparing to bring them into your home. Your dog has already lived in your home for the last five years and has staked their claim. You’ll want to prepare for the real possibility that your dog may decide that your new cat is a perfect toy to chase. If you’re able to find out any information about your cats history, learning whether they have any experience with dogs could be helpful. Since our cat had spent his first six months of life living alongside a very large lab-mix, he wasn’t alarmed to meet our dogs, and didn’t attempt to run or hide when they got in his personal space.
According to Professor Katherine A. Houpt, your dog will likely end up the trouble maker, if trouble is going to happen. Dogs have a biological interest in chasing smaller animals and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that your dog may decide to chase your cat all over the house. You’ll want to quickly stop this behavior, though it may take some time to completely get it out of your dog’s system. Dogs naturally want to chase things — it’s part of their hunter instinct, so be patient with your dog, but persistent. Otherwise, your dog could one day harm your cat if this behavior isn’t broken.
Create Separate Spaces
Dr. Gary Landsberg encourages putting your cat toys, bed, litterbox, or other items in a separate room that can be closed off from the rest of the house. This allows both your cat and dog to get used to the new smells of another animal. It will also help your cat initially adjust to their new environment. For the first few days, it is also recommended that you allow your cat and dog to each explore the home separately by keeping one pet confined to another room while the other meanders around the house and checks everything out. This will help them feel more comfortable with one another when they start sharing the same spaces together.
Creating separate spaces for your dog and cat is a good way to help the two adapt to the new smells in the home, and will create appropriate boundaries. You can keep their toys in these separate spaces, as well as your cat’s litter box. Besides, I don’t think Kiki would like sharing his catnip with anyone else in the house!
Give Your Cat a Way Out
Even if a cat has experience around dogs, it’s important to have some safe areas around the house where your cat can hide if the situation becomes too frightening or too overwhelming. This may require setting up a baby gate in the house so your cat can flee to another area of the home. I purchased an extra tall baby gate with a swing out gate to keep my dogs out of the the back hallway of our house. This allows our cat to hang out in the guest bedrooms without being bothered by the dogs.
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You can use treats to help guide your cat to these secret hiding places. This may include safe areas under furniture, the bed, or places in the house where your cat can perch themselves out of reach of the dog. Having these spaces will also allow your cat to watch and inspect the new activity in the house.
Restrain Your Dog
Keeping your dog restrained will help ensure your cat’s safety during the initial meeting. You think you may know your dog, but sometimes they’ll surprise you, especially when there’s a new animal in the house. If possible, try to keep your dog occupied so that your cat has time to watch and visually inspect their new canine companion. Using healthy dog treats or food may help keep your dogs attention. Aside from wanting to keep your cat safe, you want to be in control of the interactions. This may mean that you’ll need to crate your dog during the first few encounters until you sense that everyone is more at ease, but using a leash or harness is a good place to start.
You’ll want to avoid leaving your dog and cat unsupervised until you feel secure about their safety. Once your dog and cat start interacting with one another without being constantly obsessed, then you can begin giving them space to be alone together. It’s recommended that you do this by just leaving the room at first, so that you can still check in when necessary or swoop in and rescue your cat. Once the dog and cat start ignoring one another and going on about their normal activities, then it’s a good sign that you can start leaving them alone for more extended periods of time.
It can be difficult to tell when playtime becomes dangerous. If your dog ignores you and stays fixated on your cat, this isn’t a good sign. Predatory behavior can be natural to some dogs, so you’ll want to look out for overly obsessed behavior. Aggressive behavior like growling, hissing, or biting may indicate that you need to seek professional assistance. The most common behavior that needs addressing is chasing. Dog’s just love chasing cats! Proper obedience may stop some behavior, but not always. When possible, if you plan to adopt a cat, see if you can bring the cat home for several days to gauge how ready your dog is for a new cat. Just like people, our pets have personalities that can sometimes clash. If you’re bringing a new animal home, consider how their behavior will mesh with your other pets. A cat that is shy will likely not do well with a dog who is overly playful. The most important point to remember is safety. If your dog and cat cannot interact safely then you’ll need to bring in a professional, or accept that they just aren’t compatible.
If you are concerned about your dog and cat developing a healthy relationship, then this statistic may give you some comfort. The American Veterinary Medical Association report that approximately 44% of U.S pet owners will have more than one type of pet, and the most common combination includes dogs and cats. It can take weeks to help your dog and cat completely adjust to one another. That’s okay! It’s important to stay patient, but alert to warning signs. Teaching your dog that the cat is a normal part of its environment will help keep the relationship running in a positive direction.
Bailey and Kiki constantly play fight together, but sometimes they’ll calm down long enough to sleep together on the couch. When they play fight, they’ll chase each other around the house, nip, slap, and pull at one another, but never actually cause pain. Kiki meows loudly when he’s aggravated and tired of playing, and for the most part, Bailey gets the hint.
Once your cat and dog have learned how to properly communicate with one another, they’ll start safely playing together and hanging out in the same space. Cats and dogs that know how to communicate and play will chase, swat, instigate, and tussle with one another, but know when it’s time to stop. Finally seeing your dog and cat interact positively can be incredibly heartwarming and rewarding. Slowly building the relationship by using persistent obedience training and maintaining appropriate boundaries will instill the right foundation and keep your new pets happy.
The below video offers a helpful and insightful summary of the tips and tricks that we discussed, along with others. Remember, safety and patience are key!