Can dogs and cats live together?
It’s quite common these days that a family home has both dogs and cats: two very different species that share interactions and the living space with human beings.
In this article we’ll talk about cohabitation between dogs and cats and how to protect them while respecting their ethological differences.
A cat is not a small dog!
First of all we should remember that dogs and cats are two very different species, even if they have domestication (the process by which dogs and cats adapted to live in close proximity with human beings) in common.
A cat, unlike a dog, is not a social animal and for this reason, it needs to be able to isolate itself from both humans and other animals. A dog, on the other hand, prefers to be part of a social group and needs, for its wellness, to share places and activities with the group.
A different way of communication
The sociality of a cat is also expressed through communication that is sometimes less clear to man than that used by a dog. For example, the movement of cat’s tail can signal excitement but also discomfort. This behaviour is therefore more difficult to interpret by man in comparison with the movement of a dog’s tail through which it generally expresses a positive state of mind.
Also, because cats are less inclined to participate in group activities than dogs, they haven’t refined two important abilities in the same way as dogs: namely, building the necessary skills to interact with man and understanding human communication methods.
Differences in the way they see their spaces
For cats, having their territory divided into different activity areas is really important and any changes to these areas can provoke behavioural problems.
For dogs, the social group and the activities performed together in that group are hugely important. If the joint activities decrease or the dog is isolated from the social group, its wellness will be affected.
Some rules for a happy eight-legged cohabitation
So, we begin to understand that cats and dogs have different needs that we have to respect to guarantee their wellness. For a cat we should consider the fact that they may want to isolate themselves from any unwanted attention from the dog: shelves set up to form raised walkways and observation points, scratching post and bowls placed up high will help them feel secure. The cat will then decide how and when to interact with the dog.
If the cat is already present in the home when we adopt a young puppy, it’s also important to protect the cat from the constant attempts by the pup to interact and play. At the same time, this will lessen the risk of the puppy being scratched.
In some cases, if we have a particularly active dog for example, it may also be beneficial to keep the pets in separate areas for a few hours a day. Fencing off an area of the garden or occupying the dog with some fun activities thereby taking its attention away from the cat will make life more pleasant for the cat as it will be able to observe goings-on from a safe vantage point and enjoy the outdoor space in peace.
Special attention should also be paid to kittens and older cats. For the former, we must be careful not to let their natural curiosity put them in dangerous situations, for example separating them from the dog when preparing the food. For older cats, we should respect their territory and leave them enough space and time for their daily activities.
Finally, we should not forget that our cat needs to interact with us too, so we should be sure to devote some time exclusively to our kitty for cuddles and play.
Article by Dr Maria Grazia Calore, veterinary surgeon and expert in pet behaviour