Dogs and Cats Living Together!?!

August 3, 2017

Do you remember how Bill Murray described the world coming to an end in Ghostbusters (circa 1984)? “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!” As always, Bill Murray delivers the line with perfect comedic timing, but is it that unlikely that dogs and cats can live together? Are you more likely to see a ghoul or zombie than to see your dog and cat snuggle up or at least coexist? Help is on the way!

Socialization isn’t just dog to dog. If at all possible, socialize your puppy with cats and kittens. “If you want a dog who will be trustworthy around other small animal species, you’re generally better off starting with a pup and raising him to know only appropriate behavior around other animals.” Pat Miller writing in Whole Dog Journal.

Find the right playmate or companion. If you have a dog, and are adding a cat to your household, find a cat who is already good with dogs. Visit one of our local animal shelters and talk to staff and volunteers about finding a cat who is tolerant — and not fearful — of dogs. Look for a cat whose temperament is calm, confident, and mellow. Here’s a list of 10 Cat Breeds Who Like to Play with Dogs. There are rescue groups devoted to specific cat breeds too!

… If you have a cat, and are adding a dog, get cozy with shelter staff and find a dog who has been evaluated around cats and/or has history of living with cats. There will be a dog who is the right fit for your home!

Management Whether the new (or old) pair is mature cat/puppy, mature dog/kitten, mature dog/mature cat, use management so that both parties have a chance to acclimate. Management means that YOU are in charge of how and when the dog and cat see each other, and how close they get to each other. You’re in the driver’s seat with your own training plan and timetable. Use baby gates to create separate safe spaces, set-up high areas that provide your cat or kitten with an escape route, leash or tether your dog to control proximity, and utilize crates when you need reliable containment.

Management also keeps everyone safe. Prey drive is #real, and there are certain breeds that may be more likely to chase or injure a cat (or worse). We’re generalizing, but can we say terrier? And some retired racing Greyhounds are not a good fit for households with cats either. Having more than one dog also increases the likelihood that a cat will be chased — as dogs may ‘feed off each other’ when excited.

Last, cats can hurt dogs. Dogs’ eyes are vulnerable, particularly dogs categorized as brachycephalic. Some of the dogs in this group include Pugs, Boston Terriers, Pekingese, French Bulldogs, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Brachycephalic dogs typically have shallow eye sockets and somewhat bulging eyes that are easily injured by a cat’s claws.

Work to Counter-Condition a different response. Let’s say you’ve done a great job managing your cat and dog’s space, but your dog still goes to crazy town if he and the cat get close. Use counter-conditioning to change his response. Begin at a distance at which your dog sees the cat and is alert but not reactive (barking, lunging, jumping), and feed him tiny treats continuously until the cat disappears. When your dog begins looking at you happily when the cat appears, reduce the distance between them by only a foot or two and repeat. Soon you’ll be working ‘up close and personal’ with both!

Count on Training! Reliable skills always help! If your dog can respond to come, sit, down, stay, and leave it, you’ll be much more likely to have a peaceful household!

By Susan Marett