By Tom Hewitt
Edited by Alexis Meehan
Most of the time, a cat will be wary of a strange dog, but if they have the chance to get accustomed to one another (usually as pets inside a household), cats and dogs can become the best of friends. Here’s a picture of Gaby (cat) and Charlie (dog), who belonged to my family.
They were introduced to each other when Gaby was an elderly cat and Charlie was in the middle of his life.Their maturity probably helped keep the meeting safe and low-key. Charlie was more enthusiastic about meeting Gaby than the other way around, so we made sure Gaby was safe when first exposed to Charlie. Gaby seemed a bit overwhelmed by Charlie at first, but she didn’t seem actually frightened and the two got along very well while they were together, sometimes lying down next to each other as in the photo.
Every pet is different, and every relationship between two pets will be different. Often, an initial dog-cat encounter in a household can be much more difficult than when Charlie and Gaby met. If there is a chance of the two not getting along, it is usually the cat who is in more danger, but the dog could face danger too.
In some cases, a dog and a cat may never get along. Aside from cats’ natural fear of dogs and many dogs’ instinct to chase a smaller, fleeing animal, questions of territoriality can come into play, and hostility can become entrenched. In such cases, if the dog and cat are to live in the same household, the owner will have to take care that they don’t come into contact – or will have to find a new home for one pet or another. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know ahead of time if a dog and a cat will get along, although one can make an educated guess based on what one knows about the personalities of the animals.
There are also some things an owner can do to help the first encounter between a dog and cat go smoothly and improve the chances that the two will become friends (or at least not fight). One such technique is to look at the body language of the animals to see how they feel towards each other – this will provide clues as to how soon to let them near each other, if ever. Another technique is to get the dog and cat used to each other by letting them see each other for an extended time while not being able to come into contact, such as through a screen door or a child safety gate. This way, the natural instincts that could lead to conflict between the cat and dog will have time to dissipate while the animals stay safe.