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Cats are from Venus, Dogs are from Mars

By Elizabeth Wasserman

Cats are from Venus, Dogs are from Mars

The saying "fighting like cats and dogs" had to come from somewhere. But in Janis Cook's experience, the phrase was far from reality. When she brought a service dog into the household that her cat had ruled for years, the Annandale, Virginia, pet owner was pleasantly surprised to see that the dog and cat actually got along well.

"The cat was very cautious for a while," says Cook. "I made sure that the cat could jump away and escape. And the dog was very well trained. There was no problem at all. It just wasn't an issue."

Success, indeed, can happen. How well they get along together will depend on your pet's personality, socialization, and how you prepare it for the addition of a Snoopy or Snowball, say animal behavior experts. Here are some tips on what to consider about your feline before adding a mutt to your hut, as well as advice on how to maintain household harmony if you're set on living with both cats and dogs.

A Tale of Two Different Species
The first step to making the perfect match is to understand and respect the behaviors that make cats and dogs unique. Dogs are pack animals and like to be around humans. Cats can also bond with their owners, but they tend to be more territorial in your home. Dogs like to play chase; cats may view the game as a threat. But, aside from generalizations, most dogs and cats seem to have their own unique dispositions. "There are dogs who get on well with cats and cats who get along well with dogs," says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, DVM, director of the animal behavior clinic at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and author of Dogs Behaving Badly and The Cat Who Cried for Help (Bantam). "But there is no guarantee of success."

Know Your Pet and its Background
One way to gauge whether a cat and dog will live in peace is if they have been raised with the other species. The attitudes of cats and dogs toward each other crystallize during their early development in the first few months of life, Dodman says. "Dogs raised in a household with cats are accustomed to them and may see them as they do a piece of furniture," Dodman says. Some questions to ask about your cat: Was it raised in a family that had dogs? Are dogs completely alien to it? Cats have, on occasion, caused dogs serious harm, such as scratching the cornea of a dog's eye with their claws. For pets rescued or adopted at an older age, the questions about background may never be answered. Another key factor is a dog's breed. Dodman recounts how a graduate student adopted a pit bull and brought it into a home with four cats. "They all got along well for a few days," he says. "But one cat may have darted or moved the wrong way and woke the sleeping predatory giant." The dog wound up killing the cats.

Introducing a New Pet in Your Home
Focusing on less aggressive breeds, many cat owners have added pet dogs into their household with few problems. Dodman recommends taking the following steps to help ease the transition and to test whether or not this will be a happy marriage:

  • Have a friend come over with a dog and see how your cat reacts. You may see a range of reactions from indifference to full-blown feline affective defense response -- an arched back like a Halloween cat. Pay attention to those cues.
  • Keep them in opposite parts of the house at first and gradually increase exposure. In particular, feed them separately, because both cats and dogs can get territorial around the food bowl.
  • Introduce them under extremely pleasant circumstances in which you are petting the animals and talking sweetly. Make sure there are no other distractions, such as strangers, children or loud noises.
  • Start by introducing them on opposite sides of a door, or while both are in carriers, so they can smell the other animal and so you can see a reaction. The next time, crack that door open or use a screen door.

Quite possibly, your pets will live in peace like Cook's. "They just learned to get along," she says. "The cat would play with the dog's tail and she'd just let her."

Elizabeth Wassermana Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.

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Posted on October 19, 2010

Neelloc says: I have 2 cats and recently adopted a rescue chihuahua. One cat runs at the sight of the dog my other cat will not leave the dog alone. Tuxedo/cat is bigger than my little dog he is constantly stareing the dog down, goes up to his bed and sniffs the dog's behind so the dog chases the cat. This has been going on for a few months now and is driving me crazy. I feed the cats on the table, dog is a separate room with door closed because Tux will try to eat dog's food also he try to intimidate my little dog is it because they are both black or because Tux is the alpha male in my home? We tell Ivy/dog to stop. One book wrote to say "no cats" I don't think it is helping.The cats donot hiss, swipe or arch their backs at the dog just run. Other times they all walk past each other and ignore. Will this behavior ever change? I'm hoping dog obedience class might help. thank you

Posted on December 11, 2007

Glenn Marsnick says: My daughter wants to bring home a young cat for several days until a friend can arrive and pick up the cat and take it home. We have adopted a cat about 5 yrs old who is very social and friendly, but we are concerned how they might get along, my daughter proposes to keep the young cat in her room for three or four days until this cat can be picked, my wife and I are opposed to this your thoughts & suggestions? Are we making more out this then we should?

Posted on December 16, 2007

Linda says: I have two cats and a dog. When I first brought my dog into the house, it went downhill from there. My dog loves to chase the cats and annoy them any chance she gets. And the cats hate it! They swat her with their paws along with growling. Is there anything to do? It's been almost two years and nothing has changed between them.

Posted on January 15, 2009

Faith says: I have 2 cats (one is 10 & the other is 6), we recently got a German Shorthair mix puppy, needless to say he is always hyper and excited and he really just wants to play, but he is so much bigger than the cats that it freaks them out, so we have decided that our bedroom is the "dog free" zone and the cats have been exiled there. When the dog is locked in the kitchen or on a walk they are free to roam. It has been about 6mos, the puppy tries to sneak in there, but we are able to leave the bedroom door open and as long as we are paying attention he doesn't go in there. I hope someday for them all to live a peaceful existence together.

Posted on October 5, 2007

Annie says: I had a dog first and then brought a cat in to our home. I tried separating them at first and then had a screen between them but after a day I gave up. They want so much to get together so I let them. The cat loves to groom the dog and he just sighs and enjoys it when the cat cleans his ears. They got along so well we brought another cat into the house and all three are happy. If one is annoying the other, they give a gentle reminder that they don't want to be bothered. We have never had any problems with them getting along... thankfully!

Posted on December 4, 2007

Tiffani says: when we got my cat we had another dog, the dog and cat got along, but the dog passed away a year later. We waited about 6 months and now have a lab and golden retriever mix. The dog is a little hyper, and is very playful. I dont think my cat understands this, because the cat swats and bites the dogs ears. Neither of them can be in a cage either...any suggestions. I think they both might be playing because there is no blood but how am i to be sure.

Posted on December 7, 2007

colleen says: My cat and dog just do not seem to get along no matter what! Help !

Posted on December 11, 2007

colton says: my cats love each other.they have 13 babys it is hard to keeptrake of who is this and who is that theydrink about I dont now how muth they drik a day but it is a lot I loved sharing my story to you but I cant think of any other stuff they do or play.thanks for reading.

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