Can cats get along with dogs? The answer is simply yes, says Philadelphia veterinarian Dr. Liz Bales. As long as pet owners take their time and follow a few simple rules for introducing dogs and cats, there’s no reason why dogs and cats can’t develop a harmonious relationship.

Keep them separated

When you welcome a new dog or cat into your home, it’s important that the pet immediately gets used to a new space without the added stress of other animals. In this case, Bales suggests keeping the cat in a separate environment with plenty of stimulation for a few days.

An enclosed room or large bathroom with scratching posts, toys, food, water, and a litter box is an ideal choice for a new cat. Be sure to maintain a high level of attention during this time as well. If you get a new dog, consider keeping your current cat in a separate part of the house and continue cat training with the dog.

Bales suggests moving some of the pet’s belongings – such as beds – into the other’s room during this time, so the cat and dog can get used to each other’s smells. You can repeat this process until the situation is no longer stressful for both pets. Once your cat is calm, eating well, and using the litter box regularly, it’s time to calm her down.

Make the first meeting a quick one

When you’re ready to introduce your cat to your dog, limit the first meeting to about ten minutes. Bring the dog on a leash and let the cat walk around and get as close to the dog as he wants. Use a head collar (halter) with your dog if you are not in complete control of the situation. Reward your dog with treats and praise him for his calm behavior toward the cat.

If the process goes well, gradually increase the amount of time the animals spend together. Once you feel comfortable, let your dog loose, but keep him on a leash so he can quickly regain control of the situation if necessary. Be patient – it may take weeks or months for your dog and cat to get used to each other and become comfortable.

Consider your pet’s personality

Dr. Lisa Radosta, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist in West Palm Beach, Florida, says your dog or cat’s personality is a good indicator of its ability to get along with another animal.

“If your cat has lived with dogs before and is familiar with other animals, the transition will probably be easy,” she says. “On the other hand, if your cat becomes agitated, growls, or runs away from other animals, you will have a harder time.”

Dr. Radosta also recommends considering your dog’s personality. “Is he playful but not aggressive? Dogs with this temperament adapt more easily to a cat. A dog that attacks, growls, and is difficult to control will never be safe with your cat. In this case, consult your veterinarian.”

If your cat is the confident type and your dog is the easy-to-control type, it’s best to let the cat handle things. But even then, the encounter shouldn’t turn into a brutal fight. “Put your cat on a higher surface than the dog and put him on a leash for the encounter,” Dr. Radosta says.

Supervision is key

Keep your cat and dog separate if you can’t supervise them directly until you’re sure they’re safe, Dr. Radosta says. The safest way to do this is to keep your dog in a crate.

“Even a dog that just wants to play can seriously or fatally injure a cat,” he says. “Dogs can jump over or through baby gates and put cats in a dangerous situation.”

Likewise, it’s helpful to provide a safe place for the cat to escape the dog. This can be a scratching post that the dog can’t climb or a separate room with a cat door. “When cats run, dogs chase them. It’s very important to avoid that at all costs,” Dr. Radosta says.

Improve Your Dog’s Skills

For your cat to feel safe, your dog needs to be in control. He needs to know basic commands such as “leash,” “sit,” and “stay.” Before the first introduction, be sure to practice the commands with your dog and have treats on hand so you can reward him for good behavior. “When your dog sees the cat, ask him to sit and reward him,” says Dr. Radosta.

If all your dog has to do is run after your cat, running after him will become his favorite activity.

“Make sure your dog gets lots of exercise and activity by using food toys and rotating his toys to keep him busy,” she says. “You can also save these fun activities for times when your cat is free at home.”

Long walks and daily exercise can also help your dog burn off energy, making encounters with the family cat less crazy.

You never know which pet will become the leader of the pack, but if you take the necessary steps to properly introduce a cat to a dog – and if you are patient – things will work out better in your blended family.

 

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