Proper Introductions Help Cats and Dogs Live Together

August 3, 2001 (published)

Can cats and dogs get along? While a current movie has fun with the idea that the animals are secretly fighting an all-out war, millions of real-life cats and dogs live in harmony, and millions of people feel no family would be complete without at least one of each pet.

Getting a dog and cat to accept one another can difficult, though, as anyone who's tried to introduce them well knows. There are some basic steps to getting both pets to at least call an inter-species truce.

Introductions must be supervised, and they must be handled with planning, care and patience.Under no circumstances should cat-dog introductions be handled by throwing the animals together and letting them work out things on their own. That method is far too stressful even in the best of circumstances. It's also important to keep in mind that introductions can be dangerous, usually for the cat. Some dogs see cats as prey, and even those dogs who are generally easygoing may react instinctively to a cat on the run, attacking the smaller animal.

If you have a cat and are planning to bring in a dog, try to find an animal who is known to be accepting of cats. Shelters, rescue groups or private parties looking to place puppies and dogs often know if an animal has successfully lived with a cat, or they will test to see how the pet behaves in the presence of one.

For the cat's comfort, he should be confined during the early stages of introduction to a small area (such as a second bathroom or guest bedroom) where he can feel safe while becoming acclimated to the sounds and smells of the dog. Be sure the room has everything he needs, and make sure frequent one-on-one visits with human family members are also on the schedule.If you have a dog and are planning to bring in a cat, start working on your pet's obedience before you add the new animal. Your dog should be comfortable on a leash, and trained well enough to mind your requests for him to stay in either a sit or down position while on that leash.

After a couple of days with the cat sequestered, put the dog on leash and open the door to the cat's room. Allow the animals to see one another, and do not allow the dog to chase the cat, even in play. Use the sit-stay or down-stay to keep the dog in place while the cat gets used to his calm presence. Don't force the cat to interact with the dog; if the cat wishes to view the dog from the darkest recesses of the bed, so be it. Reward the good behavior of both animals with treats and praise.

When the dog isn't interested in bothering the cat, and the cat feels secure enough to come out from under the bed, you can take off the leash and let them get on with their new lives together. How long it will take to get to this step will depend on the animals involved, and you must work at their pace.Keep the dog on leash for a couple of weeks in the cat's presence, and always make sure the cat has a way to escape from the dog, such as putting a baby gate across the door to the safe area. Build up the time the animals spend together, and continue to make the introductions rewarding, with more treats and praise.

It not uncommon for dogs and cats to become friends and to enjoy each other's company. Take the time to manage your cat-dog introduction properly, and you could be setting up a friendship that will last for the rest your pets' lives.

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