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The Peaceable Kingdom: Helping Your Dog and Cat Get Along

According to statistics from the American Veterinary Medical Association, almost half of family dogs share their lives with at least one family cat.   It’s been implied that dogs and cats are “natural enemies” but that’s not really true.  Animals can learn who to treat as friends during early development, so dogs and cats that first meet each other as kittens and puppies will be more likely to get along.

If you are attempting to introduce an adult dog and cat to one another, the first priority should be the safety of each.  Cats generally are more at risk of injury from dogs than the other way around, but even our Irish setter Coral sustained a scratched cornea when our cat Buffett took a swipe at her, even though their relationship was generally amicable.

Consider this approach, but check with your veterinarian for advice based on your specific situation. The newcomer and the resident should first only be allowed to hear and smell one another, and not see or touch each other, regardless of which pet is new to the household .  Confine a newly arrived cat in a room that has all the things she needs (food, water, litterbox, toys, scratching post, bed, perch) along with items (a toy, towel, or collar) that have the dog’s scent.  At the same time, give the dog items that have the cat’s scent.   A newly arrived dog should have access to only a part of the house so the resident cat has safe areas.

With each pet confined in their own room, encourage both to approach the door using food, toys, and attention as enticements.  When both are calm, allow them a glimpse of each other by opening the door a crack for a few minutes.  If either becomes frightened, agitated, or threatening at the sight of each other, you know they aren’t ready for more contact.

Once both are relaxed while watching each other through the gap in the door, they can each be leashed and allowed to see each other fully from opposite ends of a large area.  Continue plying them both with treats and encourage quiet behavior.

Next, allow the cat to approach the dog (who is still leashed) if she wishes.  For safety, have the dog wear a muzzle during these first contacts.  Continue these controlled interactions until the dog accepts the cat’s presence without threatening, aggressive, or in rare instances fearful behavior AND the cat is not intimated by the dog. Each of these steps could require several days to several weeks of controlled encounters.

When dogs and cats live together, both should enjoy a good quality of life.  A cat should not be in constant fear of the dog, and be reduced to hiding in a small part of the house.  Some cats and dogs will become friendly and playful with each other, while for others their relationship may only be mutual tolerance.

If after several weeks or a month, one pet is not adapting to the presence of the other it’s time to call for professional help from a certified applied or veterinary behaviorist, or other behavior consultant experienced working with multi-species relationships.

Dr. Suzanne Hetts and her husband Dr. Dan Estep are Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists. They provide professional behavior education services online, and resources to prevent and resolve pet behavior problems to both pet pros and pet owners. Coral, their diva-dog Irish setter provides daily inspiration.
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