Cats and dogs can be the best of friends, as long as they have been carefully, gradually introduced and acclimatized to each other’s presence (or, best of all, if they have known each other since puppyhood and kittenhood). Dogs often show the kind of patience with cats that they show to small children, putting up with the occasional indignity.
A dog and a cat meeting and greeting - warily!
One possible hazard is a dog’s waggly tail. A cat will find it irresistible to pounce, claws out, which can lead to some noisy disagreements! If your dog is well-trained, he will soon learn not to over-react.
If you’re thinking about getting a cat and you already have a dog you must decide whether your dog is going to be able to tolerate a new cat. Some dog breeds are considered to be more tolerant of cats than others, but the best way to gauge it is by knowing your dog’s temperament. The best situation would involve introducing your dog to cats from an early age, ideally when it’s a puppy.
The Importance of a Well Trained Dog
If your dog knows, and obeys, commands for sit and stay, you are off to a great start. This is important as it means you will be able to control your dog, who is sure to be really excited by the newcomer. If your do can’t be relied on to obey, you need to make sure he’s on a short leash when you introduce the two pets.
The Ideal Dog for a Cat
If the dog ticks at least one of these boxes, he’ll probably form a good relationship with your cat:
- He’s a softie, and likes nothing better than a belly-rub and lots of fuss
- He’s gentle with young children, strangers and smaller dogs
- His hunting instinct is quite low – i.e. he doesn’t chase or try to fight or kill other animals
- He’s well-trained and obedient, and listens to your commands
- Best of all – he has a good relationship with cats already
This British Shorthair cat's best friend is a dog
Dogs that Won’t Get On With Cats
These are sure signs that your dog is not suitable to be kept with a cat:
- He’s usually aggressive to other dogs
- He needs to wear a muzzle when out on a walk
- He chases anything that moves
- He’s a natural born hunter, and/or has been known to catch rabbits, rats, etc
- He’s not very well-trained, and can’t be relied on to listen to your commands
- Having said that, most adult cats will stand their ground against a dog, using an arched back, spitting and slashing claws to dissuade the hapless hound from trying anything. After a clawed nose or two, the dog will learn to show more respect.
Handling First Meetings Between a Cat and Dog
- Timing is all – Take it slow. The new cat will need time to get used to the new smells and surroundings. All cats are different, and this stage could take anything from a couple of days to a week, perhaps even more. Taking these steps will help your cat settle and reduce stress.
- Play clever – Smell plays an important part in the lives of dogs, and cats too to a lesser extent. One clever way of helping your pets get used to each other’s scent is to swap their bedding for a few nights before they meet.
- Get the setting right – Ensure the house is quiet when the pets meet in the flesh for the first time. Don’t invite everyone to come and watch the meeting, and keep small children away for the moment. This will create a calm atmosphere which will help your dog stay focused on your commands. It is also a good idea to take your dog for a long walk prior to meeting, to get rid of his excess energy.
- Keep your dog on a short leash – Just in case! Make him sit and stay before introducing the cat to the room. Don’t use a “playtime” tone of voice or see things your do associates with fun and excitement (“What’s this?”, “Come on, boy!”, etc.)
- Give the cat an escape route - this can be an open door or an out-of-reach spot on high furniture. It’s not a good idea to provide and external escape route via window or cat flap this early in the process, or you may never see the cat again! The idea here is to give the cat the chance of drawing the meeting to a close if she feels threatened or trapped.
- Reward good behaviour - Have dog treats on hand to reward your dog for good behaviour and obedience. Don’t punish him, even if he’s growled and barked – he may come to associate your cat with the punishment, which is not a good start to any friendship. Stick to basic no/sit/stay commands.
- Repeat as necessary - These introductions will often go smoothly and you may only need to repeat the process a couple of times before you, the cat, and the dog are all happy with the situation. Then again, you may need to go through the introductions several times, with a few attempts per day over a period of weeks.
- The most important thing is not to give the process all the time it needs. To put it in stark terms, your cat’s life is at stake, so just take it easy.
Cuddling up with a Basset Hound
Can Cats and Dogs Be Best Friends?
The short answer is no. The longer answer is sometimes. The full explanation is that the animals are very different, with different needs, different body language, and different social requirements. Unless your dog has adopted a young cat as a surrogate puppy, the best you can hope for is mutual respect and/or a very patient cat (as it’s the dog who will be the demanding partner in the friendship).
These are some of the common issues:
- Play - Dogs may assume the cat is just a strange breed of dog, and will try to play with it like a fellow mutt. Unfortunately, the cat will interpret the playfulness as aggression, and may lash out, run away, or both.
- Predatory Instincts - Some breeds of dog have very high predatory instincts and will act aggressively i.e. stalking/staring towards a cat. Repeating the controlled introduction sessions as necessary is the only way through the deadlock, and positive reinforcement is very important in order to break the aggressive behaviour. With some dog breeds, you will never reach a point where you can trust the hound to abandon his killer instincts. In this case your pets cannot be left together unsupervised.
- Avoidance - Sometimes your pets’ instinct is simply to avoid each other. This will avoid conflict most of the time, but if the animals are forced to stay in the same room they will feel uncomfortable, and your cat may become distressed.
- Kittens - A dog can very easily kill a cat and this is even truer for kittens. It may be best to wait until your kitten has grown up before making any introductions. This is especially important if your dog is quite lively and playful.
To learn more about teaching your dog to get along with a cat you can read our section Cats And Dogs in the Omlet Dog Guide