Dogs and Cats Living Together A guide on cohabitation

BY | September 06 | COMMENTS PUBLISHED BY
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While dogs and cats are not natural friends, some often form strong relationships that transcend the obvious species differences and live together peacefully.

Do you wish to share your home with both a dog and a cat? 

While dogs and cats are not natural friends, some often form strong relationships that transcend the obvious species differences and live together peacefully.

But not all dogs can live with cats and vice versa. Some cats tend to get nervous and scared around dogs. Likewise, some dogs have strong prey instincts that, if left around cats and other small pets, will chase them, nip at them or harass them.

Because of this, it is important to be mindful of the way you introduce new species into the family. You need to create a non-violent, healthy environment where dogs and cats can co-exist happily. With that in mind, this comprehensive article will provide you with all the knowledge on how to give your new pets the best opportunity to live together.

Can Dogs and Cats Live Together?

According to research, there is no reason cats and dogs should not live in the same household. But even though they can play and sleep together, remember these pets are from different species. That means they have natural differences that can lead to mistrust and conflict.

Competition: In the wild, canines see cats as prey, and cats see dogs as a predator. So, it makes sense that domestic cats fear dogs: it’s hard-wired into their brains. And when they live in the same room, the two species can’t help but compete for territory, food, and human companionship or attention. As such, they’re more likely to fight.

Sociability: Dogs are social animals: they love being part of a social group and need to, for their well-being. They often meet and greet all creatures that come into their territory. On the other hand, cats are independent and often prefer to isolate, ignore or escape the sight of humans, dogs, and other animals.

Another thing, cats prefer to isolate themselves from group activities because they haven’t refined two essential abilities the way dogs have: understanding human communication methods and building the required skills to interact with humans.

Communication: The way cats communicate isn’t as obvious to humans as the way dogs communicate. These two species have different body languages. For instance, an elevated tail in a cat could mean excitement or signify discomfort. The same tail gesture in dogs could express a positive state of mind. 

Despite the difference in communication, dogs and cats can understand each other and respond accordingly. If a cat approaches a dog with its tail up, the canine might respond kindly. But if the dog raises his tail, it might trigger aggressive behavior or hostility in the cat.

A better understanding of communicative signals given off by dogs and cats places you in a better position to manage your pets. 

Spaces: Cats are territorial animals and can sometimes get aggressive towards dogs and people who venture into their different activity areas. Furthermore, any changes to their spaces can provoke behavioral problems.

For dogs, social interactions and activities go hand in hand with their well-being. If a dog spends lots of time in a confined home setting, he will become bored and feel isolated. As a result, he might develop behavioral and health problems.

How to Introduce a Dog and Cat Safely

If you already have a cat and considering getting a dog, or vice versa, it’s crucial to think about the introduction process. Allowing an off-leash dog and a loose cat to interact with each other in an open space is a recipe for disaster. They might end up fighting, leading to some serious injuries not only to themselves but also to the surrounding people.

Therefore, you need to follow the proper steps for a gentle introduction so the pets can become good friends. Below, we've provided you with tips for the safe introduction of a new pet to your family, even if you already own other pets.

Matching Dogs and Cats

Before getting a dog for your cat or a cat for your dog, you need to factor in the pets’ personalities. Find animals that have lived or been exposed to other species before.

If you have an older, anxious and laid-back dog or cat in the house, go for a calmer counterpart. High-spirited partners may frighten, annoy or bother your peaceful pet. So, it is crucial to check a pet’s temperament at the shelter first before proceeding with the adoption. By doing so, you’re more likely to find a companion that gets along with your dog or cat.

If your dog chases, pin, or pick on small pets, you're better off not getting a cat. And if you consider getting one, proceed with caution. The same applies to dogs that growl or bark obsessively at cats. Also, cats that run from or growl at dogs prefer a dog-free environment.

Energetic dogs that chase everything in sight will not make better companions for cats who run away in fear because they could trigger the dog’s chase instinct. The same applies to cats who jump and run around a lot. The best counterparts here would be calm and confident pets who will not run out of fear or excitement.

Most cats and dogs like animals that behave like them. For example, a rambunctious or playful dog might enjoy the company of a playful, confident, and gentle cat. Avoid placing playful dogs with kittens or elderly cats because they can easily harm them. 

Preparation

For a successful pet introduction to take place, you need some advance preparation. You can prepare your home and your existing pets for the arrival of the new pet through the following steps:

1.   Create enough resting places

Dogs often chase and hurt cats. So, before bringing a new cat or puppy, ensure you’ve cleared several spots in your home, like shelves and countertops, for the cat to easily and safely leap out of harm’s way.

It's also wise to block off rooms with baby gates or install cat doors to allow the cat to escape with ease to other rooms or outside if chased by the dog. If you’re looking to bring a dog to a home with a cat, familiarize your cat with escape routes and hiding space in advance. Use food to lure them over a gate or through the cat door.

2.   Provide a safe space for the cat

Before bringing in a new cat, set aside a spare room where the kitty will stay as it adjusts to its surrounding; even if you're bringing a new dog, your cat will still need an area where it can feel safe. Set up all the cat's belongings, including food, water, toys, and a litter tray in this area.

Even if you have a confident cat, the dog's presence might lead to some uneasiness. The kitty might develop stress or become too scared to eat/drink or even use the litter box once the dog arrives. Therefore, the idea of the safe zone is to allow the cat to do whatever she needs to do without coming close to the dog. For a new cat, the area will allow her to explore her new surrounding at her speed.

It’s extremely important to re-arrange your resident cat set-up weeks before taking in a puppy or dog. This way, she could have enough time to adjust to the new settings.

3.   Provide enough high places

Naturally, cats love hiding and resting in high places. So, ensure you’ve created plenty of high spaces around your home where the new kitty or your resident cat can stay as it gets used to the new companion.

4.   Install stair gates

Stairs gates come in handy when introducing dogs to cats. They allow the pets to see and smell each other without coming into contact, which is vital until they develop a bond and see each other as a family. Usually, stair gates come in varying heights and designs. Some even have cat flaps to allow cats to move around with ease, especially elderly kitties.

5.   Kittens Need Extra Care

Kittens are more likely to excite your resident dog than an adult cat because of their playful and active nature. However, their small size makes them very susceptible to getting hurt. While a stair gate can be an invaluable tool for introducing a cat to a dog, it might not work that well for a kitten. That’s because it can easily slip between the bars.

If you wish to keep the kitten safe, consider getting a large dog crate that can fit a litter tray, scratching post, and bed and provide enough room to hide. Give the kitten time to get used to the crate before introducing her to your dog.

6.   Don’t forget about the scent

The scent is essential for communication between both dogs and cats. Integrating a new pet scent into your home can increase the success of the introduction significantly. You can start by exchanging beddings between the new dog and your resident cat to create a sense of familiarity before they meet.

The Introduction Process Let Them Familiarizes With Each Other’s Scent

On the first day, keep your new dog and cat in their selected room with enough water, food, and litter. Let the pet adjust to the new surrounding before they can explore your home. Use this time to swap scents between your dog and cat by exchanging beddings regularly and stroking them without washing your hands.

Alternatively, you can gently stroke your new pet’s head with a soft cloth and dab it around the furniture in your house and other hanging-out spots like the dog bed, your lap, and under the cat’s food dish to mix the animal's scents. Repeat this process for the next few days, until no pet seems distressed or excited by the other’s smell. If your cat still swishes her tail or the dog barks, it’s a sign they still need more time.

Allow Them to Investigate Each Other’s Favorite Space

Once the new cat gets used to your resident dog’s scent, you can let her explore the rest of the home for a few hours when the dog is out of the house and vice versa.

Select the Right Location for the First Meeting

Where the introduction of your resident cat to a new dog or resident dog to a new cat will take place depends upon the layout of your house. However, you need to ensure the kitty has a straightforward route back to her safe place. The selected room should feature raised surfaces and a multi-tiered scratching cat tower where the feline can escape to the high ground where she can feed safely. Also, it’s best to introduce the pets to each other when they’re at their calmest. So, if the dog seems excited, take it for an exercise or walk.

When introducing dogs to cats or vice versa, it's wise to take steps to prevent the dog from chasing the cat. Although the dog might simply want to play with the cat, the kitty may feel threatened and dislike the canine immediately. Furthermore, if the dog develops the habit of chasing the cat around, it might prove hard to get rid of it. Therefore, preventing the behavior beforehand is vital.

Introduce Them Through a Stair Gate or Dog Crate

Suppose you have a crate-trained dog or puppy; even better. Just like a stair gate, the dog crate will make the introduction hassle-free and much safer. Place the canine in the crate with his favorite toy as you bring in the cat. Avoid forcing any interactions between the two animals. Simply groom the cat, provide her with treats or play with her in the same room as the two get used to being around each other.

If using a stair gate, put the dog or puppy in the lead behind the structure. Let your cat see the canine and approach him if she wants to. In the meantime, you can reward the dog with treats for remaining calm.

Cats are naturally patient and calm animals, meaning they like taking their time observing before deciding whether or not to approach. It’s crucial to allow your cat to do this on her own time and keep your distance to avoid getting bitten or scratched if she panics.

After some time, you can confine the dog in another room and allow your cat time to roam freely and investigate the dog’s scent. You can repeat the process for a few days until they acknowledge each other and remain calm. But, if the dog seems excited, barks, or digs the separation barrier whenever the cat is around, you might need the help of a professional.

As for a kitten in a crate, ensure you keep enough distance between the two pets. This way, you can avoid overwhelming them. At first, keep the interactions short and always reward both pets for positive behavior.

Introduce Them with The Dog Leash

When the two pets can calmly stay in the same room, you can make leashed introductions. Securely place a leash around your puppy or dog and bring the kitten or cat into the room for the introduction. Again, reward both pets for remaining calm around each other.

If the cat hisses or growls at the dog, it’s a sign for the canine to back off. That’s a good response compared to running away, which might trigger the dog to chase the kitty. If the cat runs away, grasp the leash and command the dog to stop and sit. If he obeys, treat him to a tasty treat.

It helps to have another person around to help in rewarding the pets and removing the cat from the room if the interaction doesn’t go well. Do this for several days, keeping the introduction short at first until the two animals are fairly comfortable with each other company.

Keep in mind that it will take a few weeks of leashing your dog or puppy around the cat before they can roam around comfortably together. Even if they don't get aggressive with each other, you still need to supervise them for peace.

If you’re not around, place the pets in different areas of your house. And the day you choose to let your canine off the leash, please make sure the cat has an escape path.

Permit Unsupervised Interactions

Only leave your dog and cat unsupervised if you’re certain they can tolerate each other. But that’s only possible after many weeks and sometimes months of close supervision. Also, you need to be absolutely positive the dog or puppy will not chase the cat or hurt each other.

Don’t fear going back a few steps back or keeping the pets apart for a while longer as they get used to each other. Continue with the introduction as carefully and slowly as possible, ensuring the cat has safe zones in the house to hide away if the dog gets aggressive.

Remember, there’s no guarantee your dog and cat will form unbreakable bonds and do everything together. But hopefully, they can learn to tolerate each other and learn to co-exist happily in the same living space. 

Even if the cat doesn’t form a long-term relationship with your dog, the two may still leave in peace by claiming their own territories where they can feel secure and happy. If all your efforts for introductions bore no fruit, and the pets remain agitated and aggressive towards each other, seek the help of a skilled behaviorist.

Warning Signs

Irrespective of the steps you take during introductions, you may notice that some dogs and cats are simply not receptive to getting along. The pets might give off tense warning signs that might call for immediate intervention. Such signs include:

  • The dog maintains constant eye contact with the cat or the door to the kitty’s room, ignores your presence completely, or jumps forward as soon as the feline moves. If you observe any of these, it’s wise to find another dog for your cat or don’t get a cat for your dog
  • The dog snaps, barks, growls, lunges forward towards a calm, quiet kitten, or the feline hisses or growls at a calm, still dog. Here, the two pets will probably not develop a friendly relationship unless you seek the intervention of an expert.
  • Your dog wants to chase and capture the cat and completely ignores commands. If he continues displaying this behavior, it's a sign he’s never lived with a cat before.
  • The canine redirects aggression toward the cat. If so, consider getting a different dog for your resident cat.
  • You might notice reduced activeness in your dog after introducing the cat. It’s a sign your furry friend is not happy with the new companion.
  • Sometimes that cat might stop eating, drinking water, stop using the litter box, and hide constantly. If this happens, she is not happy with the new dog or puppy, and you better contact an animal behaviorist for advice.

Cats can also display other alarming signs, including:

  • Having their ear pinned back
  • Attacking the quiet dog
  • Hissing and growling continuously
  • Not feeling happy and hiding excessively
  • Demonstrating anxiety-related signs like scratch marking or under/overeating

Domesticated felines rarely behave aggressively toward dogs or puppies, but some might be on the offensive side when they meet canines. When introducing these pets, keep in mind that dogs can inflict harm on cats, even when they seem playful. Therefore, always have a backup plan, and address any signs of distress with your vet immediately.

The key to successfully integrating the pets into your home is patience; never rush the introductions. If you don’t observe any progress, your dog will require some training before you can bring in a new cat.

Maintaining Peace Between Your Dog and Cats

Successful introductions don’t necessarily mean a strong relationship between your dog and new cat (or residential cat and dog/puppy). Remember, these pets come with distinct traits, personalities, and tendencies, and any changes down the line might stir up trouble. To avoid this, there are a few measures you must take to maintain a dog and cat-friendly home. Let’s check them out!

1.  Never Let Your Dog Have Access to Cat Areas

How comfortable and safe a cat feels in a home determines the nature and strength of the dog-cat relationship. Cats are independent creatures and enjoy their spaces. So, you can make her feel safe by designating a room that’s off-limits to dogs. Ensure the room features high-up platforms like shelves, cat trees, and hiding places that only the cat can access.

It will help if you can provide lots of vertical spaces around the house so the kitty can move around with ease without having to pass the dog at ground level. They can also use these elevated spaces for relaxing.

It also doesn’t hurt to pull the sofas slightly from the wall or chairs out of the dining table to create enough room for the cat to get through when threatened by her canine companion.

Remember pet gates or baby gates? They can also come in handy in preventing your dog from venturing into your cat’s favorite room.

2.  Keep Their Food Separate

Even after a successful introduction, territorial aggression can come to play, especially when food is involved. That’s why it’s paramount you give your dog and cat their food and drinking water in separate spaces at designated times. The two shouldn’t have to compete for resources.

Feed each pet separately from the other and ensure you provide them with quality time. A helpful trick is to place their food on each side of a closed door so they can smell each other’s food and scent while they’re eating.

Besides that, avoid playing with your cat when your dog is around. Otherwise, you might trigger your canine’s urge to chase. Also, dogs shouldn’t have access to the cat’s litter tray or the kitty shouldn’t have to pass the canine to access her tray. 

3.  Don’t Allow the Dog Chase the Cat

It’s no secret! Most canines play by chasing. So, if your cat runs off out of fear, the dog might assume the kitty is being playful and continue the chase. This lack of understanding can increase fear levels and activate the cat’s defensive mode.

It's upon you, 'the pet owner,' to teach your canine the cat's language. Failure to do so can lead to serious injury for both animals. 

Usually, it’s challenging to introduce a new kitty to a dog with strong instincts to chase small pets or the behavior of chasing outdoor cats. That’s because the new pet will not feel safe around the dog.

The best way to deal with high chase drive is to let your dog know what is expected of him in the presence of a feline. For instance, you can command the dog to sit or lie down when a cat is around to boost calm, gentle behavior. A tasty treat after action will go a long way to reinforce the behavior. 

4.  Avoid Crisis Management

Sometimes a warning scratch from cats or growl from dogs is what pets do to establish order in the house. Avoid rushing in to separate the pets when their interaction appears tense. Such actions will only elevate the tension levels, resulting in problematic experiences that might hinder future relations.

If the pets show signs of being able to share the same space comfortably and safely, you can eliminate the barriers for a while. But do this cautiously and after several successful interactive sessions between the dog and cat in the same space.

The best way to deal with tense interactions is to lure the pets away from each other using treats or toys to create space.

5.  Reinforce Positivity

Avoid telling off your dog for being inappropriate around his feline partner, or you might end up confusing him and creating a negative association. As a result, you will worsen the behavior. 

What you can do is reward the dog for calm interactions so he can learn to control his instincts and behavior. The goal is to create a peaceful home, and you can only achieve this when the two pets can exist in the same space without showing signs of distress or extreme excitement.

However, if you cannot trust your dog around the cat, it’s best to keep them separated to prevent chasing.

6.  Don’t Have Prolonged Introductions

You should always keep the introductions between the pets short, exciting, and spread throughout the day for almost a week.

Reward both animals with treats for good behavior and to build positive associations. It will help if you can find specific treats for these meetings so the dog and cat can look forward to the sessions.

If over time, the two seem relaxed, you can let them get closer to each other. Nonetheless, keep the sessions short while providing positive experiences and human interactions.

7.  Always Supervise Your Dog and Cat

Lastly, don’t leave the pets unsupervised, especially during the first weeks and even months. Supervision here entails constant monitoring and creating positive interactions through food and toys to prevent problems.

You might need to be on the constant lookout for signs of aggression and emotional arousal indicators like excitement, fears, body language, and posture changes. If you fear things might get intense during the introductions, separate the dog and cat while they’re still calm. Don’t wait for things to get out of hand.

If they keep a calm state throughout their meetings, use positive interactions to reward them and ensure the behavior becomes engrained in their mind. But remember, it will take lots of time before you can positively confirm their peaceful co-existence.

Even if the pet reaches a stage where they can stay in the same space unsupervised, you might still need to take steps to guarantee their safety and comfort. For instance, you may need to trim your cat’s nails to prevent injury to the dog through scratching and provide dog-free spaces for the feline.

4 Other Things to Know If You Want to Live with Both a Dog and Cat

You Will Need to Prepare for Additional Costs

Before bringing a new pet into your household, it’s crucial to draw up a budget for each pet’s care costs to ensure you’re prepared financially to handle their needs.

During the first year of pet ownership, expect to spend about $1,500 and $2,000. Besides adoption fees (which often vary based on the shelter, pet store, or breeder), you will need to factor in many one-time expenses for the new pet, including new litter boxes, training classes, cages, food bowls, carrier bags, puppy pads, and so on.

There are also recurring annual costs which can range anywhere from $700 to $1,100 per year based on the pet and size. The annual cost covers food, litter, license, treats, grooming, expected and unexpected medical costs, health insurance, and litter. On top of that, you need to consider pet sitting expenses when you’re at work or traveling.

With that in mind, below are a few ways you can keep the cost of raising your dog and cat to a minimum.

5 Ways to Save Money on Pet Expenses

  • Buy food in bulk: You can reduce pet food costs by as much as 50 percent by shopping in bulk. Usually, a bigger package of dog and cat food often comes at a lower price. Don't forget to check out special offers and discounts to save more on smaller packs of foods. Alternatively, you can shop with food delivery services like Chewy and PetSmart since they offer a discount when you auto-ship your pet food or order in bulk.
  • Pet Insurance: While pet insurance might sound like a new concept and unnecessary, getting your pet insured can save you hundreds if not thousands of vet bills. That’s true if your cat or dog might require frequent vet visits or you’re worried about covering the expense of a one-off pet visit.
  • Don’t skip on dental care: Like humans, pets require constant dental care. As a fact, most cats and dogs develop dental issues by the age of three. These issues often affect their quality of life, lead to diseases and leave you with expensive vet bills.
  • Buy pet toys and bedding from charity shops: Sometimes, your new pet doesn’t need the newest and most expensive toys. You can always opt for cheap alternatives sold at charity shops. The same goes for their beddings.
  • Get your pet neutered or spayed: If you don’t want to end up with extra mouths (kittens or puppies) to feed, take measures to prevent your cat or dog from reproducing.

There’s No One Dog Breed Ideal for Cat Companionship And Vice Versa

Animal behaviorists say socialization, level of training, and personality are the biggest determiners of dog and cat relationships, not breed.

Remember, every animal, even those within a specific breed, come with varying dispositions and personalities. They all react differently when introduced to new animals.

For instance, if you have a shy, easily scared resident kitty, a new energetic dog will not make the best companion. That’s why it’s crucial to first know your resident pet's comfort level and preferences before getting a new partner.

That said, it’s easy to introduce new partners to easy-going, laid-back resident dogs and cats that have been well-socialized with other animals and people. This holds particularly for canines with common obedience training.

Well-socialized and trained dogs realize that not every small pet they meet wants to be chased, or sniffed. These dogs will follow any command given by their owners when around new cats.

Even so, there are other factors, like age, that affect how pets co-exist. An elderly residential cat that loves its space will not appreciate the company of a bouncy puppy.

Training might come in handy for dogs that get excited easily or breeds with strong chase instincts like a greyhound, Alaskan Malamute, Afghan Hound, and Jack Russell Terrier. This will help prevent the pets from alarming and hurting the cat.

Some vets say socialization and training can also help teach dogs and cats how to behave and react in different situations and pet owners how to predict their pets' reactions based on past exposures. 

You Might Need to Adjust Your Lifestyle to Help Each Pet Get Adequate Exercise

Like humans, pets require regular exercise to avoid several health issues like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory problems. Besides staying healthy, adequate exercises help pets burn excess energy, which stimulates their brains and allows them to get a good night’s sleep.

Usually, dogs need more frequent physical activity. Therefore, if you’re a cat owner and wish to add a canine to your home, you might have to make some major lifestyle changes to incorporate regular exercise.

Depending on the dog’s age, breed, and energy level, you’ll need to adjust your schedule to meet the pet’s physical activity needs. For example, you might have to set aside time to play fetch and chase games, play tug of war, visit a dog park, attend agility classes and even go swimming.

However, these changes can throw off your resident cat’s feeding and playtime routine. So, it’s important to find a balanced to avoid depriving the pets of their needs.

You Might Need to Create Time to Give Each Animal Separate Attention

If you plan to raise a dog and cat in the same house, brace yourself to give out double the attention. You need to ensure that both pets get the fair share of attention they deserve. Luckily, you don’t need tons of extra time to show your dog or cat you care. You can let them know through gestures and simple everyday acts, including:

  • Grooming your cat and dog
  • Massaging your cat
  • Creating a boredom training program
  • Understanding how your dog and cat communicate
  • Setting separate exercise and playing times for each pet
  • Giving them toys and treats
  • Letting your cat and dog hang out with you at separate times
  • Focusing on touch

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, dogs and cats can live peacefully under the same roof. But will they become best friends or soul mates? Well, there's no guarantee because the truth is many pets simply don't like cohabitation.

Luckily, dogs and cats can learn to tolerate each other, find a balance and share their territory. But pet owners need to take measures to find the most compatible partners and create a safe and comfortable environment for them.

With that in mind, remember it takes time and patience before a new dog/puppy can get used to a residential cat and vice versa. So, take things slowly and carefully, and hopefully, your household will have a dog and cat that co-exist peacefully and happily.

References

https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice/dog-care/dogs-and-cats-living-together

https://www.petsradar.com/advice/dogs-and-cats-living-together

https://www.smalldogplace.com/dogs-and-cats-living-together.html

https://dogtime.com/how-to/pet-safety/95-introducing-dog-and-cat

https://www.psychnewsdaily.com/study-cats-dogs-living-together-confirms-stereotypes/

https://www.purina.com.au/cats/behaviour/cats-dogs-living-together

https://www.americanhumane.org/fact-sheet/introducing-dogs-to-cats/

https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/how-should-i-introduce-my-new-dog-or-puppy-to-the-family-cat/

https://www.bluecross.org.uk/advice/pets/introducing-dogs-and-cats

https://www.cnet.com/tech/mobile/samsungs-galaxy-z-fold-4-is-too-expensive-and-thats-the-point/

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2009/apr/30/cost-pet-cat-dog

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