The Truth About Cats and Dogs: Sometimes It Ends in Tragedy
Toward the end of 2013, tragedy hit our home, claiming the life of my beloved cat, Fry. I was more than eight months pregnant at the time, and I had come to rely on Fry for comfort and companionship as I dealt with the physical and emotional maladies that come with being pregnant. I didn't realize just how much he brightened my day until he was gone. Everything reminded me of him. My husband assured me that we would have another cat one day, another unique, amusing cat that would make me smile. All I wanted was Fry, and that was an impossible wish to fulfill. Santa clearly had other thoughts on the matter, because he brought me a kitten for Christmas.
Toby, as I named him, melted my heart right away. Minus the odd little hair tufts on his dark ears, Toby looked nothing like Fry. While I still missed Fry dearly, I actually didn't compare Toby to Fry. I was able to accept and enjoy him as his own individual self, something that's incredibly important when you're moving on after the loss of a beloved pet. While we kept some things the same (same cat trees, toys, litter box), we were definitely going to make some permanent changes to our household routines.
1. Utilizing the safe room
When we first brought home Fry and Leela a few years ago, we established a "safe room" for them. This was a large guest bathroom, complete with food, water, a litter box, and some interactive toys. We followed the guidelines for introducing cats and dogs, including only letting them have contact with each other's scent for several weeks.
Although our dog, Axle, has been around cats his entire life, we didn't want to take any chances on anything happening to Toby. After all, cats and dogs are animals with natural animal drives; therefore, when we're unable to supervise the two, Toby stays in the safe room. Once Toby is older, we're going to expand his safe room to the guest room, which includes a much larger window and more room to explore and play.
2. Engaging in healthy interactions
We clearly took it for granted that our dog, Axle, was good with cats, and assumed that the other dog we had, Remi, would be just as accepting. Unfortunately, that level of comfort cost Fry his life. (We found a new home for Remi -- besides several other reasons, her actions towards Fry made me feel very uneasy, especially with a baby on the way.)
Although it's easier and sounds so wonderful to be able to leave your cats and dogs together in your home, that's clearly not always the wisest decision. I couldn't bear coming home to another incident like Fry, so we weren't taking any chances with Toby.
Besides utilizing the safe room, we also made an effort to make sure Toby and Axle had positive interactions to build a healthy relationship on. Watching My Cat From Hell was actually a big help in this, as well as researching about natural dog/cat behaviors and needs. We spend time engaged with Axle and Toby as individuals, and also play with the two of them together.
What they're learning is that being together means treats, attention, and other good things. The opposite of this would have been to keep them apart at all times and only spend time with one at the expense of the other's discomfort. Not only would this demonstrate fear and discomfort on our part, but it would create a negative association for both Toby and Axle.
3. Keeping an eye on body language
Dogs and cats communicate differently. Dogs often wag their tails to show excitement or friendliness, but a cat wagging his tail is probably feeling anything but friendly. In the earlier stages of their meetings, Axle would be quite over-eager in his sniffing -- something Toby would quickly tire of. Toby would respond with a few paw swipes (claws retracted), and Axle would take the hint and leave him alone. On the flip side, Toby learned that Axle was not the least bit okay with being pounced on while he was trying to sleep. (Axle communicated this by growling at Toby.)
If Axle had shown signs of discomfort or fear (whale eyes, panting, stiff body, etc.) or if Toby had shown such signs (arched back, hissing/spitting/growling, cowering) during these interactions, it would have been necessary to separate them and re-evaluate the situation.
I'm very thankful to have Toby in my life. I have very much enjoyed every moment with him since he arrived, and I hope to be able to enjoy many years with him in the future. I also hope that he and Axle will continue to build their relationship. If the amount of time Toby spends rubbing his face on Axle's is any indication, I foresee a healthy, affectionate relationship between the two of them.
Have you ever had to introduce your dog to a new cat, or vice versa? How did it go? Let us know in the comments!
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About Meghan Lodge: Fits the Aquarius definition to a fault, loves animals, and is always pushing for change. Loves ink, whether it's in tattoos, books, or writing on that pretty sheet of blank paper. Proud parent of one dog, Axle, and one cat, Toby. I'm a former quiet nerd who's turned bubbly animal-obsessed advocate.