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Michelle adopted a cat a year ago, but she already had four dogs. She's had to keep the cat in a separate room due to a behavior issue, but she's worried that her cat is lonely. Can cats and dogs get along? Get our answer in this week's post.

Can cats and dogs get along? Yes, but you have to understand the cat’s needs first. Photo by Krista Mangulsone on Unsplash

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

Over a year ago I rescued a cat and I already had four dogs. One is a Jack Russell, and I thought I could train him to like cats but I was wrong! So now my Kittie has her own room, access to the outdoors during the day, and at night I bring her in and lock her up. I try and spend as much time with her and often sleep with her, but she doesn’t have the constant time with  me or the run of the house. Lately I feel she is lonely. Should I adopt another cat? My question is, are cats happy being alone? I have four dogs so I’m in no need of having another pet. I just feel bad for my kitty, and I’m not really familiar with cats, so I’m not sure what to do.

~ Michelle

Thomas: Well, Michelle, you certainly have a house full! And we can see why the dogs and cat may be having trouble integrating, especially with the Jack Russell.

Bella: Jack Russells are bred to hunt foxes, so they have a very high prey drive and ability to get into the kinds of small spaces that cats use for shelter. That means Jack Russells need some very extensive training and behavior interventions to integrate with a cat.

Tara: But the ultimate question is, Can cats and dogs get along? And the answer is yes, but you have to think like a cat in order to help that happen.

Thomas: You’ve already made the first step by realizing that cats and dogs behave differently under the same circumstances, and we think we can help you to understand your cat better.

Bella: Before we get too far into this, let us just say that we think you’re doing a pretty good job already. You’re trying to spend time with your cat, and she even gets to sleep with you, so we’re pretty sure she likes you and understands you’re her human.

Tara: We do have some ideas that can help you give your cat more territory in your home.

Thomas: First of all, cats view territory in three dimensions. They need vertical territory as well as horizontal territory. Vertical territory can also give your cat safe distance from the dogs.

Bella: What does vertical territory look like? Tall cat trees. Cat shelves. Window perches, and even spaces on bookshelves can give your cat some places where she can get away from the dogs.

Tara: We highly recommend the book Catify to Satisfy, by cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy and cat furniture designer Kate Benjamin. This book will give you some great, simple, and affordable ideas on how to give your cat vertical space and provide her the stimulation she needs. It will also give you tool to help address any behavior problems.

Thomas: But for a deeper look and answers to the question, can cats and dogs get along, we look to cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett. Her book, Think Like a Cat, will help you get inside the mind of your cat and understand her behavior and needs on a deeper level.

Bella: Even if you can’t integrate your cat into your dog household, we strongly recommend these books to help you make her life the best it can possibly be.

Tara: One thing we’d suggest, if it’s feasible, would be to have all the dogs outside–maybe have a friend take them for a nice, long walk–and let your cat come out of her room and explore the house. Do this as many times as possible so the dogs get used to the cat’s smell in the house.

Thomas: If you’ve put a cat tree and some shelves in your main living area, she’ll find them and probably start expanding her vertical territory as a result. If she has vertical territory, she may be able to spend time with the rest of your four-legged family.

Bella: Keep in mind that the cat tree should be by a window and not just shoved in a corner somewhere. I love being able to look at the birds and squirrels from my cat tree!

Tara: I love looking at birds and squirrels from Mama’s desk!

Thomas: We don’t know how large your other dogs are, but one way you could help your cat feel like part of the family is to install a baby gate in the doorway to her room.

Bella: That way, your cat can get away from the dogs. And they won’t eat “kitty roca” from her litter box or steal her food because they won’t be able to get into the room.

Tara: Because of the Jack Russell, in particular, we don’t think that the dogs should be left unsupervised with the cat. So we do think it’s a wise idea to keep her in her own room when you’re not around.

Thomas: But we think that with adequate “catification” using Jackson and Kate’s book, your cat will be able to spend supervised time with the dogs.

Bella: So, can cat and dogs get along? Yes, they can, but you do have to understand cats’ nature and how it differs from that of the dogs.

Tara: You also have to understand how to keep your cat safe, and it sounds like you’re already doing that.

Thomas: As to whether your cat is lonely and needs another cat friend–well, we’re not sure about that. You see, we cats do spend up to 18 hours a day sleeping…come to think of it, I’m feeling a bit nappish myself.

Bella: Thomas! At least wait until we’re done giving our advice to Michelle!

Thomas: Okay, I suppose the nap can wait. *yawn*

Bella: That’s better. Now, as we were saying, we definitely recommend reading the books we suggested. One will help you understand your cat better, and the other will give you tips on how you can make your cat’s environment more stimulating, so that even if she does have to spend most of her time alone, she’ll still be able to keep her mind busy.

Tara: We’d also recommend some very serious training for the Jack Russell. You may have to consult a professional trainer or behaviorist because JRTs are pretty strong-willed little dogs and they’re bred to chase.

Thomas: You may never be able to stop your Jack Russell  from chasing the cat, so you may have to continue to separate them, either by vertical territory or by doors and baby gates.

Bella: Meanwhile, you are doing a good job, and we’re sure your cat appreciates being able to sleep with you and spend time with you.

Tara: Can cats and dogs get along? Yes, indeed they can. It takes a deep understanding of both the cat’s and the dog’s needs and instinctive behavior, as well as good training for the dog, and safe spaces for the cat.

Thomas: What about you other readers? Have you had cats and dogs in the same household? Did they get along? What did you do to help them? If you’ve had a Jack Russell terrier and cats, we’d especially appreciate your tips for Michelle.