For many people who love animals, their favourite saying could easily be “the more the merrier.” But how can you keep pets of different breeds together and ensure harmony in the household?
Whatever the species involved, planning, supervision and vigilance are key to a safe and happy relationship between all members of the household. This is particularly true if you allow interaction between species which would normally be regarded as predator and prey – in some instances, you can never be fully confident, no matter how long the animals have lived together peacefully: a sudden moment when instinct overrides training and conditioning can mean a tragic end to one of your beloved pets.
However, here are tips for handling some common interactions:
Fighting Like Cats and Dogs
- Contrary to popular myth, cats and dogs can be good friends, if introduced properly. Those that have grown up together usually get along fine and the cat will very nearly always be the dominant one in the relationship, regardless of the size of the dog.
- Physical space and territory are very important to cats so make sure that your cat always has a safe place where it can retreat from the attentions of the dog, especially if your dog is very young and boisterous. Always confine the dog rather than the cat. Make sure your dog learns basic obedience so you have some control over his behaviour and can therefore step in if things get a bit out of control.
- On the other hand, puppies may need protection from sharp feline claws which can cause severe damage to their eyes – it is best never to leave the two animals together initially and to supervise all interactions until they have settled and seem relaxed in each other’s company. Do not expect that all dogs and cats will eventually snuggle together – in many cases, they simply learn to tolerate and ignore each other’s presence.
- For introductions, let the animals get used to each other’s scent first – either by exchanging blankets or letting them sniff each other through the gap beneath the door. When they meet face to face, make sure the dog is always on lead and reprimand him for any negative behaviour towards the cat, such as lunging, barking, growling, etc, while praising him lavishly and giving food rewards for any good, calm behaviour. Direct the dog towards some appropriate toys if his play is getting too rambunctious for the cat to handle.
- Do not force the animals upon each other – let them get used to each other in their own time. As dogs and cats have very different body languages, they can find it difficult and confusing at first (for example, cats sniff noses on greeting whereas dogs sniff each other’s rear ends; dogs wag their tails when happy whereas cats whisk their tails from side to side when they are irritated).
- Do not be over-protective or interfere too much in the interaction. Allow the animals to sniff each other and communicate physically – only step in if things look dangerous. Some spats initially (especially hissing and spitting on the part of the cat) are expected and nothing to be too concerned about.
A Game of Cat and Mouse
- No matter how tame a cat, it will always retain strong hunting instincts and care should be taken whenever they are kept together with smaller animals such as hamster, mice and birds which would be their natural prey. With small rodents, it is best never to let the cat come into close contact with them – keep them in a safe, escape-proof enclosure, preferably in a separate room with a closed door which the cat cannot access.
- Caged birds should be kept out of reach, although larger birds such as parrots are usually safe and can learn to live companionably with the cat over time. In fact, it is the cat which may need protection from the parrot’s powerful beak but most felines are very cautious and good at looking after their own interests.
- The larger mammals, such as rabbits and guinea pigs, are usually safe from cats as they are too large to be considered prey. Cats will usually ignore them. However, beware of baby rabbits and guinea pigs which may be small enough to tempt the cat.
Remember also that certain animals actually should not be kept with their own breed as they are solitary by nature and will become aggressive towards their own kind if left together after maturity. Syrian hamsters, for example, should be kept alone and rabbits often do better with a guinea pig for company than another rabbit.
Always introduce new pets during a peaceful time at home – avoid stressful, busy times in the household, such as during holidays, house moves or other big family events.