Man's Best Friends: helping dogs and cats coexist

Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Apr 28 2011

Managing a household with multiple species can present many challenges. How you start out can determine whether you end up with a peaceful house – or one where your pets fight “like cats and dogs.”

A match made in heaven

Both cats and dogs are born with inherent instincts, and often these instincts are in direct opposition to living with the “enemy.” For instance, some dogs are meant to chase and kill small prey while others are meant to retrieve. Think about the breed characteristics of your dog, and be a good matchmaker before you embark on adding an additional species to your house. Adding a cat to a household with a dog who is not good with cats is a bad idea. Frightened cats will instinctively run from a dog, which in turn will stimulate the dog’s instinct to chase. This can have disastrous effects – not only on the cat, but also on anything in the way of this duo!

I have found that it tends to work best to introduce a kitten to an adult dog, rather than a puppy to an adult cat. Cats tend to be set in their ways and don’t always take kindly to you bringing home a busy, barking buddy, even if it is the cutest, cuddliest thing on the planet. If your cat is brought into the home when she is a kitten, she will have an opportunity to learn “dog language” and pick up on cues from the dog as she grows.

Fight the good fight

Even if your multiple species household is relatively peaceful, you still have challenges every once in a while. A scuffle will inevitably pop up now and then, so be prepared to try to break it up. Never reach into a fight between two animals, as this can lead to serious injury. Instead, try to distract the fighters by yelling or making a loud noise, or if needed, spray them with water. After the fight is over and everyone has had time to calm down, check both your dog and cat for injuries. Don’t assume that it will always be the cat with the most serious injuries; I’ve seen some pretty terrible cat scratches and bites on dogs in my day.

Dinner is served

Dogs should eat dog food and cats should eat cat food. Sounds simple, right? Well, anyone who lives with cats and dogs knows how difficult this concept seems to our pets. The truth is, cats NEED cat food. For cats, taurine is an essential amino acid, meaning that they are incapable of producing it on their own like dogs (and humans) can. Cat food is supplemented with taurine, but dog food is not. If a cat fills up on dog food, she will be taurine deficient (a major contributor to heart disease). And eating from your dog’s bowl may also incite the dog in the house to guard his food. Food guarding in dogs can become severe enough that the dog also applies the behavior to humans, which can lead to dog bite incidents.

If the cat can’t eat the dog’s food, it’s only fair that the dog can’t eat the cat’s food. Cat food, especially when it is canned, can cause gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhea in your dog. If your dog has a sensitive stomach, it can be severe enough to require a trip to the vet for treatment (and an unwanted vet bill). Protecting your entire household with Petplan pet insurance is a great way to maintain peace of mind in multiple pet homes.

Finally, I have to bring up the uncomfortable subject of poop. Dogs love to eat poop! Especially when it is deposited on a somewhat regular schedule in a known place every day. In my house, they are called “sweet tootsie rolls” or “cat box crunchies.” But in all seriousness, having a dog eat from the litter box is a terrible, nasty habit. Nip it in the bud by placing litter boxes out of the reach of your canine friend.