Can cats and dogs get along? While a current movie has fun with the idea that the animals are secretly fighting an all-out war, millions of real-life cats and dogs live in harmony, and millions of people feel no family would be complete without at least one of each pet.
Getting a dog and cat to accept one another can difficult, though, as anyone who's tried to introduce them well knows. There are some basic steps to getting both pets to at least call an inter-species truce.
Under no circumstances should cat-dog introductions be handled by throwing the animals together and letting them work out things on their own. That method is far too stressful even in the best of circumstances. It's also important to keep in mind that introductions can be dangerous, usually for the cat. Some dogs see cats as prey, and even those dogs who are generally easygoing may react instinctively to a cat on the run, attacking the smaller animal.
Introductions must be supervised, and they must be handled with planning, care and patience.
If you have a cat and are planning to bring in a dog, try to find an animal who is known to be accepting of cats. Shelters, rescue groups or private parties looking to place puppies and dogs often know if an animal has successfully lived with a cat, or they will test to see how the pet behaves in the presence of one.
If you have a dog and are planning to bring in a cat, start working on your pet's obedience before you add the new animal. Your dog should be comfortable on a leash, and trained well enough to mind your requests for him to stay in either a sit or down position while on that leash.
For the cat's comfort, he should be confined during the early stages of introduction to a small area (such as a second bathroom or guest bedroom) where he can feel safe while becoming acclimated to the sounds and smells of the dog. Be sure the room has everything he needs, and make sure frequent one-on-one visits with human family members are also on the schedule.
After a couple of days with the cat sequestered, put the dog on leash and open the door to the cat's room. Allow the animals to see one another, and do not allow the dog to chase the cat, even in play. Use the sit-stay or down-stay to keep the dog in place while the cat gets used to his calm presence. Don't force the cat to interact with the dog; if the cat wishes to view the dog from the darkest recesses of the bed, so be it. Reward the good behavior of both animals with treats and praise.
Keep the dog on leash for a couple of weeks in the cat's presence, and always make sure the cat has a way to escape from the dog, such as putting a baby gate across the door to the safe area. Build up the time the animals spend together, and continue to make the introductions rewarding, with more treats and praise.
When the dog isn't interested in bothering the cat, and the cat feels secure enough to come out from under the bed, you can take off the leash and let them get on with their new lives together. How long it will take to get to this step will depend on the animals involved, and you must work at their pace.
It not uncommon for dogs and cats to become friends and to enjoy each other's company. Take the time to manage your cat-dog introduction properly, and you could be setting up a friendship that will last for the rest your pets' lives.
PETS ON THE WEB
If you ever let your cat get hold of your computer's mouse, he's going to click right through to www.CatToys.com, the ultimate site for anyone who wants to spoil a cat to the max. (And who doesn't?)
The Web site not only has dozens of the best toys on the market, but it also has recommendations broken down by breed and by personality, so active kitties and lazy kitties both get the plaything that's best suited to them.
I also like the company's way of giving to charity: Buy one cat toy for donation to shelter cats, and you get 5 percent off your entire order. Buy two or more, and it's 10 percent. The interviews with toy inventors are also unique to this site and make for entertaining reading.
There's something about visiting the veterinarian that can put even the most even-tempered cat into a full-blown snit that can last hours after the return home. The smells of a veterinary setting brought home on the fur of one cat can even set off the other feline family members, who may become aggressive toward or completely ignore the returnee until he is smelling the way he used to again. (A tip that might speed up the process: Run a towel over the cat who stayed behind and then swipe it over the returning cat to "de-vet" his scent.)
An unsettled cat is best left alone, unless you enjoy being bitten or scratched. When you get home, put the carrier down in a place with escape routes so you're not setting your cat up for an ambush by any other pets, then open the carrier door and leave him be. Your cat may stay in the carrier for a while, may head for the nearest bed to hide under, or may step out and be just fine. Take your cues from your cat, and let him pick the speed at which he settles back into the household.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: A couple of weeks ago my boyfriend moved into my apartment. Since then, my cat has decided to pee on his things. It's obvious the cat hates my boyfriend. I don't want to give her up, but if I can't solve this problem, he'll have to go. I'm not getting rid of my boyfriend, no matter what the cat wants. What can you suggest? -- F.E., via e-mail
A: Your cat probably doesn't hate your boyfriend. There are two more likely factors influencing her recent behavior: first, a natural need to mark her territory; second, an increase in stress because of a new person and new household routines. Both of these conditions can trigger marking behavior.
You didn't say if your boyfriend's things are your cat's only targets or if you had a problem with marking before. If the problem isn't limited to what you wrote about, be sure your cat sees a veterinarian right away. She could have a medical condition (an infection, or possibly diabetes) that is causing her behavior, and the fact that it seemed to start when your boyfriend moved in may just be a coincidence.
If it's only your boyfriend's things that are being hit, then it's probably a stress and territory problem. Talk to your veterinarian about the possibility of putting your cat on an anti-anxiety medication in the short term, and limit her territory for a while to a small area of her own to allow her to acclimate to his presence more gradually. Make sure she has food, water, toys, a litter box and some place to scratch. And be sure, too, to spend time with her every day, petting time and playtime both. Cats don't do well with change, and problems like yours are very common.
As your cat becomes more comfortable with your boyfriend's presence and the new routines, she should become more accepting and can be allowed more freedom. Be sure before she is let near any previously marked areas that you've cleaned thoroughly with an enzymatic cleaner (such as Nature's Miracle) to keep from inviting repeat business.
Be patient with your cat as she works her way through the transition. If you don't see any improvement in a couple of weeks' time, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a behaviorist who can work out a program tailored precisely for you and your pet.
Q: I read in your book that you put your dogs' dishes in the dishwasher -- along with the people dishes. I'm sorry, but this just grosses me out. Remind me never to accept a dinner invitation from you! -- F.B., via e-mail
A: Remind me not to ask. And you probably wouldn't be thrilled with the fur that seems to end up on the clothes of visitors, since my pets are welcome on the furniture. Life in general isn't sterile, and life with either children or pets is even less so. Dirt happens, and you cope with it as best you can, within the boundaries of your own tolerance level.
From a health standpoint, though, you're unlikely to run into any problem from living with a healthy, well-groomed and parasite-free clean animal, which is exactly what mine are. And one way I keep them healthy is by making sure their dishes are cleaned daily by going through the same sterilizing blast of super-heated soap and water that my own do. Everything goes in dirty, true, but it all comes out clean.
For things that aren't routinely cleaned between uses -- such as a wall-mounted can opener -- I can see the sense in having a can opener just for pet food. I just don't keep anything around that can't be sterilized, no matter whether it is meant for use by two-legged or four-legged family members.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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