It’s the age-old battle. Cats vs Dogs. Are you a cat person? A dog person? I’m going to let you in on a secret of mine. I don’t consider myself a “dog person” or a “cat person”. I love animals, always have, always will. Fur or feathers, slimy or scaly, it doesn’t matter! (Except spiders..but that is another blog)
I adopted my cat while I was living in Missouri in 2018. I visited a local shelter on free adult cat adoption day “just to look” and she quite literally had my name written on her. That’s right. I adopted my cat because we shared a name. I reassured myself that that didn’t make me a “cat person”, I simply didn’t have time for a dog! Needless to say, she stole my heart. Even when she tore up my box spring, locked herself in my bathroom while I was at work, and woke me up in the middle of the night doing zoomies around my apartment.
My cat, now named Charlotte (even though I usually refer to her as KitKat) traveled from place to place with me in Missouri and then most recently to Virginia. We got settled in our new apartment and then I abruptly turned her world upside down when I adopted my dog Forge a month later. She had lived with dogs previously, but not in such close quarters. I had a frightened, newly adopted dog and a frightened cat, all in my 780 square foot, one bedroom apartment. So now what?
I channeled my social dynamic management skills from my zookeeping days. Phase one started with strict, no visual or physical contact, only auditory. Forge went into a covered crate at night so the cat could have free roam and during the day the cat was shut into my bedroom while Forge was in the living area. This phase lasted about three weeks, which is the average time it takes a newly adopted dog to acclimate and start a routine.
From there we moved into phase two, which I call the “howdy” phase. This is where the two have visual and auditory access to each other, but cannot come into physical contact. Typically the best way to do this is to set up a baby gate or some similar barrier that the dog can’t break through between the dog area and the cat area. During this time I started to give my cat more enrichment to help her build confidence (more on that later). During this phase we also started to play the “engage-disengage” game (see graphic below).
It has now been about 4 months since I brought Forge home and he and the cat are coexisting peacefully, barrier free (for the most part). They have had a few, brief, interactions with each other where the cat typically approaches him, sniffs him, and walks away. Forge gets rewarded for not reacting and the cat is rewarded by being left alone. They aren’t perfect by any means. Their interactions are always supervised and Forge is still crated overnight and whenever we leave the apartment. Forge will still chase her on occasions when his brain isn’t working. Those instances are typically a sign that he needs to sleep or another need has not been met that day. We still have more work to do, but I am proud of how far they have come.
These are the top three things that I have learned from this experience:
- Introductions go at the pace of the slowest learner. Typically this is going to be the cat.
- Manage your expectations. The dog and the cat may never be best friends, but they can learn how to coexist peacefully.
- Do more with your cat. I have always thought my cat wanted to be left alone. She rarely interacted with me or the things I gave her and always just “did her own thing”. But in reality I just wasn’t catering to her cat-specific needs. Cats are hunters, dogs are scavengers. Their enrichment needs to reflect that in order to build their confidence. So I did my research, talked to some trainer friends and I found things that would help meet ALL of her needs.