Dogs and Cats Living Together ... Mass Hysteria!
At the risk of giving away my age, do any of you remember this exchange from the 1984 movie Ghostbusters?
Dr. Peter Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, "biblical"?
Dr. Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath of God type stuff.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Exactly.
Dr. Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes…
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together … mass hysteria!
Mayor: All right, all right! I get the point!
I thought of the "dogs and cats living together … mass hysteria!" part a few days ago when I saw my boxer puppy, Apollo (he’s 1 ½ years old, but anyone who knows boxers will agree this still qualifies as "puppy"), licking Victoria, one of my cats. Vicky generally has pretty high standards of personal hygiene, but when he was finished, her fur was spiky with drool and she had an expression on her face that was similar to what you’d expect to see from a child who just had her first taste of unadulterated lemon juice (also a recent occurrence in our house).
After I finished laughing, I started wondering why it was that Apollo had fit so seamlessly into our household after we rescued him. Here we have an exceptionally strong, young dog and two older cats, potentially a recipe for disaster. But ever since he walked in the door, the cats have been tolerant of his antics and he’s been quite respectful with them, drool notwithstanding
Part of the reason for this, I think, is that Apollo was very sick when he first arrived. This gave the cats a chance to get used to him when they could tell he posed no threat. As he began to feel better and act more like a puppy, they also quickly put him in his place (HISSSSS … SWAT!!) when he overstepped their boundaries. This mimics how I typically recommend a new critter be introduced into a household that already has animal family members:
- Keep the newcomer confined to a separate room and let the other animals get used to the idea of his presence through the door.
- When everyone seems bored with this set-up, let the newcomer out on a leash or in a crate so you can control whatever results.
- Only when everyone seems calm in each other’s presence (this can take days or weeks of repeated "outings") should you remove the leash or open the crate door for some supervised time together.
- Once you have watched everyone interact positively under multiple situations, then you can try letting freedom reign.
- If at any point chaos erupts, move back to the previous step.
For the most part, I find that dogs and cats get along very well with each other when they share a home, but the cats are usually in charge. What is your experience?
Dr. Jennifer Coates