You’ve just pulled the buttered popcorn from the microwave and the family is settling in to watch a movie when the ruckus starts. Yowls and barks attack your ears as Fluffy flies through the door with Spot on her tail. Suddenly, she spins around and swipes at Spot, catching the edge of his floppy ear. He yelps and shakes his head.
Blood splatters everywhere.
Instead of a relaxing family movie night, you spend the next hour dabbing and soaking and scrubbing blood from your carpet and furniture. It might only be a scratch, but it’s a symptom of the chaos that reigns in too many multi-species homes.
When your pets are living in constant tension, it wears on them. It wears on you. Eventually, the stress can reach a point where it’s harmful to their health.
We’ve been told all our lives that dogs and cats can’t get along. We think peace between the species is a myth.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Try these simple approaches:
Give each pet his own safe space.
You want your pets to be part of the family. You want them to hang out together in peace. But they don’t have to cuddle up — try starting out with a basic truce by offering each one a safe-zone.
In the main areas of your home, let Fluffy have a spot up high where she can survey her kingdom and feel secure. If a shag-carpet-cat-condo doesn’t match your decor, try offering the top of a high bookshelf or a deep windowsill. Line it with a soft blanket and put a couple of catnip toys up there to show Fluffy it’s home.
Down at floor-level, give Spot plenty of toys to bounce and play with so he’s less likely to use Fluffy as a chew toy.
Throughout the rest of your home, be sure to offer each pet a private space that’s off-limits to the other. Be particularly sure to put Fluffy’s litterbox in an area where she can have some privacy and safety so she doesn’t feel vulnerable as she “does her business.”
See Spot Run.
An exhausted dog is less likely to seek out Fluffy as a playmate or a sparring partner. Until they learn to live in peace, try to take your dog for long walks or runs–the exercise is great for both of you. On those days where you just can’t make it that far, think about playing fetch or “hose” in the backyard or up and down the stairs.
No matter what kind of activity you choose, make sure he gets good and worn out and be sure to give him lots of attention.
Teach your dog to respect the cat.
Your dog is the best dog ever, right?
Your dog really wants to please you, so use that to your advantage. If he knows sit and stay, use that obedience to teach him to give Fluffy some space. Train him to be patient when faced with temptations of all kinds. After a while, your cat will realize that Spot might have turned over a new leaf. She’ll eventually relax.
Once she realizes the dog is not a guaranteed threat, her curiosity might even overcome her fear.
Let the cat chase the dog.
It goes against everything you think is right. But if Spot is persistent, sometimes nature can teach him a lesson that you can’t. If you trim Fluffy’s claws so they’re less likely to draw blood, let her defend herself every so often (some people have even succeeded at filing the claws of particularly patient cats). Subordinate animals often have higher stress levels, too, so letting her feel more in control of her defenses might help reduce her fears. And Spot might take her a little more seriously!
No matter what solution, or combination of solutions, you choose to try, be patient. It’s natural for your pets to compete and to feel threatened. The more solutions you offer for them to feel safe and secure, the better chance you have of them tolerating each other and eventually trusting each other.
They may never cuddle together for afternoon naps by the fire, but sometimes a truce is enough.