Many dogs and cats get along very well. Dogs who are gentle and friendly and aren’t chasing, predatory types can be great housemates with cats. Even dogs who do chase small prey outdoors can often learn not to chase or harm cats indoors once they’ve grown accustomed to their household cats as family members.
Although you should carefully prepare and supervise your new dog, you should have little trouble integrating him into your household if he’s lived peacefully with a cat before or if your cat has lived with a dog. But keep in mind that dogs and cats, like people, need time to get to know each other. If they’ve never seen each other before, they probably won’t be instant friends.
Since cats take awhile to accept new cats, your cat might not accept a new dog as quickly as you’d like. It might take years for a trusting, mutually agreeable relationship to develop between a cat and dog who live together. The younger, more energetic and more tolerant your cat is and the smaller, calmer and more obedient your new dog is, the more likely it is that your cat will accept living with a canine companion.
Dogs who have never lived with cats usually react to them one of three ways:
- Play. Your new dog might treat your cat like another dog and try to play with her, particularly if your dog is young and your cat is inquisitive and approaches him. If your cat is young and your dog is small, this interaction can lay the groundwork for a strong, relationship between the two. However, it’s more common for cats to react defensively to an invitation to play from a strange dog—or even a new, young cat. Cats generally don’t play as rambunctiously as dogs, and dogs often chase and bite during play. If your cat is older or your new dog is large, your dog’s playful behavior can be even more problematic. Play between dogs and cats should be closely monitored. Playful dogs often don’t respond appropriately to a cat’s signals to stop, and the tension or aggression between the two can escalate rapidly, causing the cat distress and putting her in danger. Keep in mind that a dog can kill a cat easily, even in play. And a scared or angry cat can use her claws to seriously injure a dog.
- Prey. Unfortunately, dogs often perceive cats as prey. This is especially likely if your cat runs when she sees a dog. Your new dog might respond to your cat’s movement as he would to the movement of a fleeing prey animal. He might chase and even kill your cat. Similarly, cats who have never lived with dogs will likely view them as predators and will run or become defensively aggressive.
- Cautious interest or avoidance. An older or quieter dog might be intimidated by your cat, particularly if she’s young or rambunctious. He might approach your cat cautiously or watch her from a distance and avoid her whenever possible.
Cats who have never lived with dogs generally react to them one of two ways:
- Cautious interest or avoidance. Cats who were raised with dogs, young or confident cats, and cats living in multicat households might accept a new dog as a safe and interesting intruder. Their reaction might be to watch the dog from a distance or approach him inquisitively.
- Defensive antagonism. Many cats don’t accept the introduction of new animals well. They consider other animals as intruders in their territory. And cats, unlike dogs, don’t have a built-in social system that helps them to peacefully share territory. They react defensively.
There are many stories of dogs chasing cats and cats taunting dogs, but even more stories of dogs and cats living together, if not exactly as Best Buddies, then at least without enmity.
Many factors govern the relationship between dogs and cats, including breed, age, temperament, early socialisation and the number of dogs that form a pack.
To some degree both cats and dogs vie for the same resources; territory, food, shelter, access to humans, etc. The need is different and the needs of both species can be satisfied in one household.
Understanding the nature of both cats and dogs and their needs for safety is important, as is following the proper introduction process. This will be different for almost every situation so it is best to arrange for an animal behaviourist to help set up the correct plan for your pets.
Dog breeds that are of terrier or hunter origin are more likely to chase cats, although under the right circumstances any dog may chase a cat. If the cat runs, it looks like prey, a rat or a rabbit maybe, and the basic hunt instinct is triggered in most dogs although not all dogs will kill the ‘prey’.
Cats mainly run because they are in a vulnerable position or because they are frightened by a large, loud, ‘monster, or when they are threatened. Quite often the cat can outrun the dog and leap to a higher surface and safety. Cats that are cornered can inflict nasty scratches and bites when defending themselves.