Clearly, there are millions of households in which cats and dogs live together harmoniously. As we all know it is down to socialisation and good caregiving. Although dogs naturally treat cats as a prey animal, if they are socialised to cats it completely subsumes that natural instinct to the point where they become friends. And there’s nothing better than seeing cats and dogs being friendly with each other. It is a huge positive benefit to both animals.
The old adage “fighting like cats and dogs” does not always apply. Life is not like the cartoons most of the time. Cats are obviously different to dogs. Essentially cats are a prey animal to a dog. They are yin and yang but they can also be highly complementary and improve the life of both.
Note: this page has been checked, added-to and republished on Jan 24, 2022, about 13 years after it was first published on this site.
I’m sure that 90% of people who have a cat and who adopt a dog do their due diligence on the dog to make sure that it goes swimmingly. If you adopt from a shelter, it is likely that the shelter will have done their due diligence on how the dog is socialised to cats and will provide their advice. If adopting somewhere else, you need to know that the dog that you’ve chosen gets on with cats. Fearful dogs can be a problem since panicking can lead to aggression directed at a cat. This could be redirected aggression.
People tend to categorise an entire dog breed as having one character. It is more sensible to tackle the issue of dog character on an individual-by-individual case. Certain breeds will have a tendency to have a certain character because of selective breeding but this is overlaid with individual character.
And it is useful to match up the personalities of the dog and cat. The age, breed and energy levels of both parties are a factor here. Most shelters will be able to advise because they may have tested how dogs in their charge respond to cats at the shelter. Of course, you will learn more when your dog arrives at your home and interacts with your cat.
A well-trained dog is also more likely to get along with a cat. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t adopt a dog that has not been well trained. It just means that you will have work to do. Introducing a dog to a cat will expose the need for training if it is not there. You should be able to deliver commands to your dog to manage the dog-to-cat interactions when needed. Dogs should at least respond to the “down-stay” command. You might need the services of a dog trainer. Getting help might be the best way to go if you foresee problems. There might be a certain level of stress with the humans and the animals at the point that the new dog is introduced to a home with a resident cat.
Jackson Galaxy recommends scheduled meals for both dog and cat. No more free feeding, he says. The idea here is to feed a cat and dog on opposite sides of a closed door at the same time. And then you bring them closer together over time through a gradual desensitising process. The cat associates the smell of the dog with their cat food. This will help the cat to recognise the dog as something good in their life.
Your home should be set up to be environmentally friendly for a cat such as vertical spaces which will put the cat above the reach of a dog when required. Ideally there should be a “cat superhighway” which is above the ground and where a cat can travel across the living room without touching the ground. Dogs are terrestrial. You can use this to the cat’s advantage. Cats can use space more efficiently. The vertical space gives a cat more time to become comfortable with the presence of a new dog. They can survey what is going on around them from on-high.
Dogs are attracted to cat litter boxes. They might consider them to be a buffet. Cat poop is protein heavy. It’s a snack for a dog. It sounds disgusting to people but not the dogs. Unfortunately, the litter box needs to be a safe place for a cat. If a dog is interfering it is no longer a safe space. Your cat might start eliminating inappropriately.
The litter box should be uncovered so that she has an escape route. And they will have a 360-degree view. The litter box should not be placed in a dead-end such as in the corner of a room or hidden. Cats need to be able to see and be able to escape. It’s not about human aesthetics it’s about cat behaviour.
The litter box should be in a room that dogs can’t access. You might put a baby gate in a room where the litter box is situated. You might raise the gate off the ground sufficiently to allow a cat to go under it, or they can jump over it. Dogs will be barred by it.
It may be useful to let the resident cat have the incoming dog’s bedding and toys. We know that dogs and cats have a great sense of smell. If a cat can smell an incoming dog’s scent on her bedding for instance, before the introduction, it may help. Jackson Galaxy calls it “site-swapping”. He suggests that you do this when your dog is taken for a walk. Your cat can spend some time sniffing around the dog’s belongings.
You need to avoid the situation where the dog chases the cat or in any way frightens the cat because this will undermine the trust-building process. You will have to restart it. This suggests that you need to proceed with caution and in a predictable manner during the process of building trust between cat and dog.
Bringing a dog into a cat’s home
Jackson Galaxy says that when you first bring a dog into a home with cats you must, absolutely must, keep the dog on a leash. I’ve stressed it because he stressed it in his book Total Cat Mojo. And the reason is obvious: you don’t really know, he says, “your new family member very well, and despite all of your due diligence before the adoption you just have no idea what triggers may be pulled the first time your dog sees a cat.”
And you don’t know how your dog will react when he or she sees the resident cat sniffing the dog’s toys or food or even the water. When they are in the same space the dog should be kept “on-leash” for a little while until you feel satisfied that it will work out. It also gives both parties time to build trust.
The lease gives control over the new family member. Jackson Galaxy says that in his home the dog stays on a leash until he “earns our complete trust”. You don’t even have to hold the leash. If something goes wrong you can place your foot on the leash to stop the dog moving forwards. “The right to wander the house freely is definitely one that is earned”, he said.
In bringing a cat into a home where there is a dog or indeed where there is no other animal, Jackson Galaxy insist that you take your cat to what he calls “base camp”. This is the core of a cat’s home range. Or it will be what the cat considers to be the core. And base camp should be set up before a cat is adopted. There should be stuff in there which makes the place suited to be the centre of the cat’s life. They can then add their scent to the room or area by for example lying on their beds and on their cat tree. This is a place they can go to and feel secure.
Obvious: cats are not dogs
I’ve discussed this before but it is helpful to remind ourselves that cats are not dogs. Sometimes people can relate to cats as if they are dogs. This may occur more often in a home where there are cats and dogs. If you relate to a cat as a dog, you might have misplaced expectations. They won’t respond in the same way. Jackson Galaxy calls it looking at cats through “dog-coloured glasses”. It’s when you expect cats to communicate with you in a way humans can instantly recognise. Dogs have been molded over thousands of years “to reflect humanness back at us” in the words of Galaxy. Cats have been domesticated for far less time.
Jackson Galaxy has an interesting way to explain the difference between communicating with cats and dogs. He says that there is a fence between companion animal language and human language. When communicating with cats “we must meet at that fence”. When communicating the dogs, they “will gladly jump the fence and run to our side in order to communicate; cat simply won’t.”
This is because for cats, it has never been part of the arrangement. Cat owners have to commit to meeting at that communication fence. Essentially it means learning about cat communication both in terms of vocalisations, marking and body language.
The Gandhi connection
Cats and dogs living together is a lesson to us to live in harmony. A story tells us that in “Gandhi country”, which I believe to be Gujarat’s Vaadi area in India, there were three dogs and two cats living together, eating from the same bowl (the town where they live is near Dharmapur, I believe – see map below). There is absolutely nothing exceptional about this, really, but a lot of people believe that dogs chase cats, that dogs attack and hate cats as the “natural order of things”.
Here is the map of Gandhi country (Gandhi was born in Porbandar, a coastal town in present-day Gujarat, Western India), where cats and dogs living together is seen as almost unique and possibly due to the fact that is happening in “Gandhi country”, meaning Gandhi’s influence lives on beyond the grave:
We can learn from our companion animals. Cats can teach us patience and persistence for example. And when cat and dogs live together harmoniously it is because they were brought up together and became accustomed to each other. They were, to use, cat fancy language, “socialized”. I wonder if we can use that concept for the benefit of humans? I don’t know if works for humans. There is certainly a huge need for people to find common ground. There is a lot of common ground but we seem to focus on the differences.
As I said, it is thought by some that these particular cats and dogs are “unique” or very rare. That, though, is not the case. I am sure that there are countless examples, in India, of cats and dogs getting along fine. Certainly, in Europe and America it is frequently encountered.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” – Gandhi