When you have a house full of pets/animal species, it is just like having children- squabbles, fighting, jealousy… Michele gives us some tips on how to keep the peace
by Michele D’Amour McDanel
With multiple cats in our home, plus a dog, a guinea pig, and a rabbit, I’m often asked how everyone gets along, and what we’ve done to foster good relationships between our various companion animals.
Vive Les Differences
Various species communicate differently, which means that signals between them can be easily misinterpreted. For instance, while both dogs and cats rely heavily on body language, but dogs use more facial expressions to communicate than cats do.
In our household, Delios (our 8-month-old kitten) swatting Lily (our almost six-year-old Staffie / Pug mix) as she walks down the hall is a non-event. Lily doesn’t take it as either play or aggression, which is great. She will regularly nap with Delios or Fezzik.
When we adopted Lily, we did a little test at the shelter by walking her through the cat room. She was only mildly curious, so we knew that was a good sign that she would do OK with the cats, and that has proven correct.
As far as we could tell, Delios was the first kitten Lily had ever seen, so she didn’t know what to make of him. With the recklessness that all kittens have, he was completely fearless even when she growled at him. We made sure their interactions were supervised until we were sure that he was safe with her, and we helped ease things along by referring to him as “Lily’s Delios” or “Lily’s puppy.” Not that she understood the words, so much as using her name in conjunction with their interactions helped her learn that he was a creature who is important – at least, I think that’s what she got from it.
Lily has also learned that when it’s treat time for the cats, she will get a few treats sent her way if she sits quietly and lets them eat. She has gotten great about this. She isn’t terribly interested in the cat toys, with the exception of the catnip ones, which she will eat if she gets the chance. Delios thinks that Lily’s leash is a neat toy. He has been taken along the wood floors for a ride a few times, and on one occasion it looked like he wanted to take Lily for a walk.
Do the cats steal Lily’s bed? Most of them don’t, but Delios (who pretty much runs things) will unabashedly take over her dog bed. When this happens, Lily won’t try to kick him off, but will rest on the floor nearby. If he’s on one of the couches, however, Lily will jump up and share it with him.
Lily was initially more inclined to chase our rabbit, Hopper, but a gradual introduction and some training were helpful in nipping this in the bud. That’s just one more time I’ve been grateful for Lily’s responsiveness to the command, “Leave it.” Our giant cat Fezzik, however, will frequently play games of tag with Hopper, and it’s hilarious to watch our thirty pound cat chase after a five pound lop-eared fuzzball, and then get chased in return. I’ve seen Hopper play chase with a couple of the other cats as well; he seems to really enjoy it.
You’d think that Hamish would get lonely sitting in his plush piggy habitat in the kitchen, but he gets tons of attention from the humans and some of the cats too. Fezzik, Fergus,a nd Delios all love to climb in his cage and pay visits. They used to do this with Rosie (our previous guinea pig), and when we adopted Hamish, they at first didn’t understand why the new piggy seemed so upset when they would climb into his cage. Now that he’s learned they’re only there to hang out, and maybe chew on some hay, he is fine with them stopping by.
Lily hasn’t been terribly interested in Hamish. I’ve let her sniff him, and she’s licked him a time or two, but she’s otherwise not interested in him, though her ears will perk up when he squeaks.
Here are a few tips for fostering good inter-species relationships:
Take it Slow – make interactions happen gradually. Keep animals separated unless you’re there to supervise, until you are sure that they will be OK together. Even if the animal has lived with the other species before, they need to learn to get along with the specific animal they’re now sharing a home with, and this takes time. In our experience, cat introductions take longer – from several days to even months. We will keep a newcomer in a separate room until we are sure that everyone is getting along based on what we’re seeing in supervised interactions.
Get Help – Having another family member or friend help with introductions is very useful; if you have multiple animals, each of them will need to be introduced to the newcomer individually.
Space – especially with cats, it’s important that they have space to retreat to and feel safe, separate from where other animals are. Baby gates can be a helpful way to divide a house that has both cats and dogs, if needed. It gives the cats a place where they can get away from the dog. Cat trees are a great help for this.
Time – make sure everyone gets the time and attention they need. The cats get treat time and pets; Lily gets walks and snuggles; Hopper and Hamish get grooming and cuddles. Quality of life for everyone is an important consideration!
Should you decide to invite multiple species of animals into your home, here’s wishing you lots of snuggles and great memories!