Bipetuality: A Very Special Valentine’s Day Gift

It is Valentine’s Day and you may be struggling over what to get your cat on this holiday of love. Sure you thought of catnip toys, a new laser pointer, maybe even a cardboard box. Like all of us on Valentine’s though, what your cat really wants is a special companion. So yes, you could go out and adopt another feline friend, but did you know there are other options?

Bipetuality is all the rage these days. The truth about cats and dogs? The truth is, they not only can live harmoniously together, but they can become best friends. With any relationship it is all about making a good match. Age has a lot to do with a happy relationship. Don’t go off getting your old cat a young puppy (or a kitten). They will just find them annoying, not like the same music and have nothing in common to talk about. The earlier you introduce your cat to a dog the better your chances in creating a deep loving relationship. That is not to say your cat won’t tolerate a dog later in life, but the key word may be tolerate. In the cases of successful bipetual relationships it is all about providing the proper introduction, because no one lives down their first impression.

Before bringing a dog into the relationship you have a little prep work to do.

Jenny Schlueter, Communications, Programs and Outreach Manager from Chicago Animal Care and Control says to “Give your cat their own safe room with their belongings, including their litter box, that the dog won’t have access to.” They should have a place to go to get way from it all if they need a break from the new dog. She also suggests a building a “super highway that will allow the cat to get from the area where the family hangs together to the cat’s safe room without having to touch the ground.”  Cat’s natural agility gives them a ‘height advantage’ creating a territory buffer between cats and dogs. Making sure your cat has a high get away space like a cat tree will be helpful in their relationship. This also applies for feeding since dogs like to eat everything. You will want to feed you dog and cat in separate rooms, or feed your cat up high on a counter, dresser, cat tree or windowsill.

While the natural hierarchy is weighted on the side of the dog, what was discovered in a rare study about the relationships between cats and dogs published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, is that while cats may seem to be the more vulnerable of the two specious in this scenario, it is usually the cat that becomes the dominant figure in the relationship. (I am sure you readers are not surprised!)

Before cat domination, you must diffuse the common chase and prey impulse of dogs. This is essential as dogs can equate the cat’s running to the fleeing of a prey animal. Keep the dog separated by a gate, and if the dog is very energetic, on a leash.  It is important not to let them chase after the cat if the cat runs from the dog.

When introducing the pets you do not confine your cat in a carrier. While many may feel that this is keeping the cat safe from the dog, it actually heightens their stress levels as they are “trapped” and have nowhere to “escape”. You can though, in reverse, crate the dog and allow the cat to approach and explore the dog, but a baby gate is most suitable for introductions.

Stephanie Smith, Cat Behavior Team Lead from Austin Pets Alive says “Cats who have never lived with dogs generally react to them one of two ways:

  • Cautious interest or avoidance –  They usually watch from a distance and then later begin to approach inquisitively.
  • Defensive antagonism –  Cats consider other animals as intruders in their territory. Unlike dogs, cats don’t have a built-in social system that helps them to peacefully share territory so they react defensively.”

Austin Pets Alive found that cats that are raised with dogs, young cats, confidant cats and cats living in multi-cat households are the most likely to easily accept the new dog as a safe and interesting intruder.

Here are steps from Stephanie and APA on setting up safe, successful introductions:

  • Before you introduce your new dog to your cat, work with the dog separately.
    Two important exercises for him to learn well are a recall (coming when called) and a “leave it” exercise. When your dog has learned these skills, you can control if it gets overexcited around your cat. Make sure before meeting time your dog has had a nice long walk or run and is truly tired out!
  • Trim your cat’s claws to keep the interaction as safe as possible for your new dog.
  • Make sure you have treats that your cat loves with you during the meeting process and use them to create positive connection to meeting the dog.
  • At first, confine your new dog to a room using a baby gate. Have your dog lie down or sit to keep them from behaving threateningly as your cat approaches. If your new dog is rambunctious, put the leash on and have someone on his side of the gate to handle the leash.
  • Don’t restrict your cat or change their environment.  Sit in front of the gate and call your cat, or bring your cat in with a trail of treats. Give the cat treats as it approaches the dog. Praise and treat your dog as well if he behaves calmly in her presence and give him treats. Do this several times each day for a couple of days. This way, your cat will associate your dog with delicious treats and vice versa.
  •  If your dog overreacts to your cat and does something that makes your cat back away from them, distract them and get their attention focused on you. Your cat should be free to approach the baby gate and get closer to your dog or to retreat if they want to. Reward your cat anytime they approach the baby gate by tossing them treats.
  • If they don’t seem afraid of your dog, you can introduce them in a large room with your dog on leash. Once you’re in the larger room, make sure your cat can get away from your dog during the introduction. They should have the room to retreat, run and hide, slip beneath a piece of furniture where the dog can’t follow, or jump up on something that puts the cat above your dog. Continue introductions until your pets interact in a calm, friendly manner

You will notice telltale signs when the love connection has been made. Dogs will often lie down or bow to their “new master” while your cat will rub up against the dog or bat at them with their claws sheathed. Just don’t rush it. The best relationships have time to build. Once they do, it is all long stemmed roses on Valentines.

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