I’m sure we would all prefer our cats and dogs to live side by side in perfect harmony. But the truth is, for cats and dogs living together there’s a large variation of behaviors that can occur within the relationship. In many cases cats and dogs have a strong bond and become the best of buddies. But, there are also times when the relationship just doesn’t seem to work out well in which case it will be helpful for you to know how to intervene in order to keep the peace.
Although it would seem that size would be a likely indicator as to who would claim the top level of the hierarchy, it most certainly isn’t always the case. It’s possible to have a teacup sized dog that chases a large fat cat, or a small sized cat that becomes the boss of a Doberman.
As in humans, cats and dogs have their own unique personalities, with various contributing factors as to why they may, or may not get along; age, prey/chase drive, or submissive/aggressive behavior are some of the things that may play a role.
Things to keep in mind prior to bringing a cat and dog together…
When bringing pets together, think about the personality of each pet and whether or not you feel they will be compatible. For instance, an extremely timid cat that runs under the bed at the drop of a hat probably wouldn’t do well with a rambunctious, high-energy dog that likes to chase small animals.
If you are adopting from a shelter, be sure to inform them of any pets you have at home. In many cases they are already aware of how well their adoptable cats and dogs get along with other animals. If they are not sure, they may agree to do a test for you.
When I adopted my former dog they had brought her into the cat room to see how she would react. Once she entered the room of about 50 cats and proceeded to calmly sit down, I knew she was the dog for me! Prior to her, I had picked out a different dog that didn’t do nearly as well. In fact, she did quite terrible. Upon entering the cat room she lunged and barked furiously at those poor kitties. Although I was terrible disappointed that I couldn’t adopt her, I also knew that I wanted to create a home situation inclusive of peace and harmony.
Of course, it’s not always that easy. People have all different reasons for combining multiple animals within the same household, and checking compatibility prior is not always possible. Perhaps you opened your home to a stray, have a new roommate with a pet, or agreed to take in a pet from someone who could no longer care for it. Whatever the case, you’re reading this because you need a solution!
Introducing a Dog and Cat for the First Time
Bringing a new cat or dog home for the first time and plopping them into the center of the house with zero precautions could end up disastrous. You just never know how they will end up reacting to each other and you don’t want to end up causing chasing, fighting, or stress on either animal.
- Keep them apart in separate rooms for the first couple of days.
- While they are being kept apart, introduce them to each other’s scent through items, such as a toy, or blanket that has been laid upon. Leave these items in the room with one another so they can learn each other’s scent in preparation for the first meeting.
- Eventually, you will want them to be able to smell each other under a door, or through a baby gate. Feeding them near each other, but still on either side of the door or baby gate, is a great way to associate the scent of one another with something that pleases them (the food).
- You should not do a face to face introduction until both animals appear to be calm, and at ease with their new surroundings and the scent of one another.
- Introductions are best done slowly, and with your dog on a leash. Only speak in gentle tones so as not to overly excite either animal. Never let the dog chase the cat.
- It’s important to stay calm and relaxed (no yelling, even if they misbehave) when doing introductions. Dogs in particular will pick up on your energy and emotions and react to them. You want both animals to feel calm and safe.
- Keep the greeting short, and then separate them once again. Increase the length of the greetings each time until you are eventually able to keep them together permanently.
When the Dog is Boss/Issues with the Dog
It’s quite common for dogs to chase cats and is probably the number one complaint of people when describing conflict between the cat and dog relationship.
Some dogs possess a high predatory chase drive leading to an overwhelming desire to chase anything that moves…unfortunately, this can include the household cat. Some dog breeds possess a stronger chase drive than others, such as a herding or hunting breed. With a dog that loves to chase, movement is the trigger, so it would make perfect sense for a dog to instinctively chase a cat that tends to run away.
I have to include here, that having a herding or hunting breed does not automatically mean that your dog will chase your cat. I’ve seen first-hand that a herding dog and a cat can live harmoniously together as my prior herding dog never once chased either of my cats.
Steps Toward Correcting your Dog’s Behavior
The more your dog is allowed to chase the cat, the more it will become the norm and will continue. The best thing you can do is to never let the chasing begin in the first place. But, if you’re already in a situation where it has been happening, don’t worry, it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do to help correct it.
Some things you can do to help keep the peace are as follows…
- Always make sure your cat has an escape route. This tip alone can make all the difference in your cat’s life as well as yours. Cats are smart, and when they know they have an escape route they can often become brave. For them this means less stress and hiding away from the dog, and for you this means actually being able to see, and enjoy, your cats! Cats love to perch on a high shelf and check out life down below, so get creative and provide whatever you can dream up…shelving, cat trees, or furniture will do the trick, as long as your dog can’t access it.
- Teach your dog to ignore the cat, and pay attention to you. Every time the cat is in the room and your dog looks away, provide a treat and verbal praise. Make sure treats are always accessible so that you never skip an opportunity to be consistent in doing this. The idea is for your dog to associate ignoring the cat (or looking away) with a fantastic reward from you. Chasing a cat is great fun for a dog though, so be sure you have the tastiest of treats because he will need to prefer it over the fun of chasing the cat. Eventually your dog will learn to ignore the cat and you can do away with the treats.
- Teach your dog the “leave it” command. Once your dog has this down pat you can use the command “leave it” when your cat is in your dog’s presence.
- Keep your dog mentally stimulated, and well exercised in order to prevent boredom. A bored dog will oftentimes find an outlet through naughty behavior…such as chasing the cat. So, don’t let your cat become a boredom buster! Great ways to exercise your dog are through walks, bike riding (with a safe dog bike leash), treadmill, agility, dog parks, playing fetch or Frisbee. Mental stimulation can include training your dog to do new tricks, providing chew toys, a stuffed KONG toy, or dog interactive toys (e.g. dog puzzle games).
When the Cat is Boss/Issues with the Cat
While I admit I am not a cat expert…after all it is dogs I write about…I am the proud owner of two cats that I adore! I’ve also had many cats growing up. So, perhaps I can lend a few thoughts and tips from my observations throughout the years, and the bit of research I’ve done.
I have to interject a story here, maybe there’s a few of you that can even relate…I have not personally had a cat that attached my dog, however, many years ago I did have an issue with my cat attaching children. It’s not quite as bad as it sounds, although it could have been if it was allowed to continue. Mittens (who normally was sweet as could be) was not your typical run-off-in-the-woods kind of cat so we would tend to let him out in the yard with us quite often. One day, some of the neighborhood kids came into the yard to play, and one of them fell down and began a full out cry, stood up, and began running across the yard. “Sweet” little Mittens (he was actually quite fat) zoomed across the yard at full speed, and pounced on the child while wrapping his furry little cat paws around his leg. Luckily Mittens had no front claws, and although it first appeared that he had bitten the child, there were actually no bite marks to the skin. Foolishly thinking it was a fluke (because Mittens was great with everyone!) I let him out in the yard another day and there was a second incidence. Needless to say, my sweet little Mittens was no longer allowed to play outside with the children.
Cats can have prey drive just like dogs can. In the case of Mittens, the high pitched cry of the child perhaps sounded like a hurt animal, and this mixed with the motion of the child running across the lawn was too much for Mitten’s prey drive to ignore.
Small dogs can also stir up a cat’s prey drive. Or, how about the movement of a dog’s wagging tail? All that motion may also be a bit too much fun for a cat to pass up.
But, there are additional things that may produce bad behavior in your cat…
- Although cats can be aloof, and in most cases unconcerned one way or the other as to what the dog is up to, now take a rambunctious dog that gets into a cat’s space, and you may have a different story. When a cat’s stress level rises you tend to see a fight or flight response. If there isn’t a safe zone in which your cat can take flight to, a fight response may ensue where a cat will lash out. This could mean a full out pounce on the dog, a swatting of the paws, or just some harmless hissing or growling. Just another reason to provide shelving, cat trees or furniture in which to allow your cat to escape and alleviate the stress and cat attacks.
- Your cat may get bothered, and lash out, if the dog is allowed to eat, or get near her food/water dish, toys, or bed. Animals can tend to be possessive of these things, and rightly so! In this case, food should be given in a space higher up where the dog cannot reach, or in a room your dog doesn’t have access to. The great thing about cats is that they can get into spaces your dog can’t. For example, putting a gate across the bottom of the stairs can prevent the dog from going up, but still allow the cat to jump up through the staircase spindles…voila! an entire upstairs oasis for your cat!
- Your dog’s energy level may be much higher than your cat cares to deal with. To keep your cat from lashing out due to becoming overwhelmed, or stressed, it’s important to keep your dog’s energy level down when he is around the cat. As mentioned earlier, this means keeping your dog mentally stimulated, and well exercised. This will bring your dog’s energy level down to a state that matches your cat’s energy level, and produce a much more peaceful atmosphere.
- Sometimes just a hiss and a swat of the paw is all it takes to put a naughty kitty-chasing dog in his place, but it can also be dangerous if a claw catches a dog’s eye. So, while it may seem good that your cat can stand his ground, and take care of himself when needed, this behavior should be corrected before it becomes ongoing. Not only can it be dangerous for your dog, but it is undoubtedly stressful for your poor cat.
Steps Toward Correcting your Cat’s Behavior
- As mentioned, above, make sure your cat has a place to escape from your dog. A stressed out cat can tend to lash out, but if they have a means of escaping the dog their stress level will be greatly reduced.
- Be sure to play with your cat. The importance of playing/exercising a dog in order to curb bad behavior seems to be discussed much more frequently than the importance of playing/exercising a cat. But, similar to a dog, a tired and well exercised cat, will also improve upon bad kitty behaviors.
- Be sure your cat has his own space for eating, drinking and sleeping. Fighting with the dog for personal space can cause unnecessary tension and start fights.
- Dogs can be attention hogs; make sure you are giving equal attention to both your dog and cat so neither feels possessive of you.
A cat that has all his needs met will be a happy cat, and therefore a much better behaved cat.
Tips to Keep in Mind
When you’re not home to supervise the interactions between your dog and cat, it’s best to keep them safely apart by means of crate training, using baby gates, closing doors, or whatever works for your household. Of course, this is just until they learn to get along, and you feel it’s safe to leave them together.
Cats and dogs are great at sensing when you are stressed or upset, so while you are working out the conflicts remember to stay calm and relaxed in order to get your pets behaving the same.
When nothing seems to be working, consider seeking out an animal behaviorist. They can observe and easily decipher the issues and what can be done to solve them.
Rehoming a pet is not ideal, but sometimes a necessity. I will never recommend simply giving up and dropping a pet at the shelter. However, when things just don’t seem to be working out no matter how hard you’ve tried, and when your pet seems stressed and miserable, seeking out a new living arrangement through family, friends or co-workers may end up being the kindest thing you can do.