If classic cartoons are to be trusted, it would seem dogs and cats exist to make each others' lives miserable. With the two animals seemingly always at each others' throats, there is surely no way they could coexist in a house; pet owners will have to choose one or the other.
Of course, the truth is nothing like this. Dogs and cats are more than capable of getting along happily in a well-managed home. This may require some effort on your part though, as if you just introduce both into your home and expect them to immediately become friends then you might be in for a surprise.
The conflict really comes from cats. If left to their own devices, they tend to become solitary, territorial animals. This means that if you introduce a dog to a cat that has lived in your house for a while, they can see them as an intruder rather than a family member. This causes conflict between the animals.
Typically, your cat will come to accept a dog, but begrudgingly. They will want to have their own space, and will usually react with hostility if your dog tries to interact with them. This can lead to a few angry incidents until your dog learns to keep away.
However, like a great many different animal behaviours, this can be changed. Luckily, dogs are naturally social. They will be happy to accept a cat into their family, or 'pack' as they will see it, if the cat lets them. It is just a matter of convincing the cat that the dog is not an unwanted invader.
This is easiest when the animals are young. Kittens are as sociable as dogs in many ways, and will accept a dog as a family member just as they will accept you. Similarly, puppies are more eager to make friends than older dogs, who might have negative impressions of cats from past experiences.
The only issue here is when it comes to playtime. Puppies and kittens both love to play, but you must be careful that it doesn't get too rough. This is especially true if the puppy is a large breed, as they can accidentally hurt kittens when playing. Be sure to supervise them as they play together and you should be fine.
For older animals, you will have to gradually acclimatise them to each other. Unfortunately, this will involve splitting your house up. Allocate half of the house to the cat, making sure it has a cat-flap so it can come and go as it pleases. The other half goes to the dog. However, make sure there is one 'neutral room' that neither are allowed in.
Keep the two sides of the house separate for a few days, never letting the cat and dog meet. This will get them both used to the other's smell and sound. Once they seem relatively at ease, even curious about the other half of the house, you can take them both into the neutral room.
Don't force them together. In fact, for the first meeting it is a good idea to keep them apart. Give them attention, including treats, so they are occupied enough not to be too worried about the other animal in the room. If your dog is on the BARF diet, giving them a bone to gnaw on is an excellent way to keep them at ease during this time.
You will need to keep your dog on a lead during these initial meetings. If they do become aggressive, they will need to be restrained. This shouldn't be the case if you are careful, but it is far better to be safe than sorry. If they do begin to growl, take them out of the room and leave them apart for a while.
Once they become used to each other in this way, with the amount of contact they have slowly being built up, you can open up the house and let them coexist in peace. However, you will still need to take a few precautions.
For example, your cat will need its own space from time-to-time. You should have a room that is just for your cat, or even an entire floor; many owners do not let their dogs upstairs anyway, so this can be space for your cat to get some alone time and some quiet. If you can keep the peace in this way, you should have no trouble with multiple pets in a home.
Written by: Hannah Dyball