Cat sniffing chocolate lab laying on the floor.

Getting cats and dogs to get along

Despite the saying, cats and dogs don’t have to fight like … well, cats and dogs

Does your dog or cat seem lonely? Do you wish they had company when you can’t be at home? Consider expanding your dual-species household into a multi-species one.

Contrary to the myth, cats and dogs are not natural enemies. In fact, they often grow to become best friends – although that can take time.

First things first

Try to determine ahead of time how your current pet will respond to a newcomer.

If you have a dog, notice how she reacts when she encounters other animals outdoors. Is she curious or fearful? Playful or aggressive? Uninterested or only focused on you? Those are clues as to whether an additional pet would be welcome.

If you have an indoor cat, invite a friend with a dog to visit. Ignore the dog and observe how your cat reacts, allowing plenty of escape routes for him.

Note: Dogs and cats who are old or infirm, nervous or skittish often become stressed by the arrival of a new pet, so if that describes your pet, think twice before upsetting the household balance.

On the other hand, if you have a placid, unflappable cat or a gentle and well-behaved dog, you stand a good chance of smoothly transitioning a new pet into the household.

What kind of new pet should you get?

If you have the time to train a puppy or kitten, one of them could be an ideal addition to your family. Puppies aren’t as menacing to cats as grown dogs, and kittens aren’t normally afraid of dogs, regardless of a canine’s size. On the other hand, the extra time you take with a new, young pet could foster a feeling of jealousy, so don’t forget to give your current one plenty of attention.

Prepare for the meeting

Both dogs and cats can be territorial, so create a secure haven for each species. You may want to erect a baby gate to separate them at first, or consider putting the new animal in a crate so that the animals can see and smell each other but can’t interact.

Above all, protect the safety of both pets. Younger, smaller, and weaker ones need extra vigilance.

If you have a dog:

  • Refresh her obedience skills, particularly the “come” and “leave it” commands. Reward him with praise and treats when he responds.
  • Keep the collar and leash on so that she can be easily restrained. No chasing!
  • Make sure the dog can’t jump over the baby gate and her food and water remain on her side.

If you have a cat:

  • Trim your cat’s nails so that he won’t accidentally scratch and injure your dog.
  • Move the litter box to a protected space where the dog can’t get to it and the cat isn’t blocked from using it.
  • Make sure there’s a perch or hiding space that he can access if he feels threatened.

Begin with gentle introductions

Be patient; dogs and cats will need time to get to know each other.

Dogs unfamiliar with cats typically react to them in one of three ways: They want to play, they treat it like prey or they ignore the cat and move away.

Cats typically show curiosity, act defensively or avoid the dog entirely.

So let the cat set the pace. Allow him to investigate on his own timetable. And don’t force the two pets to interact or get closer.

Speak in a soft, gentle and happy voice without paying noticeable attention to either pet. If things go well, praise and reward the dog for her good manners and the cat for his tolerance.

When you’re not around or can’t directly supervise, keep the cat and dog confined in separate areas of your house.

However, if you sense trouble brewing or observe bullying or fighting, carefully step in and calmly separate the pets. One option is to place one of the pets in a bathroom to give everyone a break. If a few meet-and-greets don’t go well, consider calling a certified professional dog trainer (CPDT) for assistance.

Once your dog and cat start to play or relax around each other (this could take days or weeks), leave them alone together for short and then increasingly longer periods of time.

And remember, with pets as with people, it takes time to make a friend.

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