Households considering more than one pet may want both a cat and a dog, and the two species can live together in harmony, if properly nurtured and slowly conditioned to accept each other gracefully. The key to a successful relationship between cats and dogs is how you introduce these new housemates, especially if one pet is already established at home.
There are specific stages to this new relationship that ensure both parties are not harmed or traumatized by the experience. Pushing pets together before they’re ready can ruin the trust between you and your pets, sometimes for life. Slow, patient steps are necessary when trying to make both animals feel safe and comfortable in the company of another species.
Ideally, both pets come home as infants, since the relationship between a puppy and a kitten is the easiest to manage, before learned behaviors set in. Both animals learn to trust the other at a young age, and often form strong bonds as they mature. Failing that, introducing one as an infant eliminates some of the danger during their “getting to know you” stage, particularly when bringing kittens home to a cat-friendly dog breed.
If you’re planning on acclimating an adult dog into a cat’s environment, you should research the breed and history of the dog carefully to gauge its current and past behavior toward other animals.
Regardless of the situation, extreme caution is necessary at first. Hounds, terriers, and herding dogs are trained by instinct to carry, hunt, or kill their prey, making them more difficult to train. In addition, a cat that runs from a dog will stimulate its desire to hunt, and they will likely chase or scare the cat, exciting the dog even more.
Because of this, the two animals should never be left alone without supervision until you have seen a stable, long-term relationship form. Each situation is different, and this close bond between species may never develop when you’re away from home. Typically, you would bring the new pet home in a crate when your dog or cat is secured in another room.
They should be allowed to smell and hear each other in separate environments behind closed doors for several days before going further. Later, you can have both pets on leashes or in crates where they can see each other but not have contact, again for several days.
Reward both pets for good behavior, and don’t rush the process. The goal is for both pets to be calm and relaxed in the presence of the other. If either pet shows fear or aggression, keep them separated and try again another day. Cats can be especially slow to changing environments, and it may take months to eliminate the need for these “safety zones.”
Finally, err on the side of caution for the sake of your pets. If you’re at all uncertain of their relationship without supervision, keep them isolated while you’re gone to avoid unfortunate injuries or trauma.