The Truth About Cats and Dogs


It doesn’t have to be a ‘dog eat cat’ world — they can, and often do, live together peacefully, as Sue Corfield discovers.

Creating a harmonious family can take some effort, but with lots of planning and careful guidance, it is possible to introduce a dog into a house with an existing cat or cats, and vice versa. 

How successful this will be depends on a number of variants, including the breed and age of the dog, and his past life. In some cases, dog and cat may even become good friends, although tolerance on both sides is more often the general outcome.

When introducing a new dog into the household, it is important to remember that dogs can injure cats easily, even if they are only playing, and some dogs have a high prey drive, especially breeds like Lurchers, Bull Terriers, and German Shepherds so be very cautious. Even placid dogs need to be monitored carefully until acceptance has been achieved on both sides.

It may take time for cats and dogs to accept each other.

Forethought and careful planning is vital before bringing a dog into a home with existing cats, so be sure to do the following:

Create a safe place for your cat(s) which the dog can’t get to; using a baby gate or a cat door is often a good solution.

Keep the cat’s food and water dishes in a separate area, so the cat continues to feed in safety. Remember that cat food is too rich for dogs and dog food lacks vital nutrients for felines, so it’s better if the two aren’t mixed.

  Make sure your dog understands and responds to basic commands, such as ‘Sit,’ ‘Stay’, and ‘Leave.’ This will be helpful with introductions.

Behaviourist Rosie Bescoby.

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Before introducing a dog to a resident cat, exercise and feed him, as this will help to relax him.

Put the cat in a safe place and let the dog explore the house for half an hour or so. This will allow him to take in the feline smell. Then take the dog outside and let the cat investigate the canine smell.

Pet behaviourist Rosie Bescoby, who runs behavioural consultancy Pet Sense, explained: “A prime objective is to avoid causing the cat to hiss, bat the dog, or run away; this means the cat is already stressed and finds the dog scary. You want the cat to remain calm and relaxed and you should not proceed unless he is. 

“If there is any tension, remove the dog immediately and make sure the next session is made much easier and set them up for success. It may be that the scent transfer stage itself takes days or weeks so I really want to emphasise how slow this whole process needs to be.”

Practise these introductions in the house so you have maximum control. The next stage is to put your dog on a short lead
and be ready with lots of treats to reward good behaviour.

Let the cat and dog check each other out at a distance. Pet and talk to your dog soothingly. Give both of them some treats and praise. 

Initially, keep the meetings short and allow the cat to have his own space in between. Repeat these short visits several times a day, gradually giving your dog more lead as appropriate.

Getting the cat used to the presence of your dog is important and using a crate for the dog for short periods only may help to make the cat feel he has the upper paw. Feeding the cat outside the crate (with the dog in it) may encourage him to get used to the dog.

“It is fine to use a crate as long as the dog remains relaxed watching the cat move past, and it is fine to feed the cat in the presence of the dog as long as both are relaxed. You want to avoid using any corrections at all — you want the dog to associate the cat with being calm and relaxed, not aroused and then corrected,” Rosie commented.

Beano awaits his wash!

When Sparty met Beano!

Sue shares her own experience of introducing a rescue dog into a multi-cat household.

“Introducing a large Newfoundland X Labrador, who was also a rescue dog with no cat credentials, was quite challenging. But it is also testament to the adaptability of pets that they accepted each other after a relatively short while. I am also lucky enough to have seen a truly affectionate bond established between our dog and one of our cats.

“Our first dog was introduced to cats as a puppy, was born into a cat household, and therefore raised with cats. This was the ideal scenario and led to a problem-free co-existence.

Spartacus is a little more wary around Paddy.

“However, we took the major step of introducing a new, large, adult, rescue dog (Spartacus) into our multi-pet household (we have three rescue cats) with some initially alarming results. Despite the regulatory shelter ‘cat check’, which simply monitored his response to a cat emerging quickly from a cat basket and taking off fast in the other direction, Spartacus was desperately interested in our cats when he first came home.

“He does not have an aggressive nature, but he did want to chase them. Our three cats were initially very intimidated by his size and when he went anywhere near them fur flew in all directions.

“We enlisted the support of a pet behaviourist, but her suggestion that we hold the cats while Spartacus inspected them didn’t go down well with me because I felt that would be unfair on the cats and would be a breach of their trust.

“So, instead, I would crate him in the kitchen, while the cats ate in the same area. I also kept him on his lead when we were all together in the living room. Outside was a little more tricky but, eventually our female cat would follow him around and gradually, over time, they all became used to each other.

“What I wasn’t expecting was for true love to be established between Spartacus and Beano, our large black and white male cat.

“They cuddle up together on the sofa and more surprising than this is that Beano presents himself to Spartacus to be washed, meowing and nuzzling Sparty’s cheeks until he complies. Once Spartacus begins, he will wash the demanding feline for several minutes until one of them decides they have had enough.

“Beano always initiates this action and loves the resulting rough washing, purring constantly throughout the
entire procedure.”

I asked Rosie Bescoby what this means. She said: “In cats, grooming each other is a form of bonding and scent transfer which they bestow upon members of their community.

“Dogs lick things instinctively and your house cat just happens to be the current target of your canine’s tongue. Licking is almost always a positive thing, so do not stress when your dog licks your cat.

“Licking or grooming can also be a form of submission. A dog will lick other members of his pack that he views as being superior, so Spartacus may feel he should do Beano’s bidding.”

Thankfully, our cats and dog are now totally bonded although Spartacus is still a little wary of Paddy the tabby cat, who has been known to swipe at him if he gets too close!

Rosie’s cat and dog.

Once your dog and cat get along during on-lead visits, you are ready for the next step. Let go of the lead but be ready to grab it or step on it if your dog attempts to go after the cat. 

Keep the lessons regular and if everything is going smoothly, take your dog off the lead and supervise the two closely. 

If problems arise and they aren’t resolved with simple voice commands, go back to the previous stage for a few days. If introductions still don’t go smoothly, seek professional help. 

Conflicts between pets in the same family can often be resolved, but make sure you use a pet behaviourist who specialises in dogs and cats.

Rosie said: “Even dogs who have previously lived happily with a different cat can react very differently to a new cat, and the same can be said for cats who have previously been best friends with a dog. 

“Regardless of your cat’s/dog’s previous experience with the other and irrespective of their personality, ALWAYS err on the side of caution and introduce them slowly and carefully.
A messy introduction is hard to rectify.”

Make sure that all your pets are healthy and that you are aware of any medical problems they may have, as this can exacerbate any issues.

Dogs and cats can become best friends.

Case Study

Part of the gang!

Dog and cat owner and Your Dog contributor Julie Hill.

Julie Hill from Shrewsbury, Shropshire, has introduced a new dog into a cat household on a couple of occasions. This was her most recent experience.

“We have three cats; Leo was eight years old, and Dizzy and Storm were seven when we introduced German Spitz Klein puppy Mischief to them. 

“Initially we kept her on a lead, and as she was accustomed to, and happy with, a crate, sometimes we’d pop her in her crate when the cats were around. This was particularly useful during our mealtimes, as it meant we could relax and eat, rather than having to keep one eye on canine-feline interactions. 

Dogs and cats are all part of the gang in Julie’s home.

“We are lucky that all three cats came from homes that included dogs, and they were introduced as kittens to our Labrador and Bichon Frise. They were used to dogs, but not to puppies and Mischief was very small and very fast, so she was quite an adjustment for them. 

“We praised them all when they interacted pleasantly, and our cats are very nice and calm. I’m always worried that they might inadvertently scratch a dog’s eye though, so we took time and care to introduce them and supervise them. Initially the cats were wary of Mischief, and kept their distance, but she is a very sociable and determined little dog, so, gradually, they all became friends. Within weeks, all four were sharing the sofa, stretched out, snoozing happily.

“I always get the feeling that none of them sees themself as ‘cat’ or ‘dog’, but just as one of the gang.”