Animal Magnetism: Cats and Dogs Living TogetherPublished December 15, 2008
"Mealtime is a real challenge for us," explains Julie McCloskey of Wesley Chapel, Florida. Her dogs, Daisy and Brooklyn, always finish eating first and then work as a team to clear the cats' plates. "They usually go after Boo, the elderly cat, and dance around her plate until she's intimidated to the point of abandoning what's left over."
Sounds like a classic canine vs. feline tale, but despite their inherent differences, cats and dogs don't have to live antagonistically. Put yourself in their paws for a moment. Imagine if you had a blind date show up to your home and announce they were going to live with you forever! Perhaps that is what a dog or cat feels like when a strange new species arrives on their turf.
"We have jealousy issues too," says McCloskey. "The dogs don't like when we pet or hold the cats. They find it unacceptable." Sounds like Daisy and Brooklyn could use some relationship ground rules.
If you're planning to add a dog to your cat-only household, or vise versa, seek advice from your family veterinarian about helpful introduction tools or perhaps a referral to a trainer. Experts can offer various ways to prevent or minimize potential problems through careful first encounters.
However, if you missed the golden opportunity for a cautious introduction, and your pets are already waging a dog-cat 'sibling rivalry,' what are you to do? Stu Rosenberg, a veterinarian at Bayshore Animal Clinic in Tampa, Florida offers some taming advice.
"Remember that canines and felines are scent-oriented, especially cats." Strange new scents on what used to be "their turf" can cause a multitude of instinctive reactions that you might find unacceptable. Those behaviors might include inappropriate elimination, spraying, chasing, taunting, even aggression.
If you're dealing with a dog that thinks kitty is prey, you'll have to intervene using pack mentality. "This dog is exhibiting a predator-to-prey relationship. Teach the dog that anytime he looks at the cat, it's not good," explains Rosenberg. "In pack mentality, you are alpha dog and you do not tolerate the dog chasing that animal. Explain to the dog in dog language that any time they do that, they'll get corrected."
By the way, Rosenberg joking reminds us that the two-legged dog is the alpha dog--that's you! "They don't see us as a person, rather a pack member, hopefully a leader."
If you need brushing up on your alpha dog or top cat communication skills, talk to your veterinarian or a professional dog or cat trainer. "I like trainers that come to your house," says Rosenberg. "Evaluating and training you and your pet at home can be more effective." And despite what cats would have you believe, Rosenberg says that cats are trainable, "It just depends on how motivated you and the cat are to learn."
If serious fear or aggression issues exist between pets, a consultation or evaluation by a certified veterinary behaviorist may be in order. Rosenberg also suggests a good look at yourself when it comes to evaluating the source of your pets' anxiety. When you anticipate an altercation, do you tense up or react outwardly? Do you laugh or scream to avoid or in reaction to comical or bad behavior?
"If you freak out, you're telling your pet to freak out," says Rosenberg. "It's a lot like a two-year-old falling down at the park. Don't make a big deal out of it or overreact."
If proper introductions, good alpha communication and a sense of calm don't keep your dog and cat from cartoon-like sabotage of one another, consider your pet's diet. "In my opinion, nutrition can be very important when it comes to behavior," says Rosenberg. "A high energy dog eating a high carbohydrate diet might be a misbehaving dog. Not unlike the result of feeding a child cotton candy every day."
So, do troublesome terriers or cantankerous cats need a well-balanced diet to get along? Perhaps. Rosenberg suggests pet owners read the first six ingredients on their pet food bag or can, and decide if that is a food they want to feed their pet. "Feed your pet the highest quality food you can afford," he suggests. "Bottom line for people or pets is--eat healthy, feel better."
Now, go chew on that.