CATS VS. DOGS – THROWING THE CAT AMONGST THE POMERANIANS…
It’s been said that the only thing Dog People and Cat People can agree on is that Bird People are the craziest… But seriously, while some may staunchly favour one type of pet over the other, most pet-lovers are what a well-known US behaviourist calls “bi-pet-ual”, and have a mixed fur family.
In the majority of cases, depending on how well you understand each species and set up a safe and comfortable environment for each, things will run smoothly and your dogs and cats will co-habit in a tolerant, if not completely adoring, relationship. The pointers below should highlight some key areas where cats and dogs differ, and help you to achieve an harmonious canine-feline balance in your home.
It is generally accepted amongst behaviourists that while humans domesticated the dog, cats domesticated themselves. Dogs are pack animals and relish interaction, if not with each other, then with their human “pack members”. Cats are solitary hunters, so they prefer to seek out company (whether human, or that of other family pets) on their own terms. They enjoy their privacy and independence and do not crave company, as their canine brothers and sisters do. While dogs are pretty much always ready for activity or affection, cats like to initiate these with us when they are “in the mood”. Cats are well-known for hopping straight onto the lap of the guest who professes not to like cats, or who is allergic. In fact, probably the best way to engage a cat’s attention and interest is to play hard to get! Cats can be taught appropriate behaviour, like staying off counters, but you’ll need to accept that they will never live to please you, like dogs do.
For the most part, cats avoid the rough-and-tumble type of play favoured by dogs, and appreciate being approached with a degree of calm and composure. It might help to visualise your dog as varsity student, and your cat as an opinionated 40-something. The former sees every event from breakfast to a walk in the park as a party situation; the latter, you can discuss your politics and spiritual views with.
PREY OR PLAY? SAFETY FIRST!
Given that cats are generally much smaller than dogs (unless you are owned by a Maine Coon and a Chihuahua combination), it is vital to a cat’s safety in the home that all dogs are taught, from Day 1, to respect their feline siblings. There will always be exceptions, but it is ill-advised to bring cats into a home of dogs with a fighting breed background (Pit Bulls, Bull Terriers, Staffies), dogs that were bred to hunt small live prey (Dachsies, Whippets, Greyhounds) or members of the Terrier group. These dogs were originally bred to kill animals that look and behave a lot like cats, and there will always be a natural born instinct in them to chase or attack cats, especially if they try to flee. Horror stories abound of happy family pets who seemed to get on really well but ended up attacking each other following a trigger-event of some sort. It’s just not worth the risk. It is always preferable to introduce a new puppy to an exisiting family of cats, where he can learn “cat manners” along with all the other social skills he must master when he joins the family. If you plan on adopting a rescue dog, ensure that he has been socialised with cats and that his behaviour around cats (and other dogs) has been assessed, or you may have either an assembly of fuming felines, or a potentially life-threatening situation on your hands.
When bringing kittens into a home with dogs, even if the dogs have grown up with cats – ensure that any interaction between the species is supervised initially (until the kittens are at least 16-20 weeks of age and stronger and quicker, to get themselves to safety if need be). Lock them safely in a room by themselves when the humans are out.
Observe your dog’s behaviour and learn to identify when it’s play and when it’s prey. Canine body-language indicates when he wants to stalk/hunt: dropping down through the shoulders, fixating stare on the cat, furrowing brow, stiffness in the body. It’s vitally important that your dog understands and has mastered the “LEAVE!” command, as this will enable you to stop any undesirable behaviour immediately. Remember to always reward your dog for obeying your instruction, with a yummy food treat, big cuddle or vocal praise.
You’ll also want to learn to tell when your cat is stressed, eg. avoiding being in the room when another pet is occupying the space, urine marking, hiding/cowering, etc. It goes without saying that young children also need to be taught to interact gently with all pets, and to initiate play with dogs and cats differently, according to their individual preferences.
INTROVERTS AND EXTROVERTS
Cats are private creatures and ensuring their comfort in a multi-pet household involves paying specific attention to a few basic requirements. Litter trays need to be placed in areas where a cat can conduct his or her toilette away from the traffic of other pets and family members. A hooded litter tray with carbon filter for odour management may be just the ticket – visit Twisted Whiskers to see what’s on offer. Remember the 1 + 1 rule: one litter tray per cat in the household (unless they have free access to the outdoors), and there should be one extra. Feeding stations and sleeping areas should also be “far from the madding crowd”.
Many cat breeds have evolved from tree-dwellers and consequently enjoy aerial entertainment. Providing them with wall shelving or cat trees helps reduce anxiety, especially that caused by overbearing doggy friends. (Ask TW staff about custom built cat trees to suit every home and budget.) Dogs, on the other hand, thrive on exercise as a means of keeping in touch with the outside world and burning off excess stress and energy. They are true socialites and value any opportunity to interact with their family and extended pack at the local dog park. Factor in plenty of “team activities” for them like Doggy Day Care, puppy socialisation or obedience classes, charity dog walks, etc. Your dog’s calendar should be busier than yours!
If you’ve previously been owned either by cats or by dogs, choosing a bi-pet-ual lifestyle may take some adjusting to. For starters, cats are “grazers”, prefering to snack on small meals throughout the day. It is therefore completely acceptable to leave food down for them so that they can eat ad lib. Twice daily feeding works well for dogs, who flourish in a structured environment. Taking up his bowl after 5-10 minutes, regardless of whether or not the food has been eaten, helps reinforce for your dog the concept that he depends on you, his Top Dog, for food, rather than being allowed to “feed himself” throughout the day, as he pleases. If your dog has a clear understanding of this vital principle, it can go a long way towards avoiding issues like anxiety and aggression, resulting from him feeling superior to the human pack and therefore responsible for their well-being and resistant to having boundaries placed on his behaviour.
Cat food is higher in both protein and fat than dog food, making it practically irresistable to most canine palates. Added to this, dogs tend to be of the opinion that what’s in anyone else’s bowl is way more exciting than what’s in theirs… Food left at ground level for the cats in a multi-pet family is therefore at grave risk of being vacuumed by the dogs at the first opportunity. Dogs can be trained to “LEAVE!” the cat food, but it’s safer to place cat food on a counter, out of reach of curious snouts. The kitties will thank you for the opportunity to be able to dine in peace and the dogs will retain their lean physiques.
Cats remain hunters at heart, regardless of how regularly we provide them with yummy meals out of a pack or tin. It’s only a matter of time before your cute little ball of candy-floss presents you with a freshly-dismembered bird. Or a Parktown prawn, valiantly clinging to its last shred of mortality. These are often artfully displayed on your pillow, or tucked lovingly into one of your favourite slippers. Try to avoid the urge to part company with your breakfast and/or to cart the cadaver off smartly in the direction of the nearest bin – for the uninitiated, the polite response is to praise your kitty for being such an amazing hunter. Fake it ’til you make it!
THE JOYS OF BEING BI
Now that we’ve looked at the amber lights, let’s consider some of the fantastic things about being bi-pet-ual:
- Enjoy the adoring, unconditional love from your dogs, as well as that special sense of pride that can only come from knowing that you’ve been “chosen” by your cat.
- Relish all the exciting adventures you have with your dog, and then retreat into the tranquil “sacred space” provided by stroking a purring cat on your lap.
- Appreciate your dog’s clowning and your cat’s elegant composure.
- Prepare to be amazed at how deep a bond both your dog and your cat can build with you – expressed in completely different ways.
- Embark on an intellectual journey with your pets as you observe how the inherent traits of canines (pack animals) and felines (solitary hunters) play out in a domestic situation and how well developed they are for these roles, as well as the special and sometimes unique characteristics exhibited by the various breeds of dogs and cats.
We may find we “connect” more easily with one species than another, but any animal who is shown care and respect will respond in kind, and investing in our relationships with both our dogs and our cats will bring rewards beyond our wildest imaginings. Anatole France once said, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” At TW, we are privileged to see this in evidence every day in our clients, staff, visitors and social media followers.
© Written By Twisted Whiskers