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Can cats and dogs get along?

Can cats and dogs get along?

 

There’s a line in the original Ghostbusters movie in which Bill Murray, playing Dr. Venkman, describes a disaster of “biblical proportions” about to befall the city as, “human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria!”

 

 

 

 Is it really that bad? Do dogs and cats ever get along?

 

It’s surprisingly hard to come by statistics, but I found one Gallup Poll from 2006 that concluded that 17% of households in the U.S. owned both a dog and a cat.[1]

 

You don’t have to do any real math to know that means there are millions of American homes in which cats and dogs are living together in some fashion.

 

But how well do cats and dogs get along?

 

dog and cat friendsI’m not the only one with that question, apparently. In 2018, researchers studied this question by conducting online interviews with 748 households in the U.S., Europe, and Australia that contained both a dog and cat, asking them questions about their pets’ “amicability” or friendliness toward one another.

 

One of the researchers, Sophie Hall, spoke to The Guardian about the study, published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour. “We really wanted to know what is it that makes cats and dogs amicable. They are often portrayed as the worst of enemies, but that isn’t always the case.”[2]

 

One of the conclusions of the study was that both species are capable of expressing amicability toward the other, and that most (80%) of the pet owners questioned seemed to feel that their cat and dog were comfortable in each other’s presence.

 

 

 

The cat controls the relationship with the dog

 

dog and cat friendsBut that’s not the entire story. The cat, it turns out, is the “main controller” in determining whether the dog-cat relationship in the household was friendly.”[3] (No surprise to us cat lovers.) In fact, the cat’s comfort with the dog was a more important factor than the dog’s comfort with the cat in determining whether the humans in the household thought the relationship was amicable.

 

Authors of the study wondered why cats have a harder time getting along with dogs than the other way around, or why their owners perceive that the cat’s feelings about the relationship are the ones that matter. They had some theories. One hypothesis is that cats are not as far along in the domestication process as dogs are, and thus might not feel as relaxed around other species as dogs do. So, for evolutionary reasons they’re just a bit more touchy.

 

Another theory has to do with an owner’s perspective on the relationship between their dog and their cat. As cats are generally smaller than dogs, it’s possible that owners see cats as more defenseless. They might be more willing to accept aggressive behavior on the cat’s part, because a dog is less likely to be seriously injured by a cat than the other way around.

 

dog and cat friendsAnd yet, the study did find that cats were three times as likely to threaten their canine family members than the reverse (bad kitties!), and to do more damage when a fight breaks out. Dogs and cats generally did not share food or toys, according to their owners, and only occasionally were cats and dogs caught grooming each other.[4] So, “friendliness” apparently only goes so far.

 

But a fifth of the dogs, being their ever-hopeful dog selves, would still pick up their toys and present them to the cats, in apparent invitations to play, while only 6% of cats brandished a toy to the dogs.[5]

 

Factors that influence cat-dog behavior

 

dog and cat friendsOne thing the study failed to explain is all the factors that influence cat-dog behavior. It revealed a few tidbits though. The cats who were the most comfortable with dogs were introduced to them when they were young. And cats who were the first to arrive in the household were more relaxed around dogs than cats who joined a household already containing a dog. And finally, indoor cats were more amicable with dogs than outdoor cats.

 

Before you adopt a dog or cat if you already have one or the other

 

If you already have a dog, seek out a friend with a confident, dog-savvy cat, and bring your leashed, well-controlled dog by for a test drive. Get a sense of your dog’s level and type of interest in the cat. Is your dog calm and curious, gentle and respectful? Is your dog fearful and anxious? Is your dog over-excited and looking to play, or is he fixated on the cat as prey?

 

dog and cat friendsYour dog’s behavior around one cat might not fully reflect what her behavior will be around all cats, but it will give you an insight into whether this is a challenge you’re interested and equipped to take on, either yourself or with the help of a professional. But be honest with yourself: if you have a dog who you already know likes to vigorously chase cats, or is rough with cats, you probably shouldn’t get one.

 

If you have a dog but are looking to adopt a cat, do not bring the dog to the shelter to meet his potential new family member. Bringing a dog to a cat shelter will traumatize all of the cats in the shelter, and won’t indicate how your dog will behave at home. Likewise, if you have a cat and are looking to adopt a dog, there is no benefit to bringing the cat to the shelter to pick out her new “sibling.”

 

How to choose the right dog or cat if you already have a dog or cat

 

dog and cat friendsThe most important factor to consider is the personality and energy level of the pet that is already a resident in your house. Energy and personality are much more important than breed[6]. If you have a combative, territorial dog, it won’t be a good fit with an apprehensive or shy cat. An older dog, on the other hand, might become distressed by a new kitten badgering him all day long.

 

It may be helpful to seek out a pet who already has experience with the other species. But just because a dog or cat has been socialized with an individual animal, doesn’t mean that they will get along well with a different dog or cat.[7]

 

Some pet personality dos and don’ts when choosing a new cat or dog:

 

DON’T

 

  • If you have a dog that growls or lunges at a cat, don’t get a cat.
  • If you have a dog that likes to chase, don’t get a fearful, shy cat.
  • If you have a dog that likes to chase, don’t get an overly energetic cat who will only encourage the dog to chase.
  • If you have a dog who plays rough, don’t get a tiny kitten or an elderly cat, either of which might get injured by a dog.
  • If you have an elderly, quiet, or anxious dog, don’t get an energetic or playful cat who will antagonize her.

 

DO

  • If you have a dog that likes to chase, do choose a calm, confident, dog-savvy cat who will not run away or excite the dog.
  • If you have a dog who plays rough, do consider a playful adult cat who can take care of himself.
  • If you have a playful, rambunctious cat, do choose a playful, gentle dog.
  • If your dog is displaying aggression toward a cat who also happens to be hissing and swatting, do try again with a calmer cat. (But if he displays this behavior with multiple cats, he probably can’t live with cats.)
  • If you have a cat who hisses, growls or swats at dogs, or hides from dogs, do give him a break and try on another day or with another dog. (But a cat who continues to hiss and growl at all types of dogs, probably doesn’t want to live with dogs.)

 

How to introduce dogs and cats to each other

 

dog and cat friendsIntroducing dogs and cats to each other is a process that requires time, patience, and rigorous commitment. Do not just let a loose cat and off-leash dog meet in an open room for the first time.[8] Do not skip steps, or try to throw the animals together “just this once” to see how it goes. Take your time to build a foundation for a lasting, peaceful connection between your pets.

 

Step 1

 
Take turns confining the animals at home. One day the dog is allowed to roam the house, while the cat is confined to a room. On the next day, crate the dog, lock him in a room, or bring him to doggie day care and let the cat run free in the house. The idea is to let each animal explore the house and become accustomed to the other’s scent. The newest animal also needs to get used to the household smells and the lay of the land.
 
Make the room where the confined animal is staying for the day an oasis. Make sure that pet has everything she needs at her disposal: food, water, a litter box, and toys.
 
Note that a baby gate does NOT provide enough of a confinement, or enough separation. Dogs can find their way over, around, and through a gate. A dog may become overly excited by the visual of the cat behind the gate, and a cat may become too anxious to ever relax at the sight of the dog.
 
Step 1 should last as long as it needs to last. It could be a few days or it could be much longer. You’ll know when you’re ready to move to Step 2 when the dog no longer seems obsessed with the cat, and the cat is eating and using the litter box.
 

Step 2

 
Leash the dog and let the animals meet. Depending on the individual animals, it may be useful to also use a head halter on the dog to control lunging, and a cat harness for the cat. Note that you should be able to control the dog should he take an unexpected leap toward the cat, but otherwise aim for a loose leash. A taut leash can create unwanted tension and excitement in the dog.
 
The goal of Step 2 is for the dog to ignore the cat, and the cat to be calm around the dog. If the dog is overly focused on the cat, or even on the door to the room where the cat is, use distraction to change her focus. Offer a treat or use a happy voice to break her gaze and then lead her away from the cat or cat room. Offer a treat when she has moved herself away from the cat. If the dog is calm around the cat, she should be praised and rewarded. Rinse and repeat.
 
Remember that playful and predatory behaviors can be difficult to tell apart. Be absolutely sure you know what you’re looking at when you watch your pets interact. Watch body language: if a cat’s ears are pinned back, or his tail is swishing, he is unhappy. Watch the dog: if your dog has a strong prey drive (the desire to chase and kill small animals) he might become fixated on the cat. He’ll stiffen and stare and may whine or bark.
 
Also note that a dog that gets along with the cat in the house may stalk the cat outdoors.[9]
 
Keep this up as long as it takes, until both animals are relaxed around each other – at least a month. But remember that success is not guaranteed. There are some cat-dog pairs that can never move on to Step 3 and in that case, you will need a backup plan to keep them separated for the long term.
 

Step 3

 
You can allow unsupervised interactions only when you’ve supervised your pets interacting together and they have been relaxed around each other for a significant period of time.
 
For your cat’s safety, always make sure he has access to perches and climbing places that the dog can not reach.

 

Tips to make a cat and dog become better friends

 

puppy and kitten friendsI’ve deliberately misnamed this section. You cannot force your pets to enjoy each other’s company more than they want to. But what you can do is create an environment that allows them to live together more peaceably.

 

  • Make sure your dog is getting enough physical and mental stimulation so she doesn’t need to chase the cat to blow off steam. Most people do not provide their dogs with the amount of exercise they really need. While there is no hard-and-fast rule about how much exercise is “enough” (it depends on a dog’s age, breed, and health), a general rule of thumb is at least 30-60 minutes of real physical activity every day. Certain active breeds need 30 minutes or more of hard aerobic exercise a day.[10] If you can’t do it, hire a dog walker or bring your dog to day care. The old saying that a tired dog is a good dog is true.

 

  • Give the cat his own territory that is off-limits to the dog. A cat needs an escape hatch.

 

  • Provide the cat with safe spaces in every room, especially ones that allow her to navigate around the house without having to get down on the floor. Take advantage of vertical space. Get tall cat trees or shelves where the cat can keep an eye on the dog.

 

  • Provide cat access to the litter box, but not dog access so your cat will feel safe when he’s at his most vulnerable. If you’re unable to arrange for privacy, provide uncovered litter boxes in an open space so that a cat won’t ever be trapped by the dog.

 

  • Keep food and toys separate. Place the food bowls in separate areas of the house, or put the cat’s bowl on a counter or other high place. No free feeding; you’ll never know if your dog is going to suddenly become resource protective if the cat approaches her bowl. And as for cat toys: dogs like catnip too. For everyone’s sake, keep dog things and cat things apart.

 

  • If you have a time machine, note that it’s best to raise young dogs and cats together. The best time to introduce a dog to a cat is when he’s a puppy. Puppies are more trainable, less confident, and just smaller than grown dogs, and they’re more likely to just let the cat get the upper hand in the pack. But a rambunctious puppy should never learn that chasing the cat is a fun game.

 

A final word on living with cats and dogs

 

I’ll leave the final word on this topic to researcher Sophie Hall:

“Owners shouldn’t be deterred from having both cats and dogs,” she said. “In general, both animals are seen as being really comfortable around each other which goes against what we might think. We shouldn’t think that they can’t live happily together.”[11]

Edward Hicks - Peaceable Kingdom

Edward Hicks - Peaceable Kingdom

 

Thanks for reading all the way to the end. But don't click here. 

 

__________

FOOTNOTES

 

[1] Newport, Frank, et al. “Americans and Their Pets.” Gallup.com, Gallup, 21 Oct. 2018, news.gallup.com/poll/25969/americans-their-pets.aspx.

 

[2] Sample, Ian. “Pets at Home: Do Cats and Dogs Really Fight like Cats and Dogs?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 24 July 2018, www.theguardian.com/science/2018/jul/24/pets-at-home-do-cats-and-dogs-really-fight-like-cats-and-dogs.

 

[3] Thomson, Jessica E., et al. “Evaluation of the Relationship between Cats and Dogs Living in the Same Home.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior, Elsevier, 25 June 2018, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1558787817302393.

 

[4] Pierce, Jessica. “How Well Do Dogs and Cats Really Get Along?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 4 July 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-dogs-go-heaven/201807/how-well-do-dogs-and-cats-really-get-along.

 

[5] Cotroneo. “It Turns out Cats and Dogs Get along Just Fine.” MNN, Mother Nature Network, 26 July 2018, https://www.treehugger.com/cats-dogs-get-along-study-4863870 

 

[6] “8 Tricks to Help Your Cat and Dog to Get Along.” Mental Floss, 1 Dec. 2017, www.mentalfloss.com/article/516438/8-tricks-help-your-cat-and-dog-get-along.

 

[7] “Who Rules? Dogs and Cats: Learning to Get Along.” Pet Sitters International, www.petsit.com/dogs-and-cats-learning-to-get-along.

 

[8] “Introducing Dogs to Cats.” American Humane, americanhumane.org/fact-sheet/introducing-dogs-to-cats/.

 

[9] “How to Introduce a Dog to a Cat.” Best Friends Animal Society, resources.bestfriends.org/article/how-introduce-dog-cat.

 

[10] “What Are My Dog's Exercise Needs?” Dogtime, 1 Apr. 2019, dogtime.com/dog-health/fitness/49-exercise-needs.

 

[11] Sample, Ian. “Pets at Home: Do Cats and Dogs Really Fight like Cats and Dogs?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 24 July 2018, www.theguardian.com/science/2018/jul/24/pets-at-home-do-cats-and-dogs-really-fight-like-cats-and-dogs.

 

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