Do you remember that hilarious line from the film Ghostbusters?
While describing the sheer horror of the movie’s coming apocalypse, Bill Murray exclaimed, “Dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!” Movies, Television, and cartoons often reinforce the misguided notion that dogs and cats are doomed to be mortal enemies. Thankfully, this does not have to be the case – especially if you own a lab.
Yes, Labradors are good with cats. Labradors have been shown to be among the friendliest of breeds with cats. Although personalities within a breed can vary, Labradors are known for their even temperament and are prone to get along with cats, as well as kids and other dogs.
This should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever spent significant time with a lab.
But if you’re introducing your Labrador and cat for the first time, what’s the best approach?
How to Introduce Your Cat and Lab Safely
Here are some safe and stress-preventing steps for breaking the ice between your two favorite pets.
1. Have a “Safe Space” Ready for the Cat
Set up an area of your home to which your cat can retreat if it feels threatened. This doesn’t have to be an entire room. It could be as simple as a cat tower placed in a corner or a “hidey hole” set up on a bookshelf.
However, if your home has one, a spare guest bedroom or an extra bathroom work well as safe spaces for your cat in the early phases of pet introduction. The most important thing is that this safe space is an area that your dog cannot get to.
Having a kitty door that is too small for the dog to pass through can be immensely helpful. Child safety gates can also be an economical solution for keeping your Labrador out of your cat’s domain.
For the first day or two that the pets are in the home together, the cat should be confined to this “safe space.” This will allow her to begin to acclimate to your lab’s scent, movement, and noises.
If you are introducing a new cat to your existing Labrador, have all the amenities your cat will need before the first encounter. Make sure the cat’s bed, cat tower and/or hidey hole, food and water dishes, litter box, and toys are ready for her arrival.
2. Make Sure Your Labrador Is Calm
Having a calm dog will help make the process go much smoother. Before their first encounter, make sure your dog has been fed and exercised to ensure that he is calm and content. In this state, he’ll be able to encounter another animal in a more relaxed manner.
Before introducing him to his new feline companion, make sure that he is on a leash and in your full control. Spending the time to ensure your lab’s obedience before you introduce him to another pet is a wise investment.
Your Labrador should be accustomed to a leash and able to respond to simple verbal commands like, “no,” “sit,” “stay,” etc. Being able to control your dog’s behavior through voice commands will help keep a tense situation from getting completely out of control.
3. Supervise the First Encounter
The worst approach you could take would be to simply spring your two new companions upon each other and let them spend the next hour just “working it out.”
You should always supervise your cat and dog when they are meeting for the first time, as well as the next few encounters.
Although Labradors are usually very patient and easy-going, an overly excited lab who is surprised and threatened by this new visitor could act out aggressively and do harm to the cat.
Any attempts by your Labrador to act aggressively or lunge towards the cat should be corrected by holding the leash firmly and giving a verbal reprimand. Give words of positive reinforcement to both animals, as well as providing treats for good behavior.
Although the personality of each dog will be unique, even within the same breed, Labradors do not generally have a high predatory instinct. However, some may still choose to chase cats or other small pets.
4. Give the Cat the High Ground
Cats love observing their surroundings from a higher vantage point. Placing the cat at a higher elevation than the dog for their first meeting will help the cat feel less threatened and therefore more at ease.
Try setting the cat up on a table or in her cat tower. This will allow the two pets to encounter each from a distance, in a state of curiosity rather than in direct physical confrontation.
Your lab should still be on the leash at this point. With your lab in as calm and relaxed a state as possible (as mentioned in the previous section), lead him into the room and have him sit beside you so that he can see the cat but not spring toward her.
Allow the pets to see each other, but do not let your Labrador chase the cat, even if he’s trying play.
When both animals are able to observe each other in a relatively unagitated state, you can begin guiding your Labrador toward the cat in small intervals. With each progression, continue to give both pets treats and positive verbal affirmation.
It’s important that you do not force the cat to interact with your Labrador. If your cat decides at any time to escape into hiding, allow her to do so. Your patience will be the key to success in this process.
Alternate method: If either animal is unable to arrive at a relatively calm state, try placing the dog in a carrier or crate. Allow them to interact in this somewhat separated fashion until they have reached a point where they are more or less comfortable with one another and are able to interact without aggression or extreme agitation. At that point, you can repeat the steps described in this point.
From there, continue to increase the time your dog and cat spend together. Continue to make introductions while you reinforce their good behavior with verbal praise and treats.
5. Time to Lose the Leash
Following the steps described above, your dog and cat should have reached the point where they are able to have supervised interactions without showing overt hostility. Depending on the respective temperaments of your pets, this process could take anywhere from 24 hours to two weeks.
A Little Physical Confrontation Is OK
There will probably be some isolated incidents where your cat will take a swipe or two at your Labrador when he gets too close. Do not be alarmed. A little dust-up once in a while is ok. Just watch your pets to ensure it does not escalate into an all-out fight.
These momentary encounters can actually be positive in the long run, allowing the animals to establish their own boundaries in a healthy way. The occasional swipe across the face may be exactly what Rover needs to teach him to respect the cat’s personal space.
When your lab’s behavior is such that he seems to have lost interest in disturbing the cat and the cat seems comfortable enough to be in the dog’s presence without wanting to run and hide, you should be able to safely remove the leash from your Labrador.
Continue to monitor your pets’ interactions. If at any point their behavior reverts to aggression, return to the previous step. Continue this training until you are confident they can be in the same room without the aid of a leash and cohabitate without violence.
6. Unsupervised Interactions
At this point, you should be able to allow your dog and cat to interact without special supervision.
Make sure that the cat has a way of retreat at all times in case she needs to escape the dog. It’s best to begin with short, unsupervised encounters, building those up over time to the point where the two animals can basically manage themselves.
It may turn out that the two animals never become best of friends and their relationship never advances beyond an amicable tolerance of one another. This is ok and is simply the reality for some pets. The important thing is that your dog and cat are able to live together without mass hysteria.
Like any other living animal, dogs and cats are at their best when they do not feel threatened or frightened.
If you take the necessary steps to ensure that your pets’ introduction is as free as possible from hostility and aggression, you’ll be laying the foundation for years of peace and harmony in your home.
How long this process will take depends on the individual personality of your pets. But if you are willing to invest the necessary amount of patience and love, you’re likely to establish a friendship between your pets that will continue for as long as you own them.
Featured photo by AfarStock.
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