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Cat and Dog

Cat and dog: getting used to each other.
The expression “living like cat and dog” isn’t just an expression. Cats and dogs are of course very different animal species, which cannot always understand each other perfectly because of their different character and different way of communicating. Nevertheless, there probably are numerous examples in everyone’s surroundings in which dog and cat perfectly live together or even are the best of friends. The easiest situation is the situation in which dog and cat grew up with each other from childhood. In principle, pups can get used to everything during an introduction in the socialization period, age of 3-12 weeks, and the same goes for kittens in the age of 2-7 weeks. But the reality of course is that usually at least one of the two animals is older when a new housemate is introduced. It depends on the dog’s and cat’s character if the introduction of a cat with a dog or the other way around costs more or less intensive support of the human being. After all, we understand something of both animal species and can with the help of that knowledge act as a kind of “intermediary”.

Dogs and cats speak a different language. This leads to misunderstandings between them. For example a cat which walks with a raised tail is at ease and relaxed. A dog with a raised tail radiates dominance, is much tensed and can even start attacking. A dog which places his ears flat behind might be terrified or subservient. A cat which places his ears flat behind might also be terrified, but also radiates aggression and willingness to attack. When a dog lies on his back, he surrenders himself and expects with this behavior that he can avert the aggression of the other. A cat lying on his back is prepared to go on with the fight; the cat can attack fiercely with his hind legs. A dog can make subservient signals; a cat shows his submission by escaping. A cat which runs away is for most dogs exactly the ultimate stimulus for his hunting instinct. By nature, dogs tend to chase fast moving objects or animals which run away. Mostly, the dogs are rewarded for this hunting behavior, because only few cats have the guts to keep standing still and attack.

Since dogs and cats communicate differently, it is easy to end up in a vicious circle when dog and cat have fought each other. Besides, they can harm each other considerably. You can better avoid this. How do we do that? We must handle some basis principles. Firstly, at all times we must avoid that the dog starts chasing the cat like an idiot. Secondly, we must make sure that dog and cat start associating each other with nice things, delicious food for example. Thirdly, it is important that both the dog and the cat have an own place in the house where he/she feels safe and is able to withdraw himself without being menaced by his or her housemate. There is a difference if a cat is introduced in a house where a dog already lives or the other way around. A dog feels less menaced by a newcomer in the house than a cat, since he lives in a pack and feels supported by the members of this pack (you and your family). A cat (in his perception) must defend a whole territory and will feel menaced and unsure sooner when it comes to changes in this territory. Of course it strongly depends of the cat’s and dog’s character and if aggressive or terrified behavior has been shown before. Keep in mind that there are dogs which will never live in harmony with a cat. These are the so-called notorious cat snatchers, or dogs which have been chasing cats for years and are rewarded for this with a run away “prey”.

The first introduction between dog and cat must take place as relaxed as possible. Don’t invite all your neighbors to admire the newcomer, make sure that only the family members are around. Especially not too much excitement and/or noise. Especially cats can get stressed of it. Don’t focus too much on the cat. This may make the cat stressed and may make the dog jealous.
If the newcomer is the cat, keep the cat the first few days in the bench. Place the cat in the bench for example on the table. Anyway, a bit higher than the floor. Cats feel much more at ease if they are placed higher. The surer a cat feels, the smaller the chance that he starts blowing or threatening. Besides, in this way the cat cannot run away and stimulate the hunting instinct of the dog.
Don’t allow the dog to jump against the bench or bark against the cat. Try to distract the dog with his favorite toy. Praise and reward the dog if he is near the bench and behaves himself decently. The same goes for the cat.
If the dog is the newcomer, keep the dog in the bench the first period then. It might help to give the dog a smell which is positive for the cat. A spray like Feliway® might help you. This spray contains aromatic substances which cats exude if they feel at ease. Give the dog and the cat their meals at the same time. Try to have the dog eat his food every time a bit closer to the cat’s bench and the other way around. Eating together fraternizes and if the cat and dog dare to eat normally close to each other, it will be a sign that they feel at ease around each other. After one week you can get the cat out of the bench for the first time. The best way is to do it on a moment when your dog isn’t at home. In this way you give the cat a chance to get used to the surroundings. If the cat has had a chance a few times to quietly discover the surroundings without the dog being present and cat and dog in the meantime react normally on each other (no barking, no blowing, no growling) then it is about time to bring cat and dog together. Get the cat out of the bench and place him on the table (or something else which is high). Let the dog enter the room. You might leave the dog’s lead on so that you can intervene directly if he starts chasing the cat. A dog which is under the command of his boss doesn’t need to have his lead on.
If the cat doesn’t blow and growl against the dog anymore, you may let the dog out of the bench. Try to distract the dog with a ball or toy so that he will not bother the cat too much. Most cats like a dog’s presence, as long as he doesn’t immediately chase them. Give both animals the space to avoid each other, if desired. Make sure that both animals have an own sleeping/lying place in the house. Preferably place the cat’s box on a spot which the dog cannot approach.

Be patient. Don’t force things. Sometimes cats and dogs are used to each other within a couple of days, sometimes it lasts several weeks. If there are specific problems which you cannot solve, feel free to ask your veterinarian or behavior expert.