Can cats and dogs live together?

Article by Harriett Type

Harriett Type is a writer and dog lover from Sussex, England.

There is a misconceived notion that cats and dogs can never be friends, that they are arch enemies, pitted against each other for eternity; a scenario perfectly depicted by the shenanigans in Tom and Jerry cartoons, with Spike hindering Tom’s cunning plans to capture Jerry. 

It is commonly thought that, at the very best, the feline and canine of the animal kingdom will tolerate each other in the home. However, with some careful planning and training it is possible to foster a friendship between man’s best friend and a feline furball.

Perfect scenario

The ideal way to create a harmonious household is to introduce your two furry friends into the home as a young kitten and puppy. The dog’s hunting instincts will not be fully developed, and the cat’s playful curiosity will override its sense of self-preservation so they will meet on more equal terms. They’ll still need to be supervised for the first few days of interaction to ensure that fur doesn’t fly.

Top cat

Introducing a young puppy to an adult cat can also be fairly straightforward.  If the puppy is young enough the cat will be less intimidated and should put the puppy in its place if it puts a paw out of line.  Most dogs will then accept that this cat is the boss and show it the respect it deserves. 

However, do introduce the new housemates slowly and carefully as you don’t want your new puppy to receive any nasty scratches. If your cat is shy and timid, then you might need to introduce the two critters more gradually. 

Pet playdates

A dog and a cat in a garden together

Introducing a new cat or dog into the home, where there is an existing adult pet, can be a real challenge. Most adult cats have learnt to be wary of dogs, and many dogs have learnt that cats act like prey, so you are going to need time and patience to work around this.

In this scenario, you can’t expect a new relationship to form in the space of an afternoon. Take it slowly and, if you’re likely, it might take just a couple of sessions, especially if your cat is confident and sassy. However, you should allow for at least a couple of weeks of supervised contact sessions.

To get started, make sure your dog is well trained in the basics: returning to you and sitting on command, in particular. Next, create an area or territory for each pet. For example, perhaps the cat will live in the kitchen for a while and the dog in the sitting room. Keep them separate for a couple of days, before swapping the areas over. Be careful to make sure that they don’t meet during the swap.  The swap allows them to get used to each other’s scent. If the dog is barking, whining, and trying to get at the cat then keep swapping territories over a period of a few days until your pooch has calmed down.  

The next step is to create a way for the new housemates to meet without being able to bite or scratch each other. Perhaps use a baby gate between the two territories.  Again, keep them like this for a few days until they are totally calm and ideally ignoring each other. If you don’t have the option to use a gate, then keep the dog on a tight lead and allow the cat to go into the same room. When both parties are relaxed, you can take the dog off the lead or remove the gate. However, do this very cautiously and make sure that the cat has an escape route and somewhere safe to hide in a hurry. This is where your dog’s obedience comes into play. You must be able to tell your dog to come to heel and sit, to put a stop to any chasing.  

If you have multiple mutts, then you will need to follow the process with each one. Once everyone is behaving, you can carefully let the animals have the usual run of the house. If you allow all of the dogs them to meet the cat together too early, they might develop a pack mentality and gang up on your kitty.  

If in doubt, ask a trainer for help

If you have followed the different steps a few times and your dog still sees the cat as a potential snack, then ask a trainer for help. However, you do need to consider that any dog with a strong prey instinct just might not be able to co-exist peacefully with a cat. If they continue to be excited and stressed by the cat’s presence and desperately want to chase it, regardless of your training, you might need to accept that the animals need to live separately.

Companionable cats and dogs can be a real pleasure to have at home and it is not so hard to achieve. They can provide great company for each other and, as millions of funny video clips prove, their silly antics can be great fun too.

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