Typically, cats are aloof and easily startled, while dogs are gregarious and territorial. This doesn’t mean, however, that they can’t share the same space—they’re just going to need your help.
1. TAKE PERSONALITY—NOT BREED—INTO ACCOUNT.
Contrary to popular belief, certain breeds of cats and dogs don’t typically get along better than others. According to Galaxy and Sandor, it’s more important to take their personalities and energy levels into account. If a dog is aggressive and territorial, it won’t be a good fit in a household with a skittish cat. In contrast, an aging dog would hate sharing his space with a rambunctious kitten.
If two animals don’t end up being a personality match, have a backup plan, or consider setting up a household arrangement that keeps them separated for the long term. And if you’re adopting a pet, do your homework and ask its previous owners or shelter if it’s lived with other animals before, or gets along with them.
2. TRAIN YOUR DOG.
To set your dog up for success with cats, teach it to control its impulses. Does it leap across the kitchen when someone drops a cookie, or go on high alert when it sees a squeaky toy? If so, it probably won’t be great with cats right off the bat, since it will likely jump up whenever it spots a feline.
Hold off Fido’s face time with Fluffy until the former is trained to stay put. And even then, keep a leash handy during the first several cat-dog meetings.
3. GIVE A CAT ITS OWN TERRITORY BEFORE IT MEETS A DOG.
Cats need a protected space—a “base camp” of sorts—that’s just theirs. Make this refuge off-limits to the dog, but create safe spaces around the house, too. This way, the cat can confidently navigate shared territory without trouble from its canine sibling.
Since cats are natural climbers, buy tall cat trees, install shelves, or place a cat bed atop a bookcase. This allows your cat to observe the dog from a safe distance, or cross a room without touching the floor.
And while you’re at it, keep dogs away from the litter box. Cats should feel safe while doing their business, plus dogs sometimes (ew) like to snack on cat feces, a bad habit that can cause your pooch to contract intestinal parasites. These worms can cause a slew of health problems, including vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and anemia.
Baby gates work in a pinch, but since some dogs are escape artists, prepare for worst-case scenarios by keeping the litter box uncovered and in an open space. That way, the cat won’t be cornered and trapped mid-squat.
4. EXERCISE YOUR DOG’S BODY AND MIND.
People exercise their dogs probably 20 percent of what they should really be doing. It’s really important that their energy is released somewhere else so that they have the ability to slow down their brains and really control themselves when they’re around kitties.
Dogs also need lots of stimulation. Receiving it in a controlled manner makes them less likely to satisfy it by, say, chasing a cat. We recommend toys, herding-type activities, lure coursing, and high-intensity trick training.
5. LET CATS AND DOGS FOLLOW THEIR NOSES.
It’s a smart idea to let cats and dogs sniff each other’s bedding and toys before a face-to-face introduction. This way, they can satisfy their curiosity and avoid potential turf battles.
6. PLAN THE FIRST CAT/DOG MEETING CAREFULLY.
Just like humans, cats and dogs have just one good chance to make a great first impression. Luckily, they both love food, which might ultimately help them love each other.
Schedule the first cat-dog meeting during mealtime, but keep the dog on a leash and both animals on opposite sides of a closed door. They won’t see each other, but they will smell each other while chowing down on their respective foods. They’ll begin to associate this smell with food.
Do this every mealtime for several weeks, before slowly introducing visual simulation. Continue feeding the cat and dog separately, but on either side of a dog gate or screen, before finally removing it all together.
7. KEEP THEIR FOOD AND TOYS SEPARATE.
After you’ve successfully ingratiated the cat and dog using feeding exercises, keep their food bowls separate. You can’t assume that your dog isn’t food-protective or resource-protective.
To prevent these disastrous mealtime encounters, schedule regular mealtimes for your pets (no free feeding!) and place the bowls in separate areas of the house, or the cat’s dish up on a table or another high spot.
Also, keep a close eye on the cat’s toys—competition over toys can also prompt fighting.
8. CONSIDER RAISING A DOG AND CAT TOGETHER (IF YOU CAN).
Socializing these animals at a young age can be easier than introducing them as adults—pups are easily trainable “sponges” that soak up new information and situations. Plus, dogs are less confident and smaller at this stage in life, allowing the cat to “assume its rightful position at the top of the hierarchy.
Remain watchful, though, to ensure everything goes smoothly—especially when the dog hits its rambunctious “teenage” stage before becoming a full-grown dog.