For decades, movies, TV, and books have told us that cats and dogs are mortal enemies. When it comes to cats and dogs living together, many pet owners are wary, if not terrified of the concept. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.
How To: Cats and Dogs Living Together
Cats and dogs have been living together in households around the world for centuries. While you’re right to be cautious when introducing a new animal to your household, it isn’t something to be afraid of. In fact, relationships between cats and dogs are often enriching, long lasting, and freaking adorable.
To ease your mind, here are some steps to helping your cats and dogs live together: a guide to a household of peace and quiet.
Temperament and Training: Not Breeds!
This is a common trope that we’ve seen in many articles talking about this issue. Particularly this one by Small Dog Place, which includes a section of “Dog Breeds that Hate Cats,” listing 11 working, high energy, and sometimes anxious breeds with historically high prey drives.
To be clear, no dog breed hates cats! There are dog breeds that are harder to train, there are dog breeds with prey drives, and there are dog breeds that were genetically modified to chase after small, fast, furry things. But, as with people, these temperaments can be taught, and can be subdued.
When choosing a dog or cat to adopt, you don’t need to narrow your decision down to breeds that do well with other animals. Want a Weimaraner? Cool! Do your research, and you’ll learn that they are anxious, sometimes prey-driven, but loyal, obedient, and intelligent. Teach them not to hate your cat!
Want a Maine Coon, but also have a teacup Yorkie? Prepare your household environment and give each of them space.
Adopt with your heart, and your experience as a pet parent will be better for it.
Preparing Your Dog for a Cat
If you’re bringing a cat or kitten home for the first time, chances are your dog has never seen or encountered one before. Whether it’s a Chihuahua puppy or a full grown Great Dane, training your dog in how to deal with a new member of the fur family is the first step to a great relationship.
If your dog is highly reactive to squeaky toys, when someone drops food on the ground, or charges animals while you’re out on walks, it probably isn’t mentally prepared to have a cat running around the house. This can be a long, difficult process, but training your dog to stay, and leave other animals or objects alone when commanded to do so, and more generally, will keep both your pets out of harm’s way.
As the training goes on, set up meetings between your cat and your dog to see how they’re both progressing.
Preparing your Cat for a Dog
If you’re in the opposite scenario, there are ways to prepare your cat for the arrival of a big (or small) terrifying barking machine.
For cats, personal space is key. While the same can be said for many dogs, especially those that are crate trained, cats particularly need their personal space, and the freedom to leave whenever they want.
Especially if the dog is hyperactive or “prey driven,” cats require a space that is off-limits to the dog where they can relax and recharge. Without these spaces, dogs can put cats in a constant state of anxiety, creating a resentful, fearful relationship between your pets. If you want your cat and your dog to live together on good terms, your cat needs an escape route, and a place to be alone when it wants to be.
Creating this space and introducing your cat to it before the dog arrives is crucial. Maybe add in a tall cat tree if you can afford it or fit it in. A comfy cat bed or blanket wouldn’t hurt either.
Plan the First Meeting
You can only make one first impression. While your dog might be very excited or your cat very scared, you are the one that makes cats and dogs living together possible!
If you’re a dog owner adopting a new cat, make sure to exercise them beforehand. Especially for high energy dogs, a new animal to play with can be very exciting, but intimidating for an incoming kitty. Run your dog around as much as possible before you bring your new cat home to give them the best possible chance of making a good impression.
Kirsten Fawcett from Mental Floss helpfully reminds us that one thing these animals do have in common is their love of food:
“Schedule the first cat-dog meeting during mealtime, but keep the dog on a leash and both animals on opposite sides of a closed door. They won’t see each other, but they will smell each other while chowing down on their respective foods. They’ll begin to associate this smell with food.”
Moving forward, Fawcett recommends continuing to feed your animals this way for several weeks before opening the door. Your cat and your dog will be able to smell each other from the other side, so don’t worry about the formal pleasantries. They’ve met.
All of these tips are great, but they aren’t one-time affairs for cats and dogs living together.
Exercise your dog more. Feed your dog and your cat in close proximity, without forcing them into contact. Crate your dog when you aren’t home until you can be sure that it is getting along with your cat.
The key to a long lasting relationship between any two pets, let alone cats and dogs, is for the pet owner to work hard at it. These relationships rarely develop naturally. That’s the kind of stuff you see on The Dodo or America’s Funniest Home Videos or those books your Mom stuffs your stocking with about weird animal relationships.
But, if you stick with it, maybe you can make your own book of cute photos. Or, at least an Instagram called "Cats and Dogs Living Together," or something else cooler.