By Courtney Emken
co-written by Jen Larson, KPA-CTP
We’ve all seen movies and cartoons like Cats and Dogs, where felines square off against Fido. People tend to get defensive, and fling articles about why cats are better hunters, or how dogs love us more than cats at the other camp. But the question remains, can cats and dogs coexist?
Luckily, there’s hope! Our trainer Jen has two dogs and seven cats. If she can keep that household harmonious, then anything is possible. The key to success is understanding how to make each animal feel comfortable and safe around the other.
How To Properly Introduce Cats And Dogs
Introductions should be slow and careful above all else. You may get lucky once or twice when rushing introductions, but you’re playing a risky game. A bad introduction can set your pet’s relationship back indefinitely.
Owners should plan to make an introduction as comfortable as possible, for both species. Before the cats or dogs ever meet, place the new animal in an isolated room where the other pet can’t enter. Let them get comfortable in that environment before preparing an introduction.
After they’ve acclimated, you can begin to positively associate the animals to each other. Feed the animals on either side of the door. This allows them to eat and smell one another without direct interaction or confrontation. After enough repetition they’ll begin to positively associate each other’s smell with the pleasantness of feeding time.
Scent is a dog’s main means of perceiving the world. By smelling the cat before a greeting, they can become familiar to their particular scent. This helps to ease their transition. To aide this, we recommend rubbing the cat down with a towel or blanket and giving it to the dog to smell. Repeat this with your dog, and give that towel/blanket to your cat for them to smell too.
While it’s great to expose your cat to the dog’s scent, a feline’s main perception is sight. They tend to react more negatively to dogs when thrown in with them right away. You should allow them to observe from a safe distance, and become comfortable with the sight and smell of the dog first.
How To Repair An Unhealthy Cat-Dog Relationship
You can use similar tactics with cats and dogs who live together, but don’t have the best relationship. Your goal should be to create a positive emotional association between the animals whenever possible. Some easy methods of doing this include:
- Giving treats to both animals simultaneously
- Praising calmness around each other
- Doing our feeding exercise from above
For example, let’s say you’re sitting in the kitchen with both animals. Give the cat a can of wet food for dinner, and toss the dog a couple treats as well. This way they’re both getting something they value while in each other’s presence.
Their thought process will go from: “oh look it’s that dumb dog/cat” to “when that dumb dog/cat comes around I get cool stuff… maybe they aren’t so bad?” They’ll begin to lose their fears and actually start to like the other animal. Do this enough and they’ll become fast friends.
Whether things are going well or not-so-well, you should give your cat hiding places. Even if the dog isn’t chasing them, cats still need their space. Try to make room for them either up high, or clear out some space for them to hide underneath, places like:
- On top of a book shelf
- Underneath your bed
- Inside a closet
It’s vital for a cat’s peace of mind to know they that they can escape if they need to.
It’s also up to you to prevent them from antagonizing each other. You need to monitor their interactions and be sensitive to when something might go wrong. If you can’t supervise them, keep them separate to ensure their safety and well-being.
For despairing owners of warring pets, have hope! Many cats and dogs are trusting companions who enjoy each other’s presence. They can be best buddies who cuddle and play together. It’s just up to us owners to guide their relationship toward the right path.
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