Ask A Vet: Achieving Cat and Dog Best Friend Status


Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink…at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments!

Q: How do I get my dog/cat to be best friends?

A: The best way is early socialization. If they can grow up together, chances are good that they will be best friends. If both are young, they might even develop their own type of play and games. Whether they become buddies depends on your cat’s fear level and your dog’s prey drive.

Do your best to get things started off on the right foot. Introduce the animals slowly and gradually and make sure the dog is calm and controlled. You’ll know when you’ve reached the point when fur won’t fly when the cat can eat, play, sleep or groom in the same room with the dog – it shows when they are relaxed.

It is important to never let the dog chase the cat. Though it is great fun for your dog, it does scare most cats and they either flee –further encouraging the chase or ending up in a fight. At that time, both are at risk for injuries – scratches to the face and eyes are not uncommon.

What to do:

1.   Avoid all negative encounters by setting up your home suitable for your two animals to have their own safe spaces

2.   Supervise introductions to ensure positive interactions and avoid injuries

3.   Be patient. Throwing animals together usually goes badly. The interactions should be calm and positive.

4.   If your dog gets too excited keep him on a headhalter and a leash for more control. Your dog should still listen to your sit, stay, leave it commands, even when excited by the new cat.

5.   You might want to use a place where the cat is higher up such as a cat tree – most cats are more comfortable when they are not on the ground with the dog. You can then use food or toys in the presence of the dog to make a positive association with the presence of the dog.

6.   Be sure to give your cat access to hiding spaces like cat trees, bookshelves, wherever he likes to hide out. Don’t force your cat out. He will venture out when he feels comfortable. Setting up baby gates to keep your dog out of your cat’s safe space can alleviate the stress between them.

7.  Some dogs and cats will never be friends, and that’s ok, as long as they tolerate each other and aren’t creating either a stressful or unsafe environment.

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