The old saying fighting like cats and dogs has been played out time and again in cartoons. But, in real life you are likely to walk into most cross-species pet homes to find a dog and a cat resting contentedly next to each other on the couch. The path to these happy relations usually begins when the animals are quite young so they can grow up together.
Young animals are often more likely to easily accept other animals and in many cases to come to consider them close companions. However, carefully planned and supervised introductions are always advisable, and the cat’s welfare should be of the utmost concern since, as in the case of a problem, the cat is generally in a more vulnerable position.
If you are considering introducing a new animal of a different species to your family, consider that success is most easily attained with either two young animals or an adult cat and a puppy. If you already have an adult dog and want to welcome a cat to your family, it is usually advisable that it be an adult cat rather than a kitten.
Consider that temperament is the most important concern. Some dogs become highly excited when they are around cats. While they may not pose a serious threat, this sort of response usually makes them less likely to be ideal housemates with a cat. Some dogs (especially Sight Hounds and Terriers) have a strong instinct to chase smaller animals. So, make an honest assesment of your dog’s general characteristics and tendencies towards chasing and preying and how this might affect a cat’s quality of life and safety.
Most shelters not only allow, but require a face to face introduction at the shelter prior to adopting a cat to a household with an adult dog. The initial introduction should be controlled (i.e. the cat in a carrier and the dog on leash). It is advisable to give your dog an opportunity to exercise a bit before hand so that he or she is a bit less full of energy as the environment and context is likely to excite even the most placid dog.
Carefully observe both animals reaction to each other. The first few moments may be a bit tense, as they first smell and then see each other. But, look for moments of calm, and consider how long it takes to get there.
If the shelter agrees this looks to be a potentially good match, repeat this process at home and look again for those moments of calm after the initial investigative period which should consist of the dog going back to his or her normal behavior, including resting quietly. This controlled, safe exposure should continue for some time.
After a few of these 5-10 minute greeting acclimation periods, practice working on calling your dog away from the cat’s carrier and offering a high level reward. You should be confident that your dog’s potential level of excitement does not over ride his or her ability to respond promptly to your requests.
In addition, provide the cat plenty of time to rest and adjust in a small, safely enclosed area such as a bathroom. While the dog and cat are not making physical contact in this way, they will begin to get used to each others smell.
If your dog is responding well during the periods of introduction when the cat is crated (i.e. coming when called, sitting, etc.) after some time you can let the cat wander in areas of the home while keeping the dog on leash and occupied with some good chew toys mixed in with moments of working on the dog responding to your requests.
Let the cat investigate a small area of the home to begin and be sure he or she has access to areas out of the dog’s reach even while the dog is leashed and under your control. Potential unsupervised access to each other should be reserved until plenty of time has passed. In some cases, a month or more is best. This way, you have the best chance of being assured of your dog’s response and your cat’s safety.