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How to Help Dogs and Cats Get Along

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Lindsay Butzer, DVM
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Dr. Lindsay Butzer
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Life’s too short to choose between being a “cat person,” and a “dog person.” While it’s true that pets really can “fight like cats and dogs,” it doesn’t always have to be that way.
A peaceful, happy multi-pet household is possible, and if you’re lucky, your pets might even become interspecies best buds. Here’s what you can do to help your dog and cat get along.

Why Do Dogs and Cats Fight?

Dogs and cats primarily communicate with others of their own species through body language. Unfortunately, our pets can experience “language barriers” when attempting to communicate with one another, which can lead to misunderstandings.
For dogs, a play bow, smacking the ground with their paws, and barking or chuffing means, “I want to play with you!” But their feline friend can misconstrue this as a noisy, scary confrontation.
For cats, swishing their tail from side to side usually means, “I’m getting annoyed, stop that!” But their canine companion may unwittingly push their boundaries until they get a painful swat on the nose.
And while the average adult cat is no more than 15 pounds in weight, dogs are usually much larger, leading to an intimidating size difference that can put cats on defensive mode, even around the most gentle giants.
Dogs can see cats as small prey animals, even though they’re fellow predators. Those with a strong prey drive, like terriers, hounds, and retrievers, especially dogs that are not experienced with cats, may feel the urge to chase every time a cat makes a sudden movement.
Pets may also compete over resources like food and water, treats, toys, a seat on the couch, or even you.
Dogs and cats that grow up together are more likely to pick up on one another’s cues. But for many pets, especially those introduced later in life, may take more time to understand their interspecies housemates. By creating physical boundaries and stopping tense interactions before they escalate, you can keep your pets safe while they learn to coexist.

How To Help Dogs and Cats Get Along

When you first introduce a dog and cat, they should be given plenty of space to get acquainted at their own pace.

Setting Boundaries
When you first introduce your dog and cat, you’ll need to keep them separated until you can gauge how they react to one another.

  • Use a pet gate that your cat can climb, but your dog cannot. Cats are less likely to feel anxious when they have safe spaces to get away when they feel threatened or overwhelmed.
  • Keep pets in separate rooms or put your dog in a crate during mealtimes and anytime you cannot closely supervise them, not only when you’re not home, but also when you’re occupied with work, cooking, cleaning, or your attention is otherwise divided.
  • Keep your dog on-leash either attached to you or dragging behind them so you can quickly take control if your dog starts to chase the cat.

Building Positive Associations
During supervised interactions, you can build positive associations so your pets learn to feel at ease around one another, rather than anxious, agitated, or overexcited. It’s not necessary for your pets to be best friends right away. Your goal is to teach your pets to simply coexist.

  • Avoid forcing interactions Instead, aim to teach your pets to ignore one another. Engage your dog in training or games, or offer food puzzles or a stuffed Kong when the cat is around to create positive, low-pressure interactions.
  • Keep the treats coming so it will be positive and rewarding for your dog to spend time around the cat without chasing them. Offer small, high-value treats to both pets - cats and dogs both love freeze-dried pet treats.
  • Keep interactions short and sweet At first, you might introduce your pets for just a few minutes, give praise and treats, and separate them before either pet shows any sign of tension.
  • Stay calm even in tense moments. Calmly create distance between your pets at any sign of tension or stress. In dogs, you might notice stiffness, staring, or raised hackles. In cats, you might notice flattened ears, growling, hissing, or swatting. Avoid shouting, as an overreaction from you can create stronger negative associations between pets.

Safety Risks When Dogs and Cats Fight

Whether your dog is acting out hunting instincts, is attempting rough play with their feline friend, or is, less commonly, truly aggressive, they run the risk of causing injury, even death.
Even pets that normally get along can get into a serious, potentially deadly confrontation during moments of tension, for example, around valuable resources like food or when either pet is in a bad mood, sick or injured.
If your dog bites your cat, seek immediate veterinary care. Cats tend to hide their pain, and even if a wound does not seem severe on the surface, there may be trauma to the bone, soft tissue, or organs that you may not immediately notice.
Cats, too, can injure their canine companions, even though they’re less likely to cause critical or potentially fatal injuries due to their size difference.
Small cat scratches that just barely break your dog’s skin are unlikely to require treatment. You can clean a small, shallow wound with mild soapy water, then gently dry and apply pet wound ointment. Watch wounds for signs of infection like fever, warmth, pus, or swelling.
Scratches to your dog’s eye, though, are extremely painful and require emergency treatment to minimize the chances of infection, permanent damage and vision loss.
Seek emergency veterinary care if either pet has deep puncture wounds, excessive bleeding, large wounds, begins limping, or otherwise seems to be in distress after a fight.

When Your Dog And Cat Won’t Get Along

Creating a peaceful multi-pet household can be incredibly challenging, and you don’t have to go at it alone.
Don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional like a veterinary behaviorist or a certified trainer. Your veterinarian can refer you to a behavior professional and may also recommend calming remedies or prescribe anxiety medication if needed.
Not every pairing is compatible, and sometimes despite your best efforts, you might not see any progress. It can become impractical to keep your pets separated at all times, and even the most attentive pet parent can experience near-misses and close calls, and even full-blown fights.
Rehoming or returning a new pet to their breeder or rescue is sometimes, unfortunately, the only humane option when you cannot ensure the safety of your pets.



Every pet deserves to live a long, happy, healthy life.