There is no denying that we absolutely love animals, whether they be furry or feathery or scaly. Owning one type of pet has never been on our agenda and we love to enrich our lives with a plethora of animals. Even though we seem to have got the balance correct, there is no denying that there may be some issues with having several types of animals in your home. In this post, we will discuss the complexities of introducing several pets together and how we have overcome these issues.
Can cats and dogs get along?
We are a family with 3 dogs aged between 5 and 8 and 4 cats aged between 5 months and 12 years old. For as long as I can remember, we have never had a time where we haven’t had at least one cat and one dog together and so far (touch wood) we haven’t had anything go wrong. As I’m writing this post, our kitten is sat with two of our dogs. At only 5 months old, she is already so confident around our dogs that she even chooses to sleep with them, play with them and if she’s feeling especially cheeky steal their dinner.
The relationship between cats and dogs is nothing like they are portrayed in cartoons. Yes there are some dog breeds that are naturally inclined to chase small furries and if you were to want a harmonious household we would advise that you avoid some terrier and hound breeds. But the truth is, a harmonious household is all down to the introduction process.
How to introduce dogs to cats
The process will slightly differ depending on who was in the household first. We find that the younger the animal, the more open to accepting others they are but you should still proceed with caution.
The first thing you should be aware of is body language. A distressed cat is likely to have its ears pinned back, an arched back and will use its wagging tail to show its displeasure. It’s important that a distressed cat is not pushed any further and should be removed from the situation. A distressed dog is likely to lower its tail and show warning signs such as growling, lip licking and hackles raising. It is more likely that a dog will show signs of a prey drive and will focus directly on the cat, stiffen, whine and even bark. Should a dog show signs of this they should be removed from the situation as it’s likely to go awry.
Both the cat and the dog should have separate rooms from each other to retreat to if needed. We find that stair gates work best as most cats can jump over or through the gaps to get away from a chasing dog. As with all training, only positive rewards should be used and it’s very important that the dog never be punished as it may start associating the cat with its punishment and therefore the cat becomes even more of a threat.
- The use of long lines in the house to prevent the dog from being able to chase the cat.
- Making sure the dog has good recall first. Whenever the dog attempts to chase the cat, the dog should be called back and rewarded for good behaviour.
- Swapping scents with one another through the use of blankets before being introduced.
- Taking your time. It’s not going to be a quick process so the more time you can take before they meet face to face the better.
- Saving your dogs most favourite treats for the face to face introduction. By offering a high value reward, your dog will hopefully be much more focused on you than the cat.
Helping your cat settle
Kittens and younger cats are far more adaptable when it comes to introducing them to other animals and as they grow up and develop, the bond they have with other pets can become extremely strong. But what about the older cats who perhaps aren’t used to sharing their space?
We have introduced both older cats and kittens to dogs and although the process is much easier with a kitten, it is possible for an older cat to settle too. We have always made sure to have a dog free zone, well away from any canines that is much quieter. In our case, we have designated the whole of the upstairs to our cats but it could be a catio in the garden or an office or a bedroom. We make sure that the cats have access to their litter tray, food and water and cosy places to sleep and hide. If your cats are allowed outside it would be a good idea to install a cat flap into this area too so the cats can get in and out without being disturbed or chased by dogs.
It may be that your dogs and cats need to be separated for a while whilst they get used to the sounds and smells of one another before they get to meet face to face. Meetings should be short and sweet, with the dogs remaining on a lead and access to an escape for the cats should they need it. It’s important to never force them together and even more important to never leave them unattended with one another. Not only can a dog seriously injure or worse kill a cat but a cat is able to do serious damage with their claws if they feel threatened.
Make sure that your cats are receiving as much attention as possible. Although a dog might seem like they require all of your time and attention, cats are equally as grateful for a fuss and cuddle and play. It might be a good idea to crate your dog for a short while whilst the cat gets access to the rest of the house or send your dog out with a dog walker or family member for a bit of respite for the cats.
Seeking professional help
If you have followed all of our advise and you are still struggling with the introduction of your cats and dogs it might be best to consult a professional. The best method is to seek a certified dog trainer or behaviourist who has experience with prey drive in dogs and does house visits and one to one sessions. Please make sure that whoever you choose is a positive reward based trainer. It is also possible to consult a feline behaviourist if you feel that your cat is struggling too. Alternatively, a consultation with your vet may be in order who are often able to refer to qualified behaviourists in your area.
We truly hope that you are able to successfully introduce your multipet household with one another and for everyone to live harmoniously as they do in our own home. Our experience shows that it takes some time and a whole lot of patience but it’s worth it in the end.
How many different pets do you have in your household? Do you have any tips for how you introduced them to one another? Share them in the comments below!