Some people like cats, others prefer dogs, and then there are those pet lovers who don’t discriminate. But having both a cat and a dog can be stressful, at least at first. So how do you make sure your cat doesn’t end up becoming your dog’s dinner?
Recent research from Tel Aviv showed that cats and dogs can indeed become friends. The trick is to introduce them when they are both young (6 months for cats and up to a year for dogs) and to ensure that the dog is brought into the cat’s environment and not the other way round. This way, pets are more likely to learn each other’s communication language. For instance, looking away means aggression in cats and submission in dogs. When the pets are young, they would be more flexible in trying to understand each other.
But it is not always possible to follow these rules. What do you do if one of the pets is older, or if it is a cat you are bringing to your home? First of all, supervise. It might take you a few weeks or even months of constant watch before you feel ready to leave your pets alone together. Be patient, eventually most breeds will calm down and move on to other sources of entertainment. Exceptions are terriers and greyhounds who enjoy chasing anything that moves.
Introductions are very important. It is advisable to keep the dog in a pen or on a tight lead at least for the first meetings and allow the pets to get used to each other this way. Make sure that your cat has an escape route and a safe place to sleep: a window ledge or the top of a bookcase so that the dog would not be able to reach. You might find that the cat leaves for a few days at first. She will come back eventually and it is your job to make her feel welcome and safe at this point. Stroke her, ensure that her food and litter tray are out of the dog’s reach and be prepared to be nothing more than a hotel for her for a little while. As she gets used to the new pet, she will start staying at home more and more. If it is the cat that is new then it is advisable to leave her at home for a few weeks before letting her out.
Reward your dog for calm behaviour, stay patient and eventually you will start seeing results. You might never find your pets sleeping together on the same rug but they will at least leave each other be. I introduced my dog Rocky to my two year old cat Boris six months ago, and after a few months of constant supervision they sometimes even sit on the sofa together, Rocky on one side of me and Boris on the other. Idyllic, as long as I choose to ignore the jealous looks they give each other as I stroke them!