Fight like cats and dogs? On an idiomatic level, dogs and cats can't stand each other. The two squabblers can live together peacefully and very happily though – as long as a few rules are observed. Find out here what these rules are and what tricks are needed for cat and dog cohabitation to work.
What preconditions must be fulfilled?
A prerequisite for bringing cats and dogs together is neither of the two having had any negative experiences with the other species up until then. If a cat has already been chased by a dog and almost bitten “to death”, you will have a huge struggle on your hands to overcome your cat's fear and get it used to life with its “mortal enemy”. Additionally, dogs that have passionately chased cats throughout their whole life or that have suffered from painful experiences thanks to sharp feline claws will be unwilling to accept a cat in their pack.
In contrast, the possibility of dogs with an innate hunting instinct or very shy cats cohabiting in peace should not be completely ruled out. Of course, in this case you will always experience some drawbacks and the familiarisation phase for the animals will need some time, but it is not impossible. Even the most apparently unsuitable dog breeds are capable of living peacefully with a cat under the same roof, as they have been gently familiarised with the new housemate. In order for the cohabitation to work, you primarily need plenty of time and even more patience. Under no circumstances simply let the animals loose on one another – the dog will relentlessly chase the cat, making it totally frightened or aggressive and unwilling to go along with a second encounter with this “monster”.
The first cat and dog encounter needs to be planned
In order to be successful, you should prepare meticulously for the first encounter of the two animals. Devise a plan for bringing them together and ideally take a few days of annual leave for putting it into practice. Ensure that there is another person present as well as you during the first few days of the encounter, so they can devote themselves entirely to the cat, for instance, whilst you mainly deal with your dog. In general it's important that you can completely devote your full attention to your pets during the first encounters. It's best to avoid special events such as friends visiting or large family gatherings at this time. Even loud background noise from the radio or TV can seriously disturb the first meetings between cat and dog.
Who's right for whom?
If you still don't have your eye on a special cat or particular dog that you want to enter your home as a second pet, you can of course make sure when making a choice that both are as compatible as possible. Mutual socialisation with puppies that get used to cohabiting the other breed from the beginning easily and without any baggage works best of all. If you already have an older cat or dog at home, the new arrival should ideally be calm and not too wild or temperamental. On the other hand, if you have a very lively dog at home, the cat should possess a certain self-confidence in order to assert itself with the livewire.
Who was there first?
Incidentally, the question of whether the dog or cat was the first pet has a decisive influence on bringing the animals together. Whilst dogs generally quickly accept new family members as pack animals, cats are often highly sceptical towards newcomers and perceive dogs as a threat to their territory. In general, it's easier to integrate a cat into a household with a dog than vice versa.
If a new pet entering your home is a done deal and you're prepared to dedicate the appropriate time, effort and patience to uniting the animals, you can soon put your pre-devised plan into action. However, it's recommended to put a few arrangements in place at home before they face each other for the very first time.
Creating possibilities for retreat
In order to avoid conflicts, you should choose a room as neutral as possible in your home for the first encounter. The favourite spot of the “established pet” would certainly be an unsuitable place for them to meet for the first time. In addition, you should ensure that the cat has sufficient opportunity to retreat should it feel uneasy about the matter. A cat tree, a high-up shelf or empty windowsill from which it can initially observe the dog from a distance gives your cat a sense of security. What's more, you should prepare a separate room for the new arrival in which it can hold back and retreat for the first few days.
Food bowls and cat toilet
It's recommended to place the food bowls in different rooms. In order to avoid food-related jealousy, you should ideally choose a high-up area of your home for the cat's food bowl and if necessary feed the animals at different times. As with each other's food bowls, the cat toilet is absolutely taboo for the dog. The cat absolutely needs to be in peace at this “quiet place” and is highly sensitive to its privacy being invaded. It's not uncommon for dogs to also eat the droppings in the cat toilet, whereupon the cat switches to other places and becomes unhygienic.
First familiarisation with smells and noises
Along with the preparations in your home, you can get your animals to “tune in” on the arrival of the new pet. One possibility is rubbing their fur with a dry cloth and afterwards placing it near the feeding area of the other animal. In this way, they can get used to the smell of their counterpart and link them to something positive through the combination of the smell with food. If the dog tends to bark loudly, you can get the cat used to this unusual and possibly fear-inducing sound in advance too. Record your dog barking and play it aloud to the cat – at first quietly and gradually louder and louder until the actual volume of the barking is reached. If a cat enters a home with a dog, you should also give it the opportunity to initially explore its new environment alone before the first encounter with the dog. Whilst one person takes the dog out for a walk, the cat can take its first stroll through your home. In this way, they already know a bit about each other when they meet and are aware of their possibilities to retreat.
How does the first encounter proceed?
After preparing your home and carrying out the first familiarisation measures for the still-separated animals, there's nothing more standing in the way of the first cat and dog encounter. Even though you have prepared really well and feel ready for anything, the real work is just starting now. Don't expect that the cat and dog will enjoy meeting one another. “Love at first sight” probably doesn't exist for these enemies by nature. So scale your expectations back and don't let setbacks that are guaranteed to occur at the beginning get you down. It will take some time for your cat and dog to get on.
On the lead, set, go!
Both animals should be as calm as possible before seeing each other for the first time. Hence, take your dog on a long walk just beforehand so it is physically exerted and satisfied. Incidentally, a hungry stomach can also have a negative affect on their wellbeing. Hence, make sure that both have eaten beforehand and are full. Turn off the radio and TV in the room in which they will meet and put your dog on a lead – alternatively, you can also hold the lead in your hand. Having your dog on a lead is of immense importance in order to avoid possible hunting scenes between your cat and dog. If your dog were to chase the cat through the entire home on the first encounter, this would basically be the end of a successful union.
Stress and fear upon first contact
If your dog is now securely on its lead, another person can let the cat into the room. The cat should absolutely decide for itself how close it comes to the dog. In most cases, cats initially flee to a high “viewing point” as far away as possible from which they can observe the situation and their “opponent”. For almost all animals, meeting a new housemate in “their territory” is stressful. Fear and nerves tend to predominate and will only be gradually be overcome by a bit of curiosity regarding the new partner. So don't ask for too much from your animals and bring the first meeting to an end after just a few minutes – even if it has gone surprising well.
It's important that you yourself radiate calm and composure. If you are worked up and nervous during the first meeting, this will highly likely be transmitted to your pet. Instead, slip into the role of moderator and convey a sense of security and serenity to the animals. Stroke your cat and dog and speak calmly and quietly. If your dog starts to wildly pull at the lead, try to distract it by sitting in front of it and taking its eyes off the cat. However, don't make the mistake of speaking to your dog in a soothing tone. Dogs don't understand the exact words but the tone, and will interpret this manner as approbation of their behaviour, thus will repeat it. Only offer praise when it manages to stay calm faced with the cat. Treats also prove helpful as positive reinforcement – however, they should only be given out when the dog or cat have behaved well to ensure this works.
How long does it take to get dog and cat used to one another?
After the first meeting, practise is key! Depending on how scared your cat is, you should restrict encounters in the first few days to a few minutes each day. The animals must absolutely be kept in separate rooms for the rest of the time. At the start, one to two meetings of five minutes per day are enough for the two animals. When you notice that the agitation of the first get-togethers starts to die down, you can increase the time to 10 to 15 minutes. However, it may take a good two weeks until then. Don't force your pets to do anything and let them decide for themselves when they are ready to spend a longer period of time in a room with one another. As the owner, you know your pets best and will notice when the curiosity towards the new housemate is greater than the initial fear.
Cat and dog learn to get on
After the first few days of sniffing around each other, the actual getting-to-know-each-other phase commences. Dogs and cats are two fundamentally different animals that communicate via entirely distinct body language, so it takes a while until they learn to correctly assess the behaviour of their counterpart. Not until the dog no longer sees the cat as prey and the cat no longer perceives the dog to be a predator are they ready to come closer to one another. It's not uncommon for a few months to go by before the animals have “broken the ice”, so to speak. Whilst they prolong their get-together time more and more, it's important that you insinuate as much normality as possible. Try to focus your attention on something other than your pets. You can cook, read the newspaper, water the plants or send a text message – by doing so, you show cat and dog that it's completely normal for them to live together in the house from now on.
However, you must only let the animals loose on one another when you really are sure that they will react calmly and won't hurt one another. It's not uncommon for six months to go by until you can leave them alone in the house without supervision.
The way to a well-functioning team
In order to successfully bring cat and dog together and familiarise them with life together, you definitely need perseverance. The animals always decide when the familiarisation period has come to an end, not you. At some point though your patience will pay off and your cat and dog will become a well-functioning team where neither can do without the other.