One thing that never fails to get a smile out of me is seeing my big orange cat, Ilario, happily curled up and purring loudly next to -- and occasionally on top of -- one of my four dogs. I love how well everyone gets along: They don't just tolerate each other -- they actually like each other.
It didn't start out that way, though. When Ilario arrived as a kitten, he spent more time puffed up and ready to run than purring. Once he realized he wasn't in any danger from his new four-legged family, he was able to relax and eventually even warmed to their company. Some nights I even catch him grooming my gentlest dog, 14-year-old Drew.
Some cats and dogs are never going to get along, but most can at least come to an agreement about sharing space. The trick is knowing the basic steps to handling the introductions.
Under no circumstances should dogs and cats be introduced 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 conditions. It's also important to keep in mind that introductions can be dangerous, usually for the cats. Some dogs see cats as prey, and even those dogs who are generally easygoing may react instinctively to a cat on the run by attacking the smaller animal.
Introductions must be supervised and 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 and rescue groups often know if an animal has successfully lived with a cat, or they will test to see how the dog behaves in the presence of one. (These "tester" cats are usually friendly, outgoing permanent residents, and they're just fine with their work of safely greeting new dogs.)
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 be 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 own 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 he has frequent one-on-one visits with human family members.
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 "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 underneath 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's 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 of your pets' lives.
keep cats happy
Q: A couple years ago we lost a wonderful young cat. He just disappeared and we never knew what happened to him. We've recently adopted a female tabby just over a year old, and we're going to keep her inside full-time for her safety. She seems to want to go out, though, and I suspect she was allowed to roam outside in her first home. How can we make her happy?
A: You don't have to open the door to the great outdoors to provide your cat with a more interesting life. In fact, by just looking at your home from a cat's point of view and adding a few environmental enrichments, your cat can be both safe and happy indoors. Some tips:
-- Think vertical. Cats love to climb, so give them the opportunity. Cat trees mounted floor-to-ceiling, wrapped with sisal rope and studded with platforms for perching, will give your cat the opportunity to look down on the rest of the world.
-- Add toys. The cat with the most toys wins. Every indoor cat should have toys for batting around, toys for chasing, toys for hiding in and toys for interactive play. And don't forget that some of those toys ought to have catnip in them, while others should have treats inside. And don't forget: Some of the most enjoyable toys for both people and cats are the interactive ones, such as a kitty "fishing" pole.
-- Provide rooms with views. No matter how big your house, your indoor cat will know every one of its sights and sounds within just a few days. Provide a little visual stimulation by putting a bird feeder outside a window fitted with a cat-sized ledge for comfortable viewing. You can also try a little Cat TV. A few companies offer DVDs for cats. Pop one of these in, and your cat can be entertained with a lively mix of feline-friendly images and sounds, including those of birds and rodents.
Finally, have you considered adding another cat? While an older cat who's set in his ways may not welcome company, a newly adopted young cat will likely adapt quickly to feline companionship, and a feline friendship will help ease the boredom and loneliness for them both when you're away from home. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dogs' social traits
rub off on owners
-- Dogs make us better people. An Australian study reported in USA Today showed that people with dogs were more likely to gain trust, meet new people and help out neighbors than did people without pets. The same article reported that a different study of 128 children in New Mexico found that pre-teens who help care for dogs have higher self-esteem and empathy than those who did not have pet care responsibilities.
-- Horses might be happier if their riders stood up in the saddle, according to an article on TheHorse.com. "Posting" -- rising up and down in the saddle as a horse trots -- puts less vertical force on a horse's back and causes less back extension than when the rider sits while the horse trots. The least stress comes when the rider never sits down in the saddle at all. While horses can become conditioned to having the rider sit during the trot, the article suggests that young horses or those with back problems would do better with a rider standing in the stirrups instead of sitting in the saddle.
-- In Bali, Indonesia, unchecked packs of feral dogs have led to a rabies outbreak, with 41 confirmed deaths in the human population and more suspected. The New York Times reports that the situation is so serious that the U.S. and Australia have issued travel warnings to their citizens, although so far, only Bali residents have been killed. The Balinese government and a nonprofit animal advocacy group are working to vaccinate 70 percent of the country's canine population, which accounts for about 400,000 dogs. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.