My son, Zeke, and his girlfriend, Jordan, adopted Mojo, a Beagle/Basset Hound mix, last fall.
The dog was confined to the first floor, and the 3 cats — Ricky, Rochester and Selene — conferred a lot in the cellar and upstairs.
All the pets have gotten used to one another, more or less. “He’s pretty good with the cats,” Zeke told me. “Sometimes he gets excited, and sometimes he’ll try to chase them a little. But they co-exist pretty well.” Selene the Siamese occasionally bosses Mojo around, but the others pretty much ignore him.
The Truth Behind the Cliché
The old line “fighting like cats and dogs” is, as writer Pat Miller points out, “an often inaccurate one. Millions of dog lovers share their hearts and homes with feline family members with nary a scratch between the species.”
This doesn’t mean you can always get your very own peaceable kingdom. Those “stories of dogs killing cats are fact, not fiction,” Miller warns, “and many unfortunate Rowdy Rovers have suffered ulcerated corneas, scratched nose leathers and infected puncture wounds from Tough Tiggers who decided that ‘fight’ was a better strategy than ‘flight.’”
Know Your Pets’ Personalities
The dog is the one who usually causes the problem, says Katherine A. Houpt, professor emeritus of behavior medicine at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Most dogs are hardwired to chase anything that runs, and a fleeing cat is a prime target: “A dog feels honor-bound to chase it. It’s important to nip that in the bud.”
If your dog is a rescue and was fostered with cats, then he’s probably good with them. If he wasn’t, then that’s going to change things considerably.
And “even if your new dog has been living with cats, he hasn’t been living with your cats,” notes the Sighthound Underground, “so you will need to introduce them slowly.”
The cat’s personality must be taken into account as well. We’ve all known extremely aggressive cats who’ll fight to keep their home turf free of all intruders. A cat like that probably will be miserable about a new dog — and make everyone else miserable to boot.
Then there are your timid cats. “If a dog loves chasing things, then a fearful, shy cat who runs away probably wouldn’t be the best choice,” says the American Humane Association (AHA), adding that “an energetic cat who runs and pounces would fall into this same category. A better match would be a calm, confident cat who will not run (in fear or play).”
Age is a factor, too. You don’t want to bring a boisterous dog into a household with a kitten or an elderly cat “who can be easily hurt.”
Protocol and Precautions
You can’t expect 2 very different animals to bond right away. And you can’t force it either.
Here are a few important things to remember:
- In the beginning, keep your dog leashed when he and the cat in the same room. “Continue with this type of introduction until the dog is calm and ignores the cat and the cat is calm, eating and using the litter box normally,” the AHA advises.
- Make sure that your cat has places to escape to that are well beyond a dog’s reach: cubbies, perches, cat trees and condos (this also satisfies the instinctive need for “vertical territory”).
- Baby gates also help provide the cat with freedom and safety.
Check out these bonding buddies:
Given time, many cats and dogs can work out satisfying living arrangements. Well, satisfying to them. Alex, my mom’s Maine coon, used to open up cupboards and knock down food for Katie, the springer spaniel.
Toto and Sam, my in-laws’ cat and dog, had an even more sinister bond. Toto the tortie would chase rabbits or chipmunks, who’d run from her…smack into Sam’s jaws.
But cats and dogs can also work together for the greater good. Years ago, Connecticut’s Fidelco guide dog facility in Bloomfield had 2 cats-in-residence. Termie — aka Terminator — and her Maine coon sidekick, Stripes, were part of the training program there.
The declawed Stripes was more timid and worked with the smaller puppies. Termie, however, was fearless and would eat and play with some of the dogs. She worked one day a week and was considered “part of the faculty,” the program coordinator told me.
Sometimes the feline-canine equation just isn’t going to work, no matter what. But when it does, it’s pretty incredible.