Everything you need to know to help your cat and your dog get along at home
Adopting a cat can be a turbulent time for anyone. But adding a dog into the mix only complicates things.
We have spoken to many people who would love to adopt a cat, but are scared of how their dog will react. The good news is that it is much easier than people think to get a cat and a dog to become friends.
Most dogs and cats are more than happy to get on. As long as you, the owner, show them where the boundaries are and create a safe environment for both of them.
In this guide, we are going to talk you through that process and how to keep it as pain-free as possible. Your furry friends will be best buddies in no time.
Do Cats And Dogs Get Along
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule.
Some older cats can be quite stubborn and set in their ways. They just want a quiet life and can often find a dog too overwhelming.
Cats that have previously had traumatic experiences with dogs or previous owners may also seem disinterested in making friends with your dog. However, these cats normally just need more time (and a little bit of extra love) to come around to your pooch.
Anyone who has watched any TV over the last 80 years will be familiar with the concept that cats and dogs are natural-born enemies.
However, a recent study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior has suggested we have been getting things wrong for a long time.
This study shows that there is little to no evidence that cats and dogs have a natural hatred for each other. In fact, the study showed that the main issue cats had with dogs was the worry that dogs would reduce how comfortable their lives were.
The study showed that a comfortable cat in the home, most commonly made for a happy dog.
If the right boundaries are put in place then there is no reason why cats and dogs cannot get along.
Things To Consider Before Getting A Cat-Friend for Your Dog
We mentioned above that most cats and dogs will be able to get along with each other. However, we also stated that there may be a few exceptions to this rule.
It is worth noting that not all cats have the same temperament and they may not react the way you expect them to. The same goes for dogs.
You should consider the following 4 things before bringing a cat home to your dog.
The study we mentioned above, suggested that age is one of the big factors that affect the ability to bond between cats and dogs.
While bigger dogs tend to have no issue with cats, no matter the age. Smaller dogs prefer older cats that won’t approach them.
Kittens seem to have no issue with the age of the dog they are living with. But as cats get older, they prefer to live with older dogs. If the dog is too young and/or excitable, cats can get very aggressive.
Breed of your dog
Some breeds of dogs can be very possessive and do not like to be disturbed. While others adore the company of cats.
It is worth remembering that dogs and cats use different methods of communication, so they do not always understand each other.
If you have a dog that is prone to snapping, possessive, or territorial then you may want to avoid getting a cat.
Breeds that are traditionally pack breeds – like Beagles, Labradors, and Foxhounds – are often more than happy to welcome a cat into their pack. They have even been seen to protect their cat from other animals around them.
Cat’s life experience
If your cat has had a traumatic experience with dogs then you may want to consider not bringing them into your home.
If you are adopting your cat from a shelter then the shelter’s owners will be able to fill you in on some of your cat’s history. You can then make an educated decision about whether the cat is right for you.
How your home is set up
There need to be areas of your home that you can set up for your cat. As they will need safe spaces to hide in as they get used to the house.
These spaces may be on top of a bookshelf, under your bed, an upstairs space the dog is not allowed in, or even a chair that is out of reach of the dog.
If your home does not have any of these spaces then you should consider setting them up before moving a cat in.
Introducing The Cat To Your Dog
If you have gone through the list above and are happy that your new cat will be a good fit for your home, then it is time to move onto the next step. Introducing your furry friends to each other.
Before we get started, we want to say that the most important part of this process is to take your time. The process won’t be instant and the more time you give your cat to get used to things the easier the introduction will be.
Give Your Cat Time To Settle In The New Home
As we mentioned above, patience is key when it comes to introducing cats and dogs. Especially so, if you are adopting your cat from a shelter.
Before you bring your cat home, set aside a room and make it clear to your dog that they are not allowed to go in there. Clean this room so it doesn’t smell like your dog and put out some cat food and toys.
You should also put a litter tray in this room. You will want to avoid letting your cat out of the house for the first week or two.
When your cat arrives, take it straight into this room. Do not cross paths with the dog while your cat is in the carrier as it will feel trapped and threatened.
Once you are in the room and the door is closed behind you, you can release the cat. Sit in one of the corners of the room and allow your cat to explore on its own. Don’t approach it, instead let it come to you.
Allow your cat a few days to get used to this room before moving onto the next stage – introducing the pair.
If you remember, earlier in the article we said a comfortable cat makes for a happy dog. Keep this in mind when you first introduce the pair. You want to make sure that the whole event happens on the cat’s terms.
You don’t want this meeting to take place in your cat’s room, as you want it to be somewhere the cat can return to after each meeting with the dog.
Instead, let the meeting take place just outside the room. If the cat feels unsafe, then it can just walk back into its room. Do not let the dog follow it in there.
You should keep these first introductions short. As you want to avoid the cat getting overwhelmed. Particularly, if it has never met a dog before.
It would be useful to have someone on hand to hold your dog during this meeting. You should be there to keep an eye on your cat, but don’t hold it unless it is a young kitten. You don’t want it to feel trapped.
Keep Your Dog On a ‘Houseline’ to Prevent Any Chasing To Start With
For the first few meetings, you will want to keep your dog still and let the cat approach it. The easiest way to facilitate this is to have your dog on a lead and to have someone sitting next to them.
This way they can hold the dog back if it tries to lunge at the cat. It will most likely be trying to play with the cat, but the cat will not be able to tell the difference between ‘play’ body language and ‘attack’ body language.
Keep your dog still but try to remain calm. If your dog senses that you are nervous it will start to worry. It may even start to think that it needs to protect you from the cat or that the cat is a danger. This is something you want to avoid.
Let the cat approach your dog and spend as much time with it as it wants to. If the cat tries to attack the dog then pull it away. You do not want your dog to be bullied by the cat just to keep the cat comfortable. Both the animals have to learn how to live alongside each other.
After a minute or two, take the cat back into its room.
If you have a very calm dog then you may be able to skip this stage. This is a method that will help to stop your dog from fixating on the cat.
Most dogs will be excited to see a cat in their home. It is believed that most dogs consider cats to be a small breed of dog. So they may want to sniff their butt (this is how dogs introduce themselves to each other) and play with it.
They can get very confused and excited when they are not allowed to do this. Sometimes they can get fixated on getting close to the cat.
This is something you want to avoid. You do not want your dog to see the cat as something new and exciting, you want it to see the cat as a part of its pack. Or at the very least, something that is normal to see in the house.
To do this, you can desensitize your dog to the cat.
Start by introducing the pair for a small amount of time. Add an extra 30-60 seconds to each encounter. The dog will get more used to seeing the cat and will get less excited each time they see it. Eventually, you will be able to let your cat into the room without the dog going crazy.
Avoid Fearful And Aggressive Meetings Between The Two
Your cat being aggressive towards the dog does neither side any good. Nor does letting your dog chase your cat. This is why it is useful to have a second person on hand, just in case you need to diffuse a situation.
The best thing you and your assistant can do is stay calm. If you get stressed both your animals will pick up on this and think that there is something wrong or for them to worry about. Keep your cool, but be prepared to act when/if needed.
Try to preempt any issues by keeping an eye on how the two of them are communicating. Cat body language is very different from dog body language, and dogs often misread the signs that cats are giving them.
For example, a cat flicking its tail back and forth means it is annoyed. Dogs will read that as a happy wag of the tail.
If you see that your cat is starting to get annoyed or your dog is getting upset, it is best to separate them before an incident occurs. This way, neither pet will be left with bad memories of the other one.
Another way to reduce the exuberance of your dog is to introduce it to your cat’s scent before physically introducing it to your cat.
Dog’s have an amazing sense of smell and will be able to work out a lot from a toy or pillow with your cat’s scent on it.
As long as your dog is not possessive, you may want to let your cat play with one of your dog’s toys, or sleep on one of their blankets. If the scent is on something the dog loves then it will have good memories associated with the smell before it even meets the cat.
You should do the same for the cat. However, cats can be quite possessive, so we recommend letting the cat smell something that belongs to the dog. Rather than getting the dog’s smell on something that belongs to the cat.
You should only start letting the cat smell the dog after it has got comfortable in its space. If you do this too early, it might get scared and no longer feel safe in its room. Finding the right moment is not an exact science, but you will know your cat best and will be able to make the right choice for them.
Dogs respond better to positive reinforcement than they do to negative reinforcement. In fact, too much negative reinforcement can affect your dog’s confidence and make them depressed.
This is something that is important to remember when introducing your new cat to your dog. It can be tempting to tell the dog off when they are chasing the cat. And if they are being badly behaved you should tell them off. However, most of us forget to praise our dogs when they are doing well.
Ever had a boss that you only hear from when you’re doing something wrong? You start to feel nervous whenever you go to work or see your boss.
If you only tell your dog off around the cat, a similar thing can happen. Your dog will start to associate being around the cat with being told off. Then it will react in one of two ways.
It may start getting aggressive with the cat in the hope that the cat will go away and they won’t get told off anymore.
Or it will start to avoid the cat entirely. Especially, when the cat is with you.
By telling the dog it is being good when it is calm around the cat, you will let the dog know that good things will happen when it is nice to the cat. You may want to give the dog a treat every now and then.
Keep The Cat’s Food Away From The Dog
We have already mentioned that cats are possessive. The thing they are most possessive over is food. This is not their fault, it is their natural instincts kicking in.
If you only own a cat this won’t cause any problems. But things can get difficult when you introduce a dog into the equation. Especially, if your dog is happy to eat anything within its reach.
It would take a very well-trained dog to be able to resist a bowl of biscuits or meat in jelly on the floor. Particularly, when no one is looking. The kindest thing you can do as an owner is to move the cat food out of the dog’s reach.
This will help you to avoid an all-out war over cat food. If the cat knows that the dog is stealing its food, they will never get on. Although the cat will be more than happy to steal the dog’s food.
If your dog is good at jumping up onto counters then you might want to consider putting the food in a gated-off area the dog cannot get to.
Tips On Making Your Dog Get Along With A Cat
We have talked a lot about how to make your cat feel comfortable as it moves into the home. Now, we want to talk a little bit about how to make the process easier on your dog.
As the alpha, it is your job to make your dog understand the rules and make sure that your dog feels safe around the cat.
Dogs like rules. This is a side effect of originally being pack animals. Pack dogs have pecking orders and distinct roles that help them know how to react to the world.
Once the cat has arrived in your house you need to make it clear to your dog that the cat is not a danger, the cat is part of the pack, and that the cat is not to be chased.
This is easier said than done. As a new animal in the house can be very exciting or very scary for a dog.
When your dog is treating the cat in the right way you can reward them. Either with a treat or with praise.
Set clear boundaries for what the dog is allowed to do and what it isn’t. Make it clear when it does something wrong, but do remember to praise it when it does well.
Once the dog knows what the rules are, it will stick to them.
Allow Interaction Only Under Your Supervision To Start With
Eventually, you will get to the point where you can leave your cat and dog home alone together.
However, this is not something you can jump into.
When you first introduce the cat and the dog to each other you want to make sure that you are there. Preferably, you would want a second person there to help you out.
Your dog will feel safer when you are around. It will watch how you behave with the cat and learn from that.
You also want to make sure that the cat feels safe. If it can see that the dog is under control and won’t hurt it, it will be more likely to approach the dog.
After a few meetings, you can let your dog off the lead. If it behaves then you can start to consider leaving the two of them alone together.
Make sure that you are in the house the first time you leave them alone in a room.
Pay Attention to The Body Language of Both Animals
We have talked a lot already about how different cat’s and dog’s body languages are. We have mentioned that at times their body language can mean the exact opposite to the other species which makes misinterpretations frequent and dangerous.
Therefore it is your responsibility as the owner to read both of your pet’s body language when they are first getting to know each other. They may never truly learn to understand each other, but they will eventually learn how to behave around each other.
If you see either your dog or your cat showing signs of aggression or fear, then it is time to separate the two of them. Give them some time apart before letting them meet again. This will keep things calm and prevent any fights.
They will soon learn that they have nothing to worry about.
Prepare ‘safe spots’ where your cat can run to and hide from your dog whenever it feels threatened
When cats are scared they will either fight or run. They most likely will not want to pick a fight with your dog, especially if they don’t think they can win.
Therefore, they will want to go and hide somewhere.
As an owner, you can help your cat feel safe by creating safe spots for them to hide in. When they first move into your house they will have their room. But you will also want to create other spots around your home, just in case, they can’t get there.
Cats like small, warm, and dark spots. This is why they often hide behind the tumble dryer or inside cardboard boxes. Cats feel safer when they are higher up. Why not put a cardboard box on top of a bookshelf for them to hide in, or put a blanket down for them in your potting shed.
Put Up A Baby Gate
If your dog is very fixated on your cat then you may want to put up a baby gate between the two of them. Just make sure that your dog can’t jump over the gate before you let the cat out.
Doing this will allow the cat more freedom in your house, without being bothered by the dog. It will allow the cat to feel safer because the dog is being held back and it will allow the cats to call the shots when they meet.
The dog will be able to watch the cat from afar and will become more accustomed to having it in their house. The gate will also allow the dog to retreat if the cat swipes at it.
When the dog is sitting calmly at the gate then you should praise it.
Don’t Force Them To Interact With Each Other If They Are Not Ready
The worst thing you can do is force either your cat or your dog into a meeting when they are uncomfortable. Only let them interact with each other when they are ready.
Cats are very clear when they don’t want to do something, however, dogs may hide who they feel to avoid being told off.
Keep an eye on how your dog is breathing, if it is panting and lying on the floor then it is probably scared or uncomfortable. If your dog is upset then you can encourage them to stay calm around the cat with praise and treats.
Your cat will hiss, puff up, and even attack you if it does not want to go anywhere near the dog.
If either pet is nervous give them some time to calm down. Then allow them to interact with each other when they want to and at their own pace.
Avoid Scolding Your Dog
We have mentioned this multiple times already. But we are just going to go over it once more because it is the most common mistake we see owners make when it comes to giving their dogs any kind of training.
Giving your dog too much negative feedback can cause them to associate being told off with the cat. This can either cause them to withdraw from your pack or to become aggressive towards the cat. Too much negative feedback can cause dogs to develop anxiety and depression.
To avoid this and to help keep the peace in your home, we recommend praising your dog more than scolding them.
You can give them positive feedback using your words and your tone of voice. Or if your dog is very fixated on the cat, you might want to start by using treats. Praise them when they are calm around the cat, if they are gentle with it, and even if they walk away from the cat and leave it alone.
Don’t Rush To Make Them Friends
Our final tip is not to rush things.
Your animals will find the right balance for them, but it may take some time.
Eventually, your dog will learn to give the cat the space it needs, and your cat will start to show affection towards your dog. Don’t give up on them too soon. Just give them time and they will find their rhythm together.
If your cat seems to be the aggressor, remember that eventually, it will see that living in peace is a lot less effort than aggravating the dog.
If your dog seems incredibly excited by the cat, remember that, if they spend enough time together the cat will become less and less exciting.
If either your cat or your dog (or both) are rescue animals then this process might take even longer. When animals have had a bad experience it takes them longer to learn to trust again.
Good things are worth the wait.
With enough time, guidance, and clear boundaries your cat and dog will learn to get along. And they may even become best friends.
With this guide, you will be able to set up a safe and calm home where you can allow the animals to get to know each other at their own pace. If you stay calm and our patients then they will be able to become comfortable around each other.
We wish you the best of luck introducing your new cat to your dog!