A. There's a reason for the phrase "fighting like cats and dogs." Remember that a dog, particularly a puppy, has no idea that the cat is a member of your family. Some breeds, like herders and retrievers, will instinctually try to herd or pick up the cat. Some breeds, like terriers and hounds, are natural hunters of cats. Even if the dog is simply trying to investigate the cat, running away from the dog will almost always stimulate his chase instinct. The cat's previous experience and age can play a role as well. A kitten who has learned "dog language" at a young age is at a clear advantage for relating to dogs for the rest of his life. An adult cat who has had negative or no experience with dogs is going to take a lot longer to adjust. Some people think the cat scratching the dog will teach the dog to leave it alone. This usually does not work, as the cat learns to respond negatively, and the dog just gets more aroused and more stimulated to fight and possibly harm the cat.
When introducing a dog and cat, you should plan for a long period of introduction. First let the dog and cat smell and hear each other through a door that blocks the view. After they are comfortable, which may take several days, you can let them see each other but with two barriers between them. The barriers could be crates, baby gates, or see-through doors or windows. Or you can keep the dog on a leash or the cat on a harness and leash. The idea is for both animals to be calm in the presence of the other. Be careful to maintain both animals' trust by not allowing accidental contact. Try to keep the dog's attention, and offer rewards of praise or treats for calm behavior. Only when both animals are comfortable seeing each other should contact be allowed, and even then you must be careful to have control of the dog and try to focus his attention away from the cat. Gradually extend the period of time that they are together as long as things are going well. You should never leave the animals alone together until you feel sure they will not fight at all. And remember that dogs who accept cats calmly inside the house often treat them as fair game outdoors.
Dr. Heidi Strand is a veterinarian for the East Bay SPCA in Dublin. She has lived in the Tri-Valley for 10 years with her family and an assortment of four-legged friends. Questions can be mailed to 315 Diablo Road, Suite 100, Danville 94526; or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column runs every other week.