Cats and dogs, it’s a notorious rivalry. We’ve all heard the tales of dogs chasing and attacking cats – or cats clawing at dogs’ eyes and noses. There have even been several films about this relationship (Cats & Dogs 3: Paws Unite is out now!). Less frequently documented, is the number of harmonious households containing dogs AND cats. Living together, imagine that!
Imagine no more, as Barket Place has been chatting with Lisa Hannaby. Lisa has multiple degrees, including psychology (human), and lives with 2 cats and 3 dogs. The breeds she lives with aren’t ones you’d usually expect to get on well with cats – German Shepherd, Akita, and Whippet. The home is also shared by boarding dogs and a cattery to boot! Lisa successfully introduced a whippet puppy to a home with cats in-situ, a feat some would say is impossible.
Caroline and Lisa got together to share their tips to help reduce stress for our furry pals when bringing them together. Check out the replay over on Facebook.
Even if your dog tends to bark at cats outside – or tries to chase the neighbour’s moggy out of the garden – it doesn’t necessarily mean they wouldn’t be able to live with one.
A key part of introducing cats and dogs is managing the environment. No matter which species is already in the home, make sure both the newcomer and oldtimer have their own area. Lisa recommends the use of baby gates and partitions. This stops the dog from chasing the cat and gives the cat the choice to interact if they want to. It also lets both animals acclimate to the scent of the other and their presence in the home. By managing the environment in this way, it can lessen the stress felt by the animals and humans living together. Be prepared for this management to last at least a few weeks. All new additions to the house should be given plenty of time to settle – when integrating cats and dogs this is especially important.
Providing cats with places to hide and perches at different heights gives them a chance to observe their fellow housemates without having to interact. It can also reduce potential unwanted behaviours from the dog.
Eating cat food can cause digestive issues for dogs and, long term, can contribute to more serious health problems. Placing the food at a height the cat can reach – but the dog can’t – cuts down the danger of this significantly. What comes out the other end must be considered as well! Some dogs seem to regard cat poo as a delicacy, others despise it. All the same, your dogs shouldn’t be given free access to the cat’s litter tray. This can be a simple fix – moving the tray to an area the dog can’t access or getting a lidded tray.
In addition to management, training the dog to focus on you can be helpful. Caroline suggests, that if they are the kind of dog that likes to chase, you can reward any calm behaviours around the cat with thrown treats, so they get the fun of chasing the food (in the opposite direction to the cat). Giving a reward like this helps satisfy their desire to chase, but doesn’t encourage them to go after the cat. Another fun trick with a purpose is a ‘turn’. This cue asks the dog to turn away from something to face you. As useful in this situation – especially if the dog is a breed with high prey drive – as it is out on a walk. We show you lots of lifeskill exercises like this over in our Barket Club.
The most important thing to remember is to allow the animals in the home choice. If they want to interact, ensure they are monitored. If they choose to remain separate, respect that choice. Give them space and let them decide what to do with it. Cats and dogs are different in many ways and we are the ones to bring them together. So let’s make their lives together as stress-free as possible.