Karen Cornish discovers that an inter-species friendship can work purrfectly,?but for a growl-free relationship, careful introductions are vital.It's a commonly held belief that cats and dogs don't mix. They are often?depicted as being natural enemies and the old adage of 'fighting like cats and dogs' is frequently used. However, there are many households in which cats and dogs live harmoniously - indeed, 13 per cent of our readers share?their homes with both species."Cats are actually capable of forming a closer bond with a dog than anothercat as cats are not designed to be social with each other," says pet behaviour therapist Peter Neville.
It is thought that a difference in body language could be responsible for?misunderstandings between cats and dogs, for example cats tend to lash their?tails about when they are angry while dogs wag theirs when they are happy.
Surprisingly, in a study on the interrelationships of dogs and cats living?under the same roof, Professor Joseph Terkel of Tel Aviv University observed?cats and dogs actually learning to read one another's body signals, suggesting that the two species may have more in common than previously suspected.
Prof Terkel says: "We found that cats and dogs are learning how to speak each other's language. It was a surprise that cats can learn how to talk 'dog'?and vice versa."
Prof Terkel found that two thirds of the homes surveyed reported a positive relationship between their cat and dog. In 25 per cent of the homes there was indifference between the dogs and cats, while aggression and fighting was reported in just ten per cent.
Dogs and cats that have previously had negative experiences of the other species are more likely to struggle accepting them into their home. It is?vital that introductions are carefully orchestrated to ensure relationships get off 'on the right paw'.
The research carried out by Tel Aviv University resulted in a formula for success for integrating cats and dogs. According to the study, if a cat is adopted before a dog and if they are introduced when still young (less than?six months for a kitten, a year for a dog) there is a high chance that their?relationship will flourish.
"People often just buy a dog without thinking what effect it will have on?their cat," says pet agony aunt Celia Haddon. "Personally, I think it is unfair to expect an elderly or very nervous cat to suddenly have a dog put in his territory. If you are getting an adult dog, always make sure he is used to cats. Good rescue centres will know this and if they don't, go elsewhere. If you are buying a puppy, make sure he was bred in a home with a cat."
While Celia recommends cat owners opt for, "a gentle breed like a Labrador or spaniel" and avoid "predatory breeds like Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Akitas and terriers", Peter Neville says it's all down to the individual dog. He says,?"There is no such thing as a cat-friendly breed of dog and even chasing types, like Greyhounds, can have a great relationship with their own cat while still chasing others if they see them."
Forging good relationships
Battersea Dogs & Cats Home rehomes hundreds of dogs and cats successfully to homes with existing pets. Philip Heron, operations manager at the home, says: "Where dogs and cats are involved we need to ensure everyone is happy and that includes any existing pets. It is vital that owners consider how their own pets will react to a new pet and put the needs of the existing pet first."
Follow Battersea's advice on introductions to help forge good pet relationships:
How to introduce a new dog to your cat
These steps assume that the dog has had previous experience with cats.
- Before bringing your new dog into your home ensure that your cat is?in a room away from the front door.
- Let the dog explore his new surroundings and do not attempt to introduce him to your cat until he has settled down and appears calm.
- The first meeting should be done indoors when both cat and dog are in a relaxed state.
- Your cat must have at least two clear escape routes that your new dog will not have access to. Keep your dog's lead on and keep it as slack as?possible. This will ensure the cat's safety while allowing the dog some freedom to investigate his new friend.
- Let your dog sniff and learn about his new housemate. Your involvement should be minimal. It is quite acceptable for the cat to give him a warning swipe on the nose but be ready to intervene in case the dog retaliates.
- If all is not going to plan, take the dog out of the room but do not punish him. You may wish to try again after a few hours or the next day.
- If all is going well let them continue to interact. Drop the lead but be ready to take control again. From time to time call your dog to you and reward him with a treat when he responds. After a few minutes, end the session and fuss the dog while another person makes a fuss of the cat in a separate room.
- This process should be repeated two or three times a day for the first few days. With time, your dog and cat will get used to each other and you will gradually be able to let them interact freely. Never leave a dog and cat alone together until you are sure that it is safe to do so.
How to introduce a new cat to your dog
If your dog has not lived with cats before it's a good idea to take him to?visit a friend with cats first. You must also make sure that the cat you choose is fairly confident and able to cope with living with a dog. The following process will take about three weeks and should not be rushed.
Allow at least three or four days for your cat to settle in. During this time the cat and dog should be kept separate. Keep your new cat in a room?that your dog is not allowed into and make sure he has food, water and a?litter tray.
While still keeping your dog and cat separate, you should make them aware that there is another animal in the house. You can do this by rubbingthe cat with a towel and then letting the dog sniff it. Also try swapping the?blankets or bedding they sleep on. Getting your dog and cat aware of the new smells will make the actual introduction far less stressful.
Allow at least a week for your cat to settle in before moving on to the?actual introductions.
- Your cat should be in a carrier as this will stop him from running?off, which could attract the dog's attention and initiate chase. Place the carrier in the corner of the room raised off the floor.
- It is usually best to take your dog out for a walk beforehand to make?sure he is relaxed for the introduction.
- Attach a long extendable lead to your dog for safety. Relax the lead so that the dog does not realize anything is attached.
- Allow your dog into the room where your cat is and allow him to sniff around the carrier and investigate. Only reward your dog if he behaves?calmly around the cat.
- If your dog starts barking at the cat, or is not behaving calmly, simply say 'no' and turn your back on him. He needs to learn that if he does not act calmly around the cat he loses?your attention.
- If all goes well and your dog is behaving acceptably, then separate them after about five to ten minutes. It is more effective to have several short?introductions than one long one. With each introduction, increase the time?they spend together and use a different room in the house each time, but never the room that the cat feels secure in.
- After two or three weeks of introductions you can start to open the carrier to give your cat the chance to come out. These first 'free' introductions need to be very closely supervised.
- You can then let both cat and dog into the same room without your cat being in a carrier but make sure your cat has escape routes that the dog?cannot use (not the garden).
Introducing a kitten to a dog should be done in the same way as an adult cat, even though kittens are slightly more open to new social arrangements.
Sarah Tapsell, canine welfare trainer at Battersea, says: "A kitten can be more active and hasn't always learnt how to be around a dog yet. He may be too 'full on' for the dog or become fearful if his first meeting is overwhelming. Therefore I would advise that any dog in the home should already know how to behave appropriately around a cat and doesn't have a high?prey drive for small, moving fluffy animals."
Living with both
Rachel Scarff owns nine-year-old Alfie the cat and 20-month-old?Charlie the dog. "When we decided to get a dog, Alfie was a huge factor in our decision making, along with our 14-month-old son. We decided that a puppy would be easier than a rescue dog to train to live nicely with a cat and toddler.?
"We chose a Labrador for its fantastic temperament and found a breeder who had two cats so Charlie was familiar with them already.
"We made sure Alfie had complete freedom throughout the house and also ensured that Charlie, who had previously been crate trained, slept in an open crate in our front porch at night. This gave Alfie the confidence to roam the house freely at night. We already had stair gates for our toddler?and Charlie soon learned he would not be allowed to go upstairs, giving?Alfie sanctuary up there.?
"It was important to us that Alfie's routine was not changed, and things like?his food bowl always being left out with food in it were kept the same. We just had to train the puppy not to eat it and to learn that his food was served at set times. Charlie caught on very quickly to the fact that he wasn't allowed to touch the cat's food.
"They'll never be the cat and dog curled up in front of the fire that you see on TV, but Charlie worships Alfie."
Fighting like cats and dogs
If you are in a situation where you have a cat and dog who are not getting along, it's very important to seek the advice of a pet behaviourist as soon as possible.
"This is a serious welfare issue that owners need to address," says vet and cat behaviour counsellor Francesca Riccomini. "This means keeping them apart but ensuring the cats have a good quality of life with space and everything they need until they can get the right sort of professional help. Owners?should not allow the animals contact under these circumstances in my opinion."
To find a behaviour therapist in your area visit www.capbt.org or www.apbc.org.uk
Food for all?
Your cat and dog should never share food because these animals have different nutritional needs and their foods have been formulated to meet these specific needs.
Nicole Paley from the Pet Food Manufacturer's Association says: "Cat food is higher in protein and fat, which may make it very palatable to dogs but over time can cause nutritional imbalances."?