Can dogs and cats live together peacefully? The short answer is "yes," but the long answer starts with "it depends." Getting a cat and a dog to live together is possible, but getting a cat and a dog to live together peacefully can be tricky. Fortunately, there are some strategies to help this process, including a slow introduction.
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There are some considerations before you try combining a dog and cat in your household, including the age of the pets and the breed of the dog. A dog should be encouraged to stay calm in a cat's presence, and the cat needs places to which he can escape. Also, a cat needs to be able to access his food and litter easily without having to navigate past the dog.
Age and breed of pets
The age of both the cat and dog matters when attempting peaceful living arrangements and so does the breed of the dog. Puppies who are socialized early with cats will do better with cats as adults. Similarly, kittens are more receptive to accepting puppies as friends than an adult cat. Introducing kittens to older dogs, especially certain breeds, should be done with caution. A dog who responds to the "leave it" cue will do better, but this requires supervision.
Dogs and cats can live together peacefully, but starting correctly and even selecting the right breed of dog will help. Certain breeds of dog are more likely to get along well with cats (there are always exceptions), including toy dogs who are affectionate and some eager-to-please sporting dogs, such spaniels and retrievers, because these dogs are bred to respond to birds rather than rodents or prey. Terriers and hounds, however, are bred to kill vermin, and any fast-moving creature can trigger that instinct.
Introducing cats and dogs
How you introduce your pets is essential to them eventually living together peacefully. As with introducing any new pets to each other, slow and controlled is paramount. First, introduce scents. Whichever animal is in the home first should be introduced to the new pet by allowing her to smell the scent of the new animal on a blanket or toy even before the pet is brought home. Similarly, the new pet should be introduced to the scent of the other before they meet.
Keep the pets in separate areas at first. You will need to provide your cat with permanent safe areas, even after the dog and cat have met. After scent introductions, the first meeting should be done through closed doors or barriers through which they can't see, allowing the animals to only smell each other. This step can take at least a week before they are calmly introduced.
Tips for living together peacefully
There are a few ways to sabotage the relationship between your dog and cat. First, never restrain the cat and make her meet the dog, especially when they are first introduced. This will instill a fear in the cat she likely won't get over easily. Second, don't allow the dog to chase the cat. Chasing is a reward for the dog, and once the dog sees the cat as a toy, it will be difficult to correct this perception. Plus, it might trigger the dog's prey instinct depending on his breed, resulting in serious aggression toward the cat.
Finally, don't underestimate the cat's resources. Dogs have lost eyes to the claws of a fearful or angry cat. Instead, allow the cat many escape options from the dog. Position climbers throughout the house, adding vertical space where the cat can retreat from the dog. Separate rooms sectioned by a baby gate that the cat can leap over but that stops the dog is an effective barrier.
Some pet stores carry cat door guards that allow a bedroom door to open wide enough for the cat to enter but not the dog. The guard works like a chain lock, allowing a person to enter by reaching up and unlatching the strip that prevents the door from opening fully.