EXPERT INTERVIEW: can cats & dogs live together?
Fantail for Cats is right around the corner. About time we introduced our cat expert Joline to our dog expert Margaux. The result was an enlightening chat about the biggest differences between cats and dogs. And more importantly, an answer to a burning question: can they live together? Read their interview and find out!
About our experts
Joline from Chat-o-gand is our cat expert. She’s been advising us on our very first cat product from the jump. Rest assured: your cat’s wellbeing is her biggest condition.
Margaux from Blue Jack Dog Training is our dog expert. She’s our sounding board when it comes to our dog products, to make sure we always put their needs first.
Alright guys. Let’s dive in with the big question. Dogs and cats: they’re each other’s worst nightmare, if we can believe the books and the movies. But can they actually live together under the same roof?
Margaux: “Joline gets to go first. (laughs)”
Joline: “Me? Okay (laughs). Well, yes, I think it's definitely possible. There’s plenty of proof to be found on the internet of cats and dogs getting along. If it happens under the right conditions: sure!
Do you agree, Margaux?
Margaux: “Yes, absolutely. If you prepare for it, it can certainly work. If they do remain ‘enemies’, it’s probably because the owners didn’t take the time to introduce them properly. If only it was as easy as: “here’s the cat, now get to know each other” (laughs). Of course, if your pet has experienced some trauma or had issues during development, that could also explain why it’s not working out. But usually, a wrong first impression is the cause.”
So both of you are saying: yes, cats and dogs can live together, if you follow the right approach. Is there a big difference in introducing a cat to a dog and vice versa?
Margaux: “I’m happy you’re asking that, because I had the same question for Joline (laughs). Up until now we’ve just been researching everything about cats ourselves in order to advise our clients. It’s interesting to be here with her today and discuss the topic together. Cause I feel like sometimes it’s harder to adjust for the cat, and sometimes for the dog. And if they’re both having a hard time, well… Then it’s a journey (laughs).”
Joline: “Oh yeah, it can be challenging (laughs). If you ask me, any potential change in your pet household should start with the pet you already have. What’s their personality? Their background? And most importantly: are they open to an extra four legs in the house?”
Margaux: “Yes, exactly. You really need to know your pet. Only then can you assess the following things. One: if it’s even a good idea to give them a companion. Two: how much time you might need to introduce them.”
Any other things you should consider when you want to add a cat or dog to your household?
Joline: “I’d say the impact it has on your own life. Are you willing to change the current relationship with your pet? Because like it or not, the dynamics will change. Think about your favourite moment with your pet. Say, snuggling in the sofa after a long day. Ask yourself: am I prepared to give that up? Because that moment could disappear. Maybe it will be replaced with something even better, but you do need to accept that things will change.”
Margaux: “Definitely. And I’d like to add another important question you should ask yourself: if the introduction takes longer than expected, and both pets need more time away from each other: can you give them that? Do you have the time and the motivation to follow their lead?”
Sounds like there’s a big emotional aspect to it as well.
Margaux: “For sure. My mom – who already had a cat – got a dog a year ago, and it was really hard getting the two of them to live together. The cat stayed upstairs for a long time because she was too scared to come downstairs. That was difficult for my mom, since those evening cuddles weren’t happening anymore. It all worked out in the end, but it was certainly an emotional journey.”
Let’s say you feel ready to add another pet in the mix. How do you prepare a cat to live with a dog?
Joline: “For starters, your cat’s core environment should not be accessible to the dog. It’s possible you need to temporarily move their facilities upstairs or to a separate room. There needs to be a visual block. Next up, you need to provide everything in abundance. That means: the number of cats + one extra. Think of water, food, litter boxes, scratching opportunities… And what’s also very important: access to high spots. Your cat feels safest above ground. That access must always be there, by the way, not just in the beginning. It’s a basic need.”
“Then I’d suggest keeping the dog and cat separate and wait with the introduction until the dog is under control, by which I mean: understands basic commands. Only then can we start the training, that revolves mainly around the senses.”
Margaux: “Hearing you say all this, it feels like for cats, it’s all about management.”
Joline: “Yes, exactly, that’s super important. Of course, training is a big part of it, but usually it’s management and environment that matters most to them. Even when the introduction is complete, they need to feel like they can get away from the dog and feel safe.”
Margaux: “That’s really interesting. For dogs, it obviously starts with management as well: they need to be separated from the cat and of course their needs also have to be met. But training is equally as important.”
Margaux, what would you say are essential commands or cues your dog should understand before starting with the introduction?
Margaux: “Your dog should know their name and respond to it. Ideally, when you call it, they come to you. That’s what we call recall. This can prevent the dog from running after the cat, although that can still happen when they feel overwhelmed. That’s why I recommend keeping your dog on a leash during the introduction phase when they’re close to your cat.”
The introduction revolves around senses. Can you guys elaborate?
Margaux: “Basically, the introduction process goes through 3 senses: smell – sound – sight. The scent exchange starts as soon as the new pet walks through the door. After that, you gradually introduce sound and eventually, sight. But Joline, I wanted to ask you about this. Convincing owners of a visual block is really challenging. They want to do the work… But also, they don’t (laughs).
Joline: “Yeah, I get that a lot as well. When I go through the introduction process with them, it always seems like a lot of work. But if you just follow the steps, it’s quite simple. I ask them to look at it like this: “You put in the effort for a few months and then enjoy the results for maybe fifteen years. Or… You rush things, and it’s an issue their entire lives.”
I imagine there’s a difference in introducing a cat to a dog and the other way around. But: what are the key steps you need to take in both situations?
Margaux: “Once both animals have adjusted to the faint presence of a new pet, you bring them closer to each other while still maintaining that visual block. Let’s say your cat is in a separate room. Bring your dog closer to that room, leashed. Now, it’s all about sound: getting them used to all these new noises. You start far away from the door and only come closer once you’ve noticed that both animals aren’t really taking notice anymore.”
“Then, you can put the door ajar and start the whole thing over again: from far away to close by. Always following the pace of your pets. Finally, when you’re ready for visual contact, you could place a gate in the door and repeat the same steps.”
Joline: “If you have a sensitive cat, you could take an extra step and wrap plastic around the gate. That way, the cat can already see a silhouette, but can’t make direct eye contact yet. For them, eye contact can be very threatening. I’d go this route if you already have a dog and are now bringing a cat in: take it very slowly so your cat can adjust.”
It would seem again that management is more important for the cat than the dog.
Margaux: “Yes, for a dog, the plastic wouldn’t be necessary. In our cases, we see that the process can generally go quicker for the dog. Because as long as the dog doesn’t actually see the cat, she remains interesting. And you want to teach them as soon as possible that she’s just a part of the interior and not interesting at all.”
Joline: “If we’re talking about stable animals, the plastic might not be necessary. It all goes back to knowing your pets. Either way, you should let the animal that shows the most fear determine the pace.”
How long do you think a training session should take?
Joline: “If you can aim for 2 training sessions a day, each lasting a maximum of 10 minutes, that’s great. Of course, in the beginning, the sessions will be a lot shorter. And towards the end you might be able to stretch it out further.”
Margaux: “Another reason why management in general is important for both pets. There will be days you don’t have the time – or the desire – to train. On those days you can fall back on management.”
Joline: “Definitely don’t train when you don’t feel like it. Your animals will sense it. It’s better to train once in a relaxed mood than twice in a stressed mood.”
When do you know your pet is comfortable and you can take it a step further?
Joline: “When it comes to your cat: she can be looking towards the dog, but you can distract her. She’s relaxed, and you can pet her, play with her or give her a treat.”
Margaux: “Same for dogs actually. I think that’s a great conclusion. If you can distract them both or have them focused on something else, you’re good. They should simply be able to be together, but not notice each other.”
Thanks for the interview, Joline & Margaux!
Looking for a step-by-step plan to introduce your cat to your dog or the other way around? Keep an eye on our blog page – we’re working on it!
Or even better: subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to find out.
... 31 Oct 2023 Everyone deserves a safe space to grow up. Unfortunately, not everyone has that. Belgian initiative... Continue Reading