Having a furry creature who doesn’t speak English living in your home can be confusing at times. Even more confusing is having TWO furry creatures of a different species who also don’t speak the same language as each other. As a pet sitter and dog trainer, I get lots of questions on how to help dogs and cats live together more peacefully.
Dogs and cats are as different as night and day. One behavior in the cat world can mean something completely different in the dog world. For example, when a dog rolls over onto his back, most likely he’s asking for a belly rub. But if a cat does the same thing, reaching for his belly may lead to scratches and blood drawn!
Here are somethings to consider when starting to create or maintain your mixed household.
First impressions are important
Don’t throw the new siblings together without taking some precautions. Trying to force meetings too quickly can lead to problems. Be sure both pets have had ample exercise. Introduce through a gate or other see-through barrier. This allows them to sniff in a structured setting and gives you a chance to observe reactions. Reward both parties for remaining calm or for making a decision to step away on their own. When taking away the barriers consider using a leash (most likely on your dog). If your dog seems overly stimulated (hackles up, wide-eyed, or panting for example), you want to give them enough time to calm down before taking the next step of the introduction. Similarly, if your cat is feeling nervous or agitated, let him have as much space as he wants.
Using treats is a great way to develop a positive association to the new friend. When the two make eye contact, reward and treat both! Treats can also help diffuse an escalating situation and reward both parties for making the decision to de-escalate. If one of them starts to get too intense while greeting the other, ask them to put their attention on YOU and reward when they do. We want to be sure we can intervene and get attention from our furbabies, especially in a moment of high stimulation. The end goal is for them to associate seeing each other as “no big deal” or even better, as a happy time when they get lots of treats and love from you!
Have a small and safe place for each pet to go to where the other isn’t allowed. This will give your pets a place to escape to if and when they need some alone time away from the other. Also, try to keep the litter box and cat food where the dog cannot reach it.
Try to keep routines the same
This is especially important for your established pet when bringing in a new one. For example, I have a friend who introduced a dog into her kitty household. Without thinking about it, she had moved the cat’s food and water bowls into another room and put the new dog kennel in the exact area where kitty liked to sunbathe. Kitty was not happy about this at all! Try to keep some of their routines and patterns the same and you can make changes slowly as time passes.
Teach a “Leave It”
This is more important for the dogs to know as they are usually the ones chasing the cats or digging for snacks in the litter box. But either way, teach your pets a rock-solid Leave It. Once the behavior has been trained to an advanced stage, you can ask the dog to leave the cat alone, or ask for a leave it if they’re trying to get into each other’s food.
Keeping Realistic Expectations
You might have a picture in your head of how your two pets will get along with each other. We see cute videos on the internet all the time where two species of animals become the best of friends, with constant cuddles and gentle, playful behavior. Please remember that not all animals will get along like this! Even if the best you get out of them is tolerating each other’s presence, don’t consider that as a failure. You aren’t obligated to be best friends with everyone you meet, and neither are your pets.
Taking these simple steps and having a plan in mind when it’s time for introductions can help establish and maintain a happy and harmonious life. If things didn’t go so well during introductions despite your best effort, no worries! Time, training and positive associations are key and you can one day achieve that peace.
I reached out to friends and clients for a picture to feature on this post of their dogs and cats living harmoniously. I got an overwhelming response and just had to include them all. Our main featured image was submitted by Dustin B. Take a peek at so many other dog and cat pairs living together in harmony