Cats and Dogs Can Live Together — With Some Careful Planning
The stereotype of cats and dogs is that when they get together, they fight like — well, cats and dogs. But this isn't necessarily the case; felines and canines can live harmoniously under one roof. It's important to choose a cat and a dog who will get along, though. While there are certain dog-friendly characteristics to look for in a cat, the best place to start is with your dog.
Assess Your Canine Candidate
Dogs who are exposed to cats during their primary socialization period, from about two to nine weeks of age, are more likely to be relaxed around cats in their adult life. Breeds with a lower occurrence of predatory behavior may also be less likely to chase after a cat. Keep in mind, though, that while one dog may be fine with a cat, two or more dogs living under the same roof may feed off of each other, creating an increased chance of multiple canines chasing, seriously injuring or killing the cat. If your dog has a tendency towards predatory behavior — meaning he likes to chase after other animals — or if he has injured or killed other animals in the past, a multi-pet household is not the best option for you.
Keep in mind that the risk doesn’t only extend to the cat; there can also be a danger to your pooch if your cat and dog start scrapping away. Brachycephalic dogs, for example, have an increased risk of eye injuries. Because of this, when I was looking for a cat to add to my two-Pug home, my father, veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, was adamant that I look for a relaxed cat who would be unlikely to swipe out in fear, since it takes only one hit from a claw for a dog to lose an eye, especially for dogs with bulging eyes and shorter noses.
Find the Right Feline
If your dogs have been deemed good housemates for a cat, it’s time to go searching for the perfect feline. Just like dogs, cats also have a prime socialization period that occurs from about two to nine weeks of age. A cat that has been exposed to friendly canines during this period should be more likely to fit in with your dogs. Another option is to look into adopting a kitten who is still in her socialization period and can be raised around your dogs. I’ve been training a Golden Retriever puppy who is being raised with a kitten. They've learned to successfully read each other’s body language, and they engage in appropriate play since they have lived together from the very beginning.
If you are unsure of a cat’s prior history around dogs, look for a confidently calm cat, ideally one with a mellow disposition and a low flight response. The more fearful the cat is, the more likely she will be to run if something scares her, which will elicit a chase response from your dog.
When I was searching for a cat to add to our home, I looked for a feline who was comfortable in a variety of situations. Although I wasn’t able to bring my Pugs into the shelter system to find the right fit, I was able to read the kennel cards which, in the majority of cases, had a behavior assessment that addressed each cat's comfort level with canines. The cat I had my heart set on had not had a behavior assessment and he had no prior recorded history since he came to the shelter as a stray. However, by bringing him into a variety of areas around the shelter with noise and foot traffic, I was able to gauge his basic temperament and see how he handled stress.
Introduce Your Pets
When you bring your new, carefully chosen kitty home, it’s important for her to have a gradual, supervised introduction to your canines. Mark certain areas of your home as off limits to your canine by blocking them with baby gates; provide high-rise areas in the home to which your cat can safely retreat as needed. Whenever you can't supervise a dog and cat interaction, such as when you’re leaving for work, the safest solution for both pets is to separate them, either in different rooms or in crates.
I’m happy to report that our new cat, Nemo, has fit in marvelously in our two-Pug home. I attribute this to several things: The Pugs were raised around barn cats and have very little drive to hunt small animals, and the cat has a naturally relaxed and confident disposition. We are living proof that with the right pets in the right circumstances, a combination cat and dog home is entirely possible.