Top 10 tips for dogs and cats living together (so you can avoid the Dog + Cat apocalypse)
The war between cats and dogs is a topic of debate from Hollywood to hometowns. Multiple-pet owners have examples of cats that buddy up to their canine companions, of dogs chasing cats off their turf, or of the two species respectfully ignoring each other. The two don't have to automatically "fight like cats and dogs." Their ability to get along is shaped by their individual experiences with the other specie accumulated before they are paired. Their communication styles differ too which can lead to confusion: A dog wags his tail to show happiness and eagerness to play; a cat lashes her tail to indicate displeasure or anger. You can help them to share a home by keeping each pet's best interests and instincts in mind. Here are a few tips for dogs and cats living together.
1. Always supervise interactions between new pets
Because puppies and kittens have had no (bad) experiences with each other, they will get along more quickly than older pets. So it makes sense, if you are thinking of having one of each, to get them as youngsters. Growing up together, they will form a bond. However, a puppy's play may still be a bit rough for a fragile kitten that will always be tinier than her canine mate. Always supervise their interactions, even if they are friendly: A kitten may signal that she's finished playing but the energetic puppy could still be eager to go, and his activity may confuse her. Teach the puppy to play by chasing a toy, never his smaller feline buddy; this will ensure he grows up respecting, not pursuing, smaller animals.
2. Make sure their personalities complement one another
A cat who is curious about but not fearful of dogs, and a dog who has at least a nodding acquaintance with felines are the ideal pairing. Whichever pet you're adopting, a rescue organization or animal shelter will gladly work with you to help select the best candidate, based on the history and personality of the animal you're choosing and the one at home.
A stray or feral cat that needs to be socialized and acclimated to indoor living can be a hazard to a resident dog, because she is accustomed to seeing dogs as the enemy, animals to be fought rather than befriended. And some dog breeds, such as terriers, hounds and herding dogs, shouldn't live with cats. Their instincts, which drive them to catch, shake and kill prey, will endanger felines which they see as something to chase.
3. Pets are territorial. Make sure the introduction is nice and slow
Cats are both territorial and not fond of change, so a supervised, gradual awareness of another pet is the best method for keeping the peace. Patience is a must, because the introduction phase could take anywhere from a few days to several weeks, or longer in some cases. Stick to the animals' preferred pace, and don't force them to be together. Speak in soft, conversational tones to both animals, and spend quality time with each in their separate spaces, not neglecting the resident pet to give the new one extra attention. Letting each animal see the other for brief periods in a neutral room and gradually increasing the exposure, will assure them that there's room for more than one pet.
4. Sometimes a crate-to-crate introduction is your best bet
Keep your dog's leash on during early meetings with your cat, so that if he becomes aggressive, even in play, you can limit his movements and calmly but firmly discipline him. If he's trained, command him to take the "down-stay" position. Keep the cat out of the dog's biting range, and allow her to escape the dog's attention if she wants to (but not flee throughout your home!) You can also have the animals meet from opposite sides of a pet gate at first, but don't allow them to touch noses or otherwise get too close until each is more accustomed to the sight of the other. Some pet owners place the cat or small dog in a carrier or crate, and let the other pet sniff and circle the confined animal. This depends largely on the disposition of the confined pet. He or she may be just fine with a stranger hovering outside, or feel trapped as the other pet investigates his or her arrival.
5. Make sure your cat has space that's off limits for your canine friend
The cat, whether a new arrival or current resident, should have a separate refuge of her own for at least a few days or a week, preferably in a room with a door or behind a pet gate. This area should be off-limits to the dog. Place a litter box, food and water, scratching post, toys and bed in this room. Your cat will feel more secure knowing she can get away from the unfamiliar experience of getting to know a dog. Don't allow your canine to linger outside the room, as his presence will stress the cat and defeat the purpose of the separate space.
6. A good sniff-out will help your cat and dog get familiar with each other
Animals get to know one another through scent, not face-to-face meetings. Even before they see each other, you can help both pets become familiar with each other's scent. Gently rub a T-shirt, sock, towel or washcloth over the dog, and place it near the cat's food dish or bed. After a few days, rub the item with the dog's scent over the cat, mingling their scents. Reverse the procedure for your dog. By offering both access to each other's scents, you'll make their initial meeting less stressful, as each pet will know that this other critter is not a total stranger.
7. Let them "go" in private
Your cat's litter box should always be in a spot where the dog cannot get at it. Invasion of her litter box will stress her out. If the dog interferes with the cat while she is doing her business, she may abandon the box and soil elsewhere in your home, where she feels less threatened.
Dogs have a disgusting habit of -- ewww alert here -- snacking on the contents of a cat's litter box which they actually find very tasty (a very good reason never to kiss your dog or let him lick your face). The simplest solution to stopping this is to place the litter box where the cat can access it but the dog can't, such as inside a space too small for the dog to enter. Or consider a covered litter box that gives the cat privacy but prevents the dog from getting in. Because cats can navigate in darkness while dogs can't, placing the litter box in a darkened room may also work.
8. Keep those claws trimmed to prevent injuries - intentional or not
If the cat feels threatened or stressed, she may react and injure the dog with her primary weapon: her claws. Therefore, those claws should be trimmed to ensure that a casual swipe of the paw -- an instinctive, harmless move if her claws are sheathed -- won't be disastrous for your dog, especially during their early meetings.
Declawing your cat is not a good idea. She will feel, and be, defenseless around a dog, not to mention this is a painful procedure. If you feel that even trimmed claws are not safe enough, consider nail caps, which coat the cat's claws with blunt endings, but keep the claws intact. These vinyl coverings, attached with a nontoxic adhesive, last about four to six weeks, while the cat's claws grow out, and do not interfere with her usual extension and retraction of her claws.
9. Like the litter box, your cat's dining area should not be a shared area
Each pet should be able to eat undisturbed by the other, so set up individual feeding stations. You may want to serve the cat's meals on an elevated surface such as a countertop or windowsill to prevent the dog from wolfing down her food as well as his own. In addition to allowing each pet to dine in peace, "separate tables" ensure that each will eat his or her own food. Cat and dog food are not nutritionally interchangeable. While most cats have zero interest in Fido's menu, dogs find the higher protein and fat content of cat food very appetizing. Regular cat food consumption can result in a nutritional imbalance and weight gain for dogs.
10. Never force a friendship. Let them get acquainted on their own terms
You may wish for the movie version of inseparable pals, but doggy devotion and kitty cordiality cannot be pushed -- and animals won't fake affection. Each brings his or her own quirks, habits and likes to the relationship. But by ensuring that your dog is well-trained in obedience, and giving the cat a high-up perch, such as a cat tree, you can create an atmosphere where friendship can blossom. The two may eventually accept one another, with minimal interaction but no animosity, or they may develop a genuine fondness for each other. If they're both snuggling and shedding together on your bedspread, you'll know they've teamed up to rule your home and heart.