Can cats & dogs really be friends?

We’re all familiar with the saying, “fight like cats and dogs”, but are they really arch enemies or can our best friends become friends with each other too?  Sometimes a cat and a dog will become instant friends, often they will develop a tolerance or acceptance of each other’s presence over many years and occasionally they can’t even be in the same room together.  Just like with kids, sometimes a little bit of coaxing and a touch of manipulation is all that is needed to help them make friends.     

Dogs are pack animals.  They are social beings and enjoy the company of others, whether this is in the form of other dogs, humans and sometimes even cats.  Cats are, as many owners know, loners and much more independent beings.  They will spend time with the family and play with other cats but often they just enjoy wandering off and spending time on their own.  Cats live by their own rules.

Of course, all individual animals will have their own little personalities, but it is no coincidence that hundreds of cartoons and stories have been created around the antics of cats and dogs that live together in the same household.  Our experience is that these two don’t get on but whilst they might never be best buddies, they can certainly learn to tolerate each other and perhaps even call a truce so that everyone can live together in peace.


white dog sniffing tabby cat

If at all possible, the best approach is to start socialising the pets whilst young.  Ideally kittens should be socialised between 6 and 12 weeks and puppies between 8 and 16 weeks.  This is when they start to discover their surroundings and figure out what they can interact with safely and what they should avoid at all costs. If either animal has a bad experience with the other at this age, it is almost impossible to undo this fixed belief.  Allowing a kitten or puppy to meet calmly and in a safe, controlled environment is more likely to result in a tension-free relationship over the long term.

When first meeting another animal, cats must have a positive experience if the two are to interact in any way later on.

Whether a little one or an adult, the first introduction is crucial and must not be rushed.  Imagine how frightening it can be for a new pet as it is brought into the home.  They’ve probably spent a bit of time in a carry box being bounced around in a car by a complete stranger and have then been brought into a completely new environment that they don’t recognise, with lots of new and unfamiliar smells and sounds.  Then, on top of all this, imagine this poor pet is put in front of a cat or a dog that is no doubt bigger than them, the last thing they need is their new strangers pushing them towards this new creature. Nothing good can come from this scenario.

puppy and kitten on tree stump

Allowing the new cat or dog time to acclimatise with the new surroundings will allow them to relax so the introduction needs to be broken down into simple steps.  It is important that both, but especially the cat, have a positive experience so that in the long term they feel comfortable and confident around each other.

  1. Keep the resident pet separated in the next room allowing the new pet time to explore, feel safe and relax.  Don’t let either pet even see each other for the moment although it is good that they will probably smell and hear each other in the next room.
  2. Whilst they are still apart, take an old towel and rub it all over the new cat or dog then take this into the other room where the resident pet is.  Let him sniff the towel and get used to the new pet’s scent for an hour or so.
  3. After a while, switch the pets around.  Place each animal in the room where the other pet was making sure that both are calm and relaxed in that environment.  This gives them a chance to smell the other pet again and gain more confidence.
  4. Next, place some treats for both of them on either side of the dividing door giving them both the chance to enjoy their food whilst the other pet is around.  This provides a positive experience for both pets without feeling any threat at all.
  5. Once the animals are less curious about sniffing each other underneath the door, allow the animals to see each other but preferably through a gate or screen door.  This will make them both feel secure. Our Norsh treats prove useful here to reward their good behaviour.  This step might take quite a while, even days so be patient.
  6. Once both are calm and relaxed, slowly allow more interaction but always with the dog on a short lead and again, using treats to reward calm behaviour.  This may also take several days and may be best whilst the family is relaxing in front of the television or in the back yard but eventually the cat will begin to trust that the dog won’t harass it and will choose to spend time with everyone.  The dog will just get used to having the cat wander around and won’t feel the urge to chase it like he would a new ball.



cat scratching beagle on green sofa
Sometimes in a household there is a cat and a dog that just don’t get on at all. This may have started long ago and so the feud has simply continued as a normal way of life for the animals.  It can’t be nice for them to have to be on guard all the time so it may be worth trying to break the ice.  As with all animal training and socialising, patience is the key.

Trust needs to be rebuilt between the two animals. The two will never be best friends but the main aim is to enable both to be in the same room without feeling like they must be on guard.

Start by placing the dog on a short lead and making him sit calmly a metre or so away from the cat, rewarding him with treats for his calm behaviour.  Hold and stroke the cat in a relaxed manner whilst the two begin to get used to being around each other.  Avoid forcing one forward on to the other and if either shows any sign of fear or tension, allow it to move away in its own time.  This routine may only last a minute to begin with but over time the duration should gradually increase and the need to restrain the pets will reduce.  Always keep the dog on the lead during this type of training and only remove the lead when absolutely sure that he won’t become too excitable in the room.

Once there is at least a mutual respect between the animals, begin to smother the cat with affection by patting, stroking and even brushing him and reward the dog occasionally for sitting calmly and relaxed. Do this for several minutes at a time allowing the cat to move away if they want to.  The cat will soon associate the dog with this positive experience and may begin to hang around him if they think they’re going to get cuddles from their human!


Black Dog chasing cat in leaves
Some dog breeds have a strong urge to chase and catch which is just their natural instinct coming through! 

It is safer to train these breeds that cats are off limits and are not to be disturbed.  By teaching the “Leave It” command, these breeds will soon learn to ignore the cat and be patient when around it.

You many need additional help for this so should get in touch with a local dog training association if you need some extra guidance.


cat sniffing catnip
We all know that fragrance has the power to influence others.  Why not try using this to your advantage when it comes to being a pet parent?

Cats adore catnip so rub the leaves of the catnip plant, dried catnip or catnip extract on to the collar of the dog.  It might just make him seem far more interesting and maybe even worthy of a little bit of attention.

Spend quality time with each of the pets alone so that each feels spoilt and loved and this will help them both feel less resentful about the other.  By each believing that they are the favourite, neither will feel the need to compete for their human’s attention.

When playing boisterous games with the dog, make sure that he doesn’t disturb the relaxed environment of the cat who may be lazing under the bushes or on his bed and will not take kindly to a lumbering dog bearing down on him chasing a ball.  Similarly, try to develop a “no-go area” for each of the pets so that each has their own little private getaway! This is especially important to a cat and it can be in the form of a spare room, an enclosure or even just a semi-enclosed scratch pole.  Set the boundaries early and ensure that each pet knows the rules.

Provide separate water bowls.  Cats love fresh, clean water and it only takes a dog seconds to mess up the bowl.

Feeding time for animals is an especially important time and if another animal is around, they will defend their bowl causing tension to set in.  Feeding cats and dogs at the same time is no problem and can actually help to develop a routine where the pets are at least in the same vicinity as each other but be sure to choose different areas for their food bowls to be placed.  Cats will prefer somewhere off the ground so that they know that they can relax whilst they eat without any threat of the dog coming along to steal their food.

dog sniffing cat

Above all, BE PATIENT. Don’t force either pet on to the other and always allow them an escape route if stressed or upset.  They are, after all, different species with different personalities and were never intended to be best friends.  If they do begin to enjoy each other’s company, it will be in their own time with just a little bit of encouragement from you, their pet parent.

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