“Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies… Rivers and seas boiling… Dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!” The Ghostbusters may have had the right idea with many of these signs of calamity, but cats and dogs living together doesn’t have to be a disaster.
Just like there are all different kinds of people in the world – some people get along and some people don’t – dogs and cats are the same. Some dogs and cats will naturally get along, and some won’t. However, it’s vital that all companion pets have a safe home, so if you’re set on adding a new species to your home and everyone happily co-existing, it’s important to create a non-violent, healthy environment (aside from providing general preventative care). Here are some ways to make your mixed-pet home happy.
Assess Your Pet’s Temperament
People tend to start with one type of pet and then add another. Your dog or cat might seem totally chill, which is why you’re considering adding a new element to the mix, but be sure to really assess the situation before you go changing things up. Have you ever had your cat interact with dogs? How did they react? If you’ve never seen your dog with a cat or your cat with a dog, you may consider staging a test run just to get an idea of how they might respond to a new type of animal.
It’s always easier to create a mixed-pet home when your first pet is easy-going to begin with, but if they’re not, it doesn’t always mean you can’t get a second pet. And on the flip side of things, just because your first pet seems relatively mellow, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be a walk in the park to introduce a second pet into your home. Always consider the personalities of both animals – it may even be helpful to look for a companion that has already been exposed to the other species in the past.
Prepare ahead of Time
Once you have decided to take the plunge and change your current dynamic, it’s important to prepare, prepare, and prepare some more. You should have separate areas for each pet. Each pet needs its own bed, toys, places to socialize, and places to go when they want.
Your dog should be allowed to interact with, play with, and exercise in his or her own space. Also, make sure your cat has a separate area that is quiet and protected. The cat’s litter box and feeding/water stations should always be out of reach of the dog, as you don’t want the dog to be eating the cat’s food. Additionally, some dogs will use the litter box as a “cookie jar” if they can access it, and you definitely don’t want that.
Don’t Rush Things
When you first bring home your new dog or cat, it’s important to plan ahead and take your time. If you allow a cat and a dog to meet in an open space for the first time, it is likely that both animals will fail. Instead, keep the animals separate over the course of a few days, rotating which animal is restrained and which has freedom in order to allow each one plenty of time to investigate the other’s scent.
Whether you confine your dog to a crate or another room, if the dog constantly digs at the separation barrier or barks at the cat for more than a day or two, the relationship most likely won’t work without the help of a professional trainer. Until the dog is calm (or at least not in a craze over the cat) and the cat is calm, eating and using the litter box normally, keep them apart and securely confined when no one is home (so unsupervised interactions never occur).
When you are ready for the next step, allow the cat and dog to both be in the same room at the same time, but keep the dog securely on a leash. If you ever notice any fear or aggression displayed on either the cat or dog’s part, keep with your controlled, leashed interactions longer. Keep going with this controlled interaction until the dog is calm, ignores the cat, or the cat is eating and using the litterbox as normal.
Some cats and dogs may not be able to live together harmoniously even after careful introductions. American Humane identifies the following warning signs to alert you that your pet may be in danger:
- Your dog is too focused on the cat (or the room where the cat lives), or completely ignores you. Or, he lunges as soon as the cat moves.
- No matter how long your pets are allowed to adapt to the situation, your cat will growl, hiss, or swat at you.
- If one of them lunges towards, growls at or snaps at the other, the other is calm, still, and quiet.
In such cases, have a backup plan. Address any signs of distress ASAP – even with the help of your veterinary team. Are you able to keep your pet in separate, closed-off spaces for the rest of their lives? Is it necessary to rehome or return a pet? It’s better to ensure the safety of these animals than it is to keep a pet in a home that presents danger.
Life in General
Maintain a regular routine for your cat and dog, even if they have learned to live happily and successfully together. Give your cat and dog individualized play time, socialization, regular health care, exercise, etc. Additionally, you will need to watch for some common problems that occur in cat/dog households, such as your cat eating the dog’s food, your dog eating from the litter box, the cat stealing dog toys, the dog hogging the cat’s bed, etc. If you have multiple cats and/or dogs, never let multiple dogs try to engage a single cat in rough play, and don’t let multiple cats take over a single dog’s resources.
Having a cat and dog living together in harmony doesn’t require a catastrophic event of Ghostbuster-like proportions, but it does take some work. You should carefully consider your options and be patient when introducing them.