When I met Emily, I thought I had won the roommate jackpot. She was quiet, clean, and a good communicator. My only hesitation was that she came with a dog. As is the case with people who adopt rescued cats, I didn’t know many details about the lives of my two kitties before I met them. But, as far as I knew, neither of them had ever lived with a dog before.
My cats Nora and Ida, though best friends, have very, very different personalities. Ironically, neither of their personalities seem to match their appearances.
Nora, for instance, is a large, muscly Maine Coon, full of teeth and claws and wild energy. Looking at her, anyone would guess that she’d be brave. Fearless, even. But, faced with uncertainty, Nora is unwaveringly skeptical and timid. A knock on the door will send her zooming under my bed (her safe space).
Ida, on the other hand, is a tiny little thing; literally half the weight of Nora. She’s wispy, sweet, toothless, and always purring. But when it comes to exploring new things, meeting new people, and facing scary unknowns, she goes at them head-on.
As fate would have it, my cats were able to live in our new apartment dog-free for the first week. It gave them a chance to explore their new home, adjust to the new sounds and smells of our neighborhood, and establish the home with their own scents by rubbing their cheeks on everything they encountered.
When the dog, Ducky, finally showed up, I knew we had to do the introduction correctly since that initial meeting would determine how trusting they’d be of one another for the rest of their relationship. Normally I would have kept the cats in my room for a couple days, letting them out once in a while when the dog was shut in Emily’s room. That way they could adjust gradually to Ducky being there, and they could get used to her scent before having to encounter her face-to-face.
But as soon as she showed up, they were sticking their noses under the door instead of hiding (yes, even Nora). The way our new apartment was set up allowed for a little flexibility to the way I’d normally introduce them.
With our setup, I was able to erect a baby gate that gave Nora and Ida free roam of a large section of the apartment. They could be in my bedroom (so Nora still had her safe space) as well as the bathroom, the laundry room (where their litter box resides), and a section of hallway from which they could scope out the situation. They seemed to recognize right away that Ducky couldn’t get over the gate, and that made them feel in control.
They spent the first few hours standing in the doorway to my bedroom, timidly but bravely peeking around the corner, trying to get a glimpse of Ducky, who was lounging at the other end of the hall. By the end of the day, Ida had jumped the fence. By the next morning, even Nora was lurking around in the dog zone voluntarily.
The introduction wasn’t the only thing I had to think about. Living with a dog was new to us and it came with a lot of considerations. After all, dogs and cats are very different creatures, and living with a dog would surely cause some stress and introduce my cats to things they had never been exposed to before. Or at least since they came into my life.
Here are some of the issues we faced:
Ducky filled our home with noises my cats weren’t used to. She grunted when she played with her toys, she whined at the door when she needed to be let out, her nails clinked on the kitchen floor when she walked, she barked when she was spooked by noises outside.
Every time Ducky barked, Nora would bolt. Though it was hard to tell whether she was bolting from the loudness of the bark itself or whether she was preemptively running from whatever Ducky had sensed.
To help with the stress, I invested in a Feliway plug-in. If you don’t know, Feliway sprays and diffusers mimic the facial pheromones that cats use to mark things that they have deemed safe and secure. The synthetic pheromones dispersed by the diffuser can trick cats into feeling comfortable in a stressful environment. I also slipped Nora a calming treat whenever I found her hiding under the bed.
Since my cats don’t go outdoors, we’ve never had to worry about fleas. But Ducky, of course, spent a lot of time going on leisurely walks through parks and on sidewalks bordered by overgrown brush. I spent a lot of time going back and forth about whether I should go ahead and start treating them regularly, or wait until a problem arose.
Ultimately I decided to wait. So far, we’ve only seen one flea — Emily found one on Ducky one day. She plucked it off and we haven’t seen more. When that flea was found, I still found myself holding off on starting a treatment. Instead, I vacuumed more than usual, which may have helped reign it in.
One of my main concerns was that play could get rough once everyone was comfortable. The thought of a 60-pound dog not knowing her own strength scared me. But this didn’t end up being an issue. In fact, my cat Ida quickly became top dog.
One night, as Emily and I were lounging in our respective rooms, we heard Ducky whining in the hallway. We found Ida standing near Emily’s bedroom door, blocking Ducky’s access. This rambunctious 60-pound dog had been intimidated by a 6-pound toothless cat. That was the night a hierarchy was established that allowed for a peaceful and balanced co-existence in our home.
Have you ever brought cats and dogs together to live? Tell us your story in the comments.
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About the author: Andee Bingham is a freelance cat writer from Asheville, North Carolina. She lives with her two sweet and sassy cats, Nora and Ida, and occasionally fosters others. When not snuggling with or writing about cats, Andee loves to read, write fiction, and explore the mountains. Learn more about Andee at her website and Dear Nora.