Flirting with the idea of owning both a dog and a cat — but worried you'll only be flirting with disaster? Canines and felines can live in harmony, as long as you follow these no-nonsense tips.
If you’re having doubts about adding a cat to your “dog house” or introducing a canine to your feline-friendly home, rest assured: Dogs and cats can live together in peace. The trick? Create a structured and healthy pet environment to smooth the transition.
The conventional wisdom that a cat and dog can’t get along is a pet myth, says Isabelle Hamel, head trainer and behavior consultant at North Shore Animal League America, the world’s largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization located in Port Washington, N.Y. “Cats and dogs can live very happily together,” she says.
In fact, millions of Americans live in a dog-and-cat household. According to a recent Gallup survey, of the 59 percent of Americans who own either a cat or dog, 16 percent of them own both a cat and a dog.
5 Must-Dos for Keeping the Peace Between Pets
Here’s how to avoid an unpleasant dog vs. cat showdown:
Keep kitty safe. Set up a safe haven for your cat that is inaccessible to your dog. “This area should contain the cat’s bed, food, and water on one side of the room and the litter box on the other,” says Hamel. Use a gate or chain on top of the door that keeps the dog out, but provides just enough room for the cat to slip in and out.
Put your pup on a leash. “It’s important to be able to control the dog without chasing, yelling, or grabbing,” Hamel says. She suggests using a light tether attached to the dog’s collar while at home. This will provide you with instant access to the dog. Since the tether is lighter than a leash, the dog will feel as though he’s free, but you will still be able to control him. To keep the dog from chewing on the tether, soak it in bad-tasting mouthwash. As the animals become accustomed to each other, gradually cut this cord shorter until it is no longer needed, she says.
Get them while they’re young. If possible, introduce a cat and dog while they are still young. “Youth is a formative time — most animals are curious, flexible, and resilient when they are young,” says Hamel.
Bear breeds in mind. “It’s important to research what tasks an animal was originally bred for,” Hamel says. For instance, hounds, spaniels, and retrievers were bred to work with groups of people or other dogs, making them very social. Says Hamel, “Terriers were bred to work independently and usually prefer the company of people rather than other animals — Jack Russells are a good example of this.” Siberian huskies have a strong prey drive and do not do well with cats, nor do Alaskan malamutes since they are natural predators, according to Hamel.
Let them work it out. Hamel says the biggest mistake pet owners make when introducing a cat and dog is interfering with the animals’ natural interaction. “If an animal growls or hisses, it is a clear correction toward the offending animal.” If you step in and try to stop the behavior, the cat and dog will hiss or growl more intensely, becoming more aggressive, she explains.
So if you think you’re ready to share your home with another pet, Hamel has this advice: “Examine your motivation behind the decision. Does your existing pet want another animal in its life? What role will the animal play in your life? This decision is a 14 to 25 year commitment, so it is important to consider everyone in your family, including your existing pet.”
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