Can Cats and Dogs Get Along?

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You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Those wise words not only apply to human introductions, but four-legged ones as well.

When my husband and I adopted our first dog Ranger, the health, happiness and safety of our two cats, Abby and Ripley, was a priority. That’s why we opted to adopt an adult dog with a proven track record around cats.

Once we got Ranger home, we kept him separated from the cats for a couple of days. Then we started introductions, keeping Ranger on a leash. Abby wanted nothing to do with the newcomer but Ripley, our large male orange tabby, seemed curious and surprisingly unalarmed. Things seemed to be going well. Until…

While I was sitting on the couch with Ranger, loosely holding his leash, Ripley sauntered into the room. Ranger, having been raised around friendly, playful cats, decided this cat probably wanted to play, too. Before I knew it, he jumped off the couch, landed almost on top of Ripley and went into a play bow.

This sudden, unexpected move by Ranger frightened Ripley. But instead of running away, as most cats would, Ripley became aggressive. He emitted a terrifying growl and rushed at Ranger with fur puffed up and claws drawn. In an instant, Ripley was on top of Ranger and our new dog was crying out for mercy. We quickly separated them and to our relief, Ranger was physically unharmed. But in that instant, irreparable damage had been done to their relationship. After months of uneasy tension, they finally seemed to call a truce. However, we could never completely trust Ripley when it came to Ranger.

We knew it was nobody’s fault but our own. We had failed both Ripley and Ranger.

A few years later, when we brought our second dog Mayzie, into our home, we went about things in a much different way. At times, it seemed painfully slow, but we had learned our lesson. And it paid off! Within a year, Ripley and Mayzie were best friends. They took naps together, groomed each other and gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes. (Okay, maybe that was my imagination but it sure seemed that way.)

So what did we do differently the second time around? And how can you successfully integrate an interspecies household?

1. Keep them separated for as long as it takes. This is probably the hardest part. You’re excited about your new family member and you want everyone to get along as soon as possible. But, as I learned, that can be a recipe for disaster. When we brought Mayzie home, we didn’t even let the cats and Mayzie see each other for a few weeks. We gave each pet a chance to roam the house and get used to the other’s scent before even attempting a face-to-face meeting. After that, we utilized baby gates to allow them to see each other without the danger of physical contact. Because of Ripley’s history of aggression with Ranger, it was months before we allowed Mayzie and Ripley to be in the same room without a barrier between them.

2. Understand that cats are territorial. While dogs may be more concerned about social hierarchy, cats see the house and everything in it as theirs. That’s why it’s so difficult for cats to accept another animal into their home. In order to ease this tension, make sure your cat has their own sacred space, separate from the dog, that they can claim as theirs alone.

3. Remember that cats and dogs speak different languages. When Ranger jumped off the couch and did a play bow, he was being friendly. But Ripley, not speaking canine-ese, interpreted it as aggression. Always watch both your dog and cat for signs that they may be misunderstanding each other’s language, and separate them if necessary.

4. Ensure that only good things happen when they’re together. The cat walks in the room? Hey! It’s a party! Let’s have some treats! The dog’s on the other side of the baby gate? Time for cuddling and a grooming session! Once each pet begins to associate the other with all things wonderful, the transition becomes much easier.

5. Don’t leave them alone together until they’re 100% trustworthy around each other. It’s important to closely monitor your pets’ interactions with each other. Not only will it help avoid misunderstandings, it will keep them safe. A dog can quickly and inadvertently kill a cat just by playing too roughly. And a mean orange tabby can scar a dog’s psyche for life.

6. Be patient. This simply can’t be stressed enough. The more patient you are and the slower you’re willing to go, the better chance you have of creating a happy and harmonious home!

Do you have more than one kind of pet in your home? If so, do they get along?

Amber Carlton is a freelance blogger and business writer specializing in the pet industry. Owned by two dogs and two cats, she is affectionately (?) known as the crazy pet-lady amongst her friends and family. Connect with her at Comma Hound Copywriting, on Twitter or at Mayzie’s Dog Blog.

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