CAT, MEET DOG Dogs and cats can be friends, if introduced properly
One thing that never fails to get a smile out of me is seeing my big orange cat, Ilario, happily curled up and purring loudly next to — and occasionally on top of — one of my four dogs. I love how well everyone gets along: They don’t just tolerate each other — they actually like each other.
It didn’t start out that way, though. When Ilario arrived as a kitten, he spent more time puffed up and ready to run than purring. Once he realized he wasn’t in any danger from his new four-legged family, he was able to relax and eventually even warmed to their company. Some nights I even catch him grooming my gentlest dog, 14-year-old Drew.
Some cats and dogs are never going to get along, but most can at least come to an agreement about sharing space. The trick is knowing the basic steps to handling the introductions.
Under no circumstances should dogs and cats be introduced 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 conditions. It’s also important to keep in mind that introductions can be dangerous, usually for the cats. Some dogs see cats as prey, and even those dogs who are generally easygoing may react instinctively to a cat on the run by attacking the smaller animal.
Introductions must be supervised and handled with planning, care and patience.
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 and rescue groups often know if an animal has successfully lived with a cat, or they will test to see how the dog behaves in the presence of one. (These “tester” cats are usually friendly, outgoing permanent residents, and they’re just fine with their work of safely greeting new dogs.)
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 be trained well enough to mind your requests for him to stay in either a “sit” or “down” position while on that leash.
For the cat’s own 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 he has frequent one-on-one visits with human family members.
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 “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 underneath the bed, so be it. Reward the good behavior of both animals with treats and praise.
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.
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.
It’s 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 of your pets’ lives.