Can dogs and cats get along?

How to help dogs and cats get along

Whether or not dogs and cats can get along depends entirely on the human. The human needs to be in control of the situation, and that means in control of the cat, too. Although some dog-cat combos will need supervision at all times, most dogs and cats can get along if rules are enforced.

My cats do not like dogs, not at all. But they are good sports and tolerate all the dogs I bring into our home, which tends to be a lot. All of my life, I plan to have at least one dog and one cat. It is reasonable and possible to have both as pets.

Here are some tips for helping dogs and cats get along:

Cat watches black dog and woman standing in an field

1. The cat is usually dominant.

In our home, there is a very clear “pecking order,” and it goes humans, cats, dog. Ace is 65 pounds, and the cats have total control over him. Ace yields to them in doorways, backs away when they make eye contact, and if someone is being chased, it is usually Ace. Many people make the mistake of protecting or favoring their cats when really it is the dog that is insecure. Learn to read the body posture of both animals. For example, the more dominant pet will claim her ground and move forward, while the submissive animal will look away.

2. Correct the cat when she swipes at the dog.

Don’t let your cat get away with aggression just because she’s a cat. There is no reason for her to walk by and swipe at your dog’s face just to make a point. Cats can learn what no means. Like dogs, they need rules. My cats respond well to the sound of me snapping my fingers and saying “Hey” or “No.” It’s their signal to back off.

3. Stay calm.

Humans create all the problems in dog-cat situations. Loud, excited voices, laughing, insecurity, nervousness or intentionally getting the dog or cat worked up is asking for trouble. I’ve seen more than one situation where the dog and cat were fine until a person said something like “Is that a cat, Rover?” Then the dog went into an excited, guarding mode and the cat wanted to flee. Dogs read our signals more than we realize. It’s so important to stay relaxed. Act like the cat is no big deal and your dog will do the same.

4. Don’t let the cat hide.

Provide the cat with a safe place she can retreat to, but don’t let her hang out there for days on end. Some cats will want to remain under the bed or on top of the highest shelf without coming down to eat or go to the bathroom. Give your cat a few hours as a break here and there, but make her be around the dog so she can get comfortable with him. Also make sure she feels safe enough to get to her litter box or she might have accidents. When we have a new dog around, I get out an extra litter box so the cats have two bathroom options.

5. Block dogs and cats from staring.

All animals communicate with body language. In both dog and cat worlds, direct, head-on eye contact is a challenge. If you catch your animals staring at one another, it is a disaster waiting to happen. Usually it results with the cat fleeing and the dog chasing.

My cat, Beamer, is a very dominant animal and will stare down any dog. This is OK until he meets a dominant dog that will accept his challenge and attack him. This was a problem with one of our foster dogs. Having two dominant animals in the house kept me busy at all times. I corrected the foster dog from staring by keeping her on the leash and re-directing her attention as needed. Dogs and cats will respond to a firm, direct “No” or a snap of my fingers. Yelling, running at the animals or acting flustered makes the situation worse.

6. Correct all excited behavior from the dog.

Excitement leads to chasing or aggression. When I have an excited dog around my cats, I put the dog in a down position until he is calm. A dog in a down-stay position can’t stare, bark, spin in circles, chase or obsess over the cat. Even if the dog is not acting aggressive, it’s unacceptable for him to be fixated on the cat’s every move.

7. Don’t comfort either animal.

If the dog or cat is afraid, don’t comfort the animal by saying “It’s OK, it’s OK.” This only reinforces insecurity. If I notice Ace is insecure, I will step into the cat’s space to make the cat back away, giving Ace more power. If my cat, Scout, is insecure, I will calmly move him to a higher status like the couch or a chair.

8. Muzzle the dog if needed.

There’s nothing wrong with muzzeling a potentially aggressive dog. We only fostered the dog I mentioned above for about two weeks, but if we’d had her longer I would’ve gotten a muzzle for her so she could interact closer with my cats. A muzzle would’ve made me calmer and more comfortable, which would have benefited all the animals.

9. Put the cat in a kennel and let the dog approach calmly.

If your cat is relaxed and comfortable with being in a kennel, it is a good opportunity to allow the dog and cat to smell each other from a safe distance. Don’t let the dog charge, bark or pace around the kennel. Make sure he approaches the cat calmly. Correct or re-direct any excited behavior and try again once he is calm. If the cat is too nervous and hissing, whining or swiping, try again when both animals are calm. Don’t allow the dog to stare directly at the cat.

10. Put the dog in the kennel.

The reversed situation can also work as long as both animals are calm. One problem I often have is that the dog will try to stare at the cat from inside the kennel, and it’s difficult to correct him.

11. Give the animals breaks from one another.

When I’m introducing my cats to a new dog, I always make sure to set aside time for them when all dogs are in their kennels in a separate room. I get out the cat toys and catnip and give them lots of attention so they can be comfortable in their own home. This is good for the dogs too because they learn to have quiet, alone time. They don’t always get to be the center of my attention.

12. Allow the dog and cat to be together in a controlled environment.

Keeping the dog and cat separated at all times will only increase the tension. They need to get used to one another. It will take time, but they can’t learn anything if they are always separated.

13. Restrain the dog.

When I’m introducing a new dog to my cats, the dog is always on a leash, I don’t care who is the dominant one. It is very important to correct unwanted behavior from a dog, and it’s not possible to do that if the dog is out of reach.

14. Supervise the animals at all times.

Before a dog and cat are comfortable with one another, they should be under direct supervision. Don’t leave them alone together just because they are fine when you are around. Crate the dog or put them in separate rooms so everyone is safe until you are 100 percent sure you can trust them. Begin leaving them alone for short periods at a time and build from there.

15. Reinforce good behavior.

Only pet the animals when they are calm and relaxed. Verbal and physical praise is better than food. Food can bring out dominance and possessiveness in dogs and cats and can lead to a fight. I make sure to give calm verbal and physical praise because if I get too excited, problems occur.

Do you have a dog and a cat? What did you do to introduce them?

Blue merle great dane in kennel with gray tabby cat approaching

The top photo was taken of my mutt Ace, my cat Scout and I by Tawna Whitford. The large photo directly above is of Scout and my friend’s great dane pup, Piper.

16 thoughts on “Can dogs and cats get along?”

  1. I was lucky. Misty the alpha Poodle loves all creatures great and small and when the cat invited herself to be part of our pack, Misty adopted her too. The cat outranks all the dogs but Misty, mostly because she knows how to look really scary.

  2. Pickles was very unplanned, so when we brought her home we restricted where she could go for awhile, until the cat figured out she wasn’t leaving. We provide Snowchief the cat with dog-free zones, so he can lie in the sun and look out windows in peace, whenever he feels like it. Snowchief holds his own, but he’s an old cat & Pickles is a young and energetic dog so we keep a pretty close eye on things.

  3. My dog-cat experience was no so lucky. When we moved into our house, we adopted the seven year old dog that came with it. Unfortunately, he had a lot of aggression issues and for many months, only Anette and I could be around him.
    A few months later, a stray kitten was abandoned by its mother in our goat pen, and although I’ve never been a cat person, she was just too cute and so I befriended and adopted her. Dennis Mugu the dog wasn’t all that happy about it, but he wasn’t allowed to her anything and so he respected that. The kitten, who was semi-wild, was very weary of the dog at first but eventually they developed their own relationship, which, when I now come to think of it, always took place around me. The night before little Nefertiti died, she’d followed me to the house. Dennis was on his back and the two of them were playing really well and really friendly together. At that point, I relaxed, thinking my job as the dog-cat-introducer was done (by the way, Nefertiti was the boss of the two – no questions about it!). The next morning, I gave the kitten some milk but not the dog. Dennis started teasing Nefertiti and the two of them went behind the house out of my sight. The last thing I saw was Nefertit on her two back legs, taking a swing at the dog. By the time I got there, he’d bitten her, and she was dead. Just like that.

    Although not a cat person, and although I only had Nefertiti for a few weeks, she was a wonderful personality and I miss her.

    That said, I don’t have any plans of introducing a new cat to the household as we have our hands full with Sheba the Rhodesian Ridgeback and Dennis Mugu, the replaced Azawakh cross.

  4. Lindsay Stordahl

    I’m sorry you lost your kitten. Things like that can happen so fast. I looked at your pictures of Nefertiti and she was very, very cute.

  5. With our last set of pets we had the perfect dominance order: Spike, the cat, was dominant to Kiva, our wimpy German Shepherd. Kiva used to dominate Boo, the American Eskimo. Boo, on the other hand, knew just how close he could get to Spike, and would bark and chase him if he picked on Kiva. It was all perfectly balanced, and they eventually learned to coexist. They all slept in our room with us and even when we weren’t around, would sometimes choose to hang out together in the same room. They wouldn’t necessarily snuggle, but they did like to be around each other.

  6. Lindsay Stordahl

    I notice that our three animals like to be together too. The cats and dog are never caught snuggling, but they are almost always in the same room. I like when I’m at my home office desk and all three animals have followed me and just hang out or nap.

  7. I have a cat and a dog in my home, both of them are males. My cat constantly provokes the dog. He’ll creep up next to him, meow slightly, and then run away. My dog loves chasing after the cat, and the cat loves to be chased, but they’re both driving me up the wall. Thanks so much for the above tips. They’ll definitely help!

  8. I have two German Shepherds and also have two cats. The cats were rescued from our backyard at around 4 weeks of age. We adopted two out and kept two. We are dog people though and about 6 months after getting the cats decided to expand our family with two GSDs.

    I think it helped that the cats were still very young and didn’t have any bad interactions with dogs prior to our two joining the family. Everyone primarily gets along and we haven’t had any major incidents.

    All of your tips are great and thing syou have to actively reinforce – not just when it is convenient or you have time. A large contributor to whether it will be a happy household is the type of dog you have. Pruett, our male GSD, is high drive with a background of Czech and Hungarian working lines. He LOVES the cates. Obsesses over the cats. Whines at the cats. But the cats interact and we let him know when “enough is enough”. Our other GSD is Daphne, a white female from American lines who is low drive and doesn’t really care about the cats at all. She sometimes gets caught up in her brothers energy and will go on a “hunt” for the kitties but usually quickly abandons the task.

    We have a great gate that divides the upstairs and downstairs so the kitties have a safe place to escape if they get tired of the dogs – there is a built in cat door at the bottom of the gate so they can roam as they please. We also have a 6ft tall cat tree downstairs so they can perch if they want to be involved with the family, but from a distance.

    Keep up the great writing.

  9. Lindsay Stordahl

    Stop Dog Biting, thanks for stopping by.

    Thanks Christina, sounds like you have a good system worked out with all your animals. I’m sure they keep you plenty busy! I think I’ve told you this before but I love German shepherds and hope to have one some day. They are probably my favorite breed.

  10. Our cat is always out fighting and seems to just come home to recover.

    The only problem I have with the cat and dogs is that Daisy and her pup love him too much. Every time they see him they go in to a wiggly bottomed frenzy!

    They love licking him and when they have calmed down Naruto will curl up right next to them and sleep for hours.

  11. Hmm…I think my opinion about this has changed over time. We used to have our own cats, foster cats, our own dogs and foster dogs in the house all at the same time. However, as the number of our own dogs increased, I became concerned for the safety of the cats. I would trust almost any of the dogs individually, however all together in a pack, if one gets a cat running, they all join in. We eventually converted one of our building adjacent to the house into the “cat house”. (no puns intended) and moved them out there. It’s not ideal but it is insulated, carpeted, heated and safe from dog attacks.

  12. This just happened today so I thought I would share. We have two pretty new dogs in our house. And the two cats that we have adjusted pretty quickly. I had to work with Beavis at first but Butt Head accepted them right away. Well today out of the blue Butt Head decided she was going to show who was boss and started swatting at Bruno. Ruby has already accepted that she isn’t high enough on the ladder to do anything so she went the other direction. But Bruno held his ground. Butt Head and Bruno are about the same size and weight just to give everyone a mental picture. Any way I watched for a second to see what would happen because I was across the room. When all of a sudden Butt Head attacked. And viciously, She drew blood on Brunos neck before I could intercept the attack. Well Butt Head and I had an alphatization setion. Thats what I like to call them any way. Basically I took her and made her sit next to me. As long as she was good nothing happens. But if she tries to run away or growls or anything of the sort I scold her and give her a little pinch on the back of the neck. Not hard enough to hurt her but enough to get her attention. And she doesn’t like it. She has to allow the other animals smell her and walk by her and behave the whole time or she doesn’t get to leave. Well it took a while and the whole time Beavis was sitting next to her staring at her with a look on her face like Oh you were stupid. Don’t you remember when I had to go through this? Well she finally accepted her fate and soon after that was purring and even went and rubbed against Bruno.

    My wife used to get real mad at me when I would do that to the cats. But now she realizes that they actually still like me alot and they behave way better.

  13. Lindsay Stordahl

    My animals actually like it when I am in charge. It seems to take some pressure off of them. If I’m not in charge, then one of them tries to take over which is never good.

  14. Hi Lindsay, I’ve found your blog so helpful especially the part about introducing my little torti kitten to my bishon.

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