It’s a longstanding myth that cats and dogs don’t get along. Most often, all you have to do is make some polite introductions
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
When my dog Harper was younger, she thought cats were to chase, but she has slowed down in the past year. At our most recent visit to cat-loving family members in New Mexico, their cats and Harper calmly ignored each other. She has done the same with our three litters of foster kittens.
But you don’t have to wait for your dog to get old to welcome a cat into your family. Many dogs and cats are best friends, either because they grew up together or because their people took smart steps to help them get to know each other in a safe, controlled way. Here’s how.
If possible, find out from the shelter or rescue group whether your new feline family member has any experience with dogs. It’s OK if they don’t, but the information can give you some insight as to how the introduction may go.
Prepare a “safe room” in a little-used guest bedroom or bathroom for your new cat, complete with litter box, food and water dishes, a bed, scratching post and a couple of toys. This is where the cat will spend the first week in your home.
A safe room lets him decompress, becoming accustomed to the smells and sounds of new surroundings. You and other family members can hang out there one-on-one with the cat so he gets to know you first. The odor of your dog will become familiar, too, as it wafts under the doorway.
After a few days, you can open the door of the safe room, but set up a barrier in the form of a baby gate. This allows your dog and cat to see and sniff each other safely. Don’t give your dog an opportunity to jump against or over the gate. Have her on a leash during this pet meet-and-greet.
Your dog should be polite on a leash and capable of responding to the cues “sit” or “down.” An on-leash introduction is important so you can maintain control of their interactions. Ask your dog to “sit,” and reward calm behavior with treats and praise. Don’t try to force your cat to come close to the gate. It’s fine if he wants to check out your dog from a distance. You can toss treats to him if he’s not acting hissy. Keep visits short, but practice them several times a day.
Plug in a feline pheromone diffuser in the cat’s safe room, plus a canine pheromone diffuser in the hallway to that room. The calming, feel-good pheromones will help prepare both animals for a friendly get-together.
Continue these practice meetings for several days. Feed them in sight of each other. Dr. Marty Becker recommends giving something super tasty, such as warmed chicken breast, and swapping bowls before they’re done. That links the scent of the food to the other pet.
The day of the meeting, take a hand towel and rub down one then the other with it, and back again, so they share the same scent.
When they seem calm in each other’s presence, you can remove the barrier and allow them to greet each other in their own time -- with your dog still on a leash. Keep the leash loose, though, or your anxiety can travel down it, giving the idea that the cat is to be feared or warned off. Keep rewarding calm behavior from both.
Ensure that your cat always has an escape route, whether that’s an open door, up a tall cat tree or under a piece of furniture. This is especially important if you have a dog with strong prey drive. Even if they get along, a swift or sudden move by the cat could trigger a chase with a tragic ending.
Once they are comfortable, you can remove the leash and let them get on with their lives together. Don’t be surprised if they become fast friends.
Find out more here: fearfreehappyhomes.com/introducing-cats-and-dogs-how-to-help-ensure-harmony-in-the-home.
Is it OK to give
cat food to dog?
Q: My old dog’s appetite hasn’t been very good lately, so I’ve been desperate to get her to eat -- anything! I gave her a small can of cat food the other night, and she gobbled it down. I wouldn’t give it to her on a regular basis -- I know cat food is higher in protein than dogs need -- but is it all right as an occasional treat when she doesn’t want to eat her regular food?
A: You’re right that cat food is much higher in protein than dog food. Cats are obligate carnivores and must have meat protein in their diet. Cats and dogs have other nutrient requirements that are not the same between the two species. And the flavors and smells that appeal to their palates are different as well. But as you discovered, dogs are frequently attracted to cat food by its odor and the higher amounts of protein it contains.
You don’t mention whether your dog had any ill effects from her illicit treat. It’s not unusual for dogs who get hold of some high-octane cat food to respond with vomiting or diarrhea. But that’s not true for all dogs, and if yours has a digestive system that can handle occasional small amounts of cat food, then there’s nothing wrong with giving it once in a while to tempt her appetite. Some people give it as a reward during training, when the dog has done something extra special in the face of powerful distractions. In this situation, a small lick or two isn’t going to hurt.
If you’re not feeding cat food on a daily basis, you’re not seeing stomach upset and you’re monitoring her weight carefully so she doesn’t pack on pounds, it’s probably fine to stoke her appetite with a little feline food. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Dog origins not
-- Where do dog breeds come from? You can’t always tell by the name. The Great Dane, for instance, hails from Germany, not Denmark. Australian shepherds? Actually created in the Western United States. We don’t know where Dalmatians originated, but there’s no real reason to believe that they’re from Dalmatia, on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. You may have heard the term “French poodle,” but the curly-haired water retrievers originated in Germany. And the Chinese crested isn’t from China. Based on genetic research, that breed’s likely origin was in Mexico.
-- Pets rule in October! It’s Adopt-a-Dog Month (American Humane Association) and Adopt a Shelter Dog Month (ASPCA), Black Cat Awareness Month, National Animal Safety and Protection Month, National Pet Wellness Month, National Pit Bull Awareness Month and World Animal Month. Celebrate National Walk Your Dog Week and Animal Welfare Week the first week in October. Oct. 4 is Kindness to Animals Day, and Oct. 12 is National Pet Obesity Awareness Day. National Pug Day and National Fetch Day occur on Oct. 15. Global Cat Day is Oct. 16; National Pets for Veterans Day is Oct. 21; National Make a Pet’s Day is Oct. 22; and Oct. 29 is World Cat Day.
-- There’s not a specific age at which you can expect your new baby bird to be weaned. Baby birds are weaned -- the stage at which they go from hand-feeding to eating on their own -- at different ages depending on their species as well as on their individual selves. You can start to teach them about new foods, though, by giving them the opportunity to play with and try different things, starting with soft items such as bananas or soaked pellets, then moving on to other vegetables and fruits. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker.
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker is founder of the Fear Free organization, co-founder of VetScoop.com and author of many best-selling pet care books. Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about animals since 1985. Mikkel Becker is a behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/Kim.CampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.