I knew it was not a good idea but I couldn’t resist the wavy brown hair, the mischievous eyes, the ruggedly handsome good looks and most of all the little black nose. The small Jack Russell Terrier mix needed a home, I fell in love with him, he came home with me, and Ricky the Persian cat was not happy. Introducing a bouncy puppy whose history is rooted in hunting to an aloof mature cat whose definition of adventure is jumping up the window and watching the birds outside, that is a tall order!
When your cat hates your dog, there must be a reason for it because cats do not hate dogs “just because”. Relationship problems between these two species can usually be traced back to that crucial first few meetings between them. As it is among us humans, hate is due to miscommunication and fear. Cats and dogs communicate differently. Cat sees dog and runs – dog thinks “cat wants to play chase!” while cat thinks “this dog is nuts!” When cat raises a forepaw, cat is saying “I am warning you, don’t come any closer!” and dog thinks “Ooohh! Cat wants to make friends!” Cat flicks its tail from side to side in annoyance and dog thinks “cat is happy to see me!” Your role as pet parent is to make sure these two are introduced smoothly and they learn each other’s language during their first few meetings. Then address the things that will likely cause the cat to fear and hate the dog by looking at fear from a cat’s point of view.
The foremost threat a cat feels is the fear for its life. Dogs, being pack animals, are naturally boisterous, approaching everything and everyone with a full blast of energy and enthusiasm. Cats, being solitary animals, resent this rowdiness in dogs. A cats sees a bounding, slobbering dog approaching him as “someone who is going to eat me!”, and if the cat has no means to flee, it will fight for its life. Unfortunately, most cats never forget this first impression. And as the cat realizes that its aggressive behavior is effective in keeping the dog away, the bad behavior will be positively reinforced and the cat becomes more aggressive with the dog. It is therefore to everyone’s advantage that the dog has already learned the basic obedience commands like sit, stay, and leave before its first meeting with the cat. During this time, while the dog is still doing his training, acquaint the two with each other’s scents by having them stay in adjacent rooms so that when they eventually meet they are somehow already familiar with each other. Even when the dog has apparently mastered the basic commands, it must still be placed on leash during the first meetings with the cat. Positively reward both dog and cat when they are calm in each other’s presence but do not punish them when they fail because it will only breed more resentment for each other. Later on, even when all looks rosy between cat and dog, always provide the cat with a means of escape like a cat tree or high cabinets where it can jump to out of harm’s way in case the dog, from time to time, succumbs to its primal urge to chase.
The second threat the cat perceives is the fear that the dog is taking over its territory and food supply. Deal with this by keeping cat’s food, water, toys, beds and litter box in a place where the dog is not allowed. Your house should have cat-only and dog-only areas so each can retreat to these “safe zones” when anyone feels threatened. Teach both to respect these boundaries. Or you may have to install baby gates to keep the dog out of the cat-only areas.
If you have addressed already these two basic sources of fear and your cat still hates your dog, it doesn’t follow that your cat is just plain mean. Have your cat checked by the veterinarian to rule out any source of pain or discomfort like dental disease, arthritis, and other conditions which might contribute to your cat being cranky and taking it out on the dog. Check also your home environment for other sources of stress and aggression which the cat may just be redirecting at your dog. Likewise, maybe your cat doesn’t really hate your dog but simply has a high predatory drive that it loves the challenge of attacking your dog. If you catch your cat stalking or about to attack your dog, interrupt him and distract his attention with toys and play. In the same way that we tell the dog not to chase the cat, do not allow your cat the chase your dog. It may look funny and cute at first but this will wreak havoc on your dog’s self-esteem. I have seen dogs who tremble with fear and hide behind their owners or under the chair when they see a cat pass by, even if it was not the same cat who tormented them.
If it so happens that a fight broke out, stop it as soon as possible by making a sudden loud noise, spraying with water or throwing a blanket over each one to calm them down. Do not physically punish them because, again, it may just breed resentment for each other. To minimize injuries, clip both cat’s and dog’s nails. Pets are known to sense their owner’s energy so it is for the benefit of all if you exude calm and control and redirect negative aggressive energy to toys and play. What is most important is that you make them, both cat and dog, feel loved equally.
My two handsome boys, Jack and Ricky, lived together for seven years with only an occasional hissing and swiping on the nose to spice up their mostly peaceful coexistence. Ricky has crossed the Rainbow Bridge and Jack is now a senior dog who still sometimes chases cats (you can never take chasing away from a Jack Russell Terrier) but the cats who came after Ricky all have come to understand that Grandpa Dog Jack is not really out to get them so they just jump out of his way and some would even indulge the old dog with play chase. Cats can live peacefully with dogs. Cats are not hardwired to hate dogs. It just takes some time and a lot of patience and love.