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It’s one thing to establish a harmonious household when there are only adults and cats co-habitating. It’s quite another when you add both dogs and children to that domestic stew. Finding harmony in a “multi-species” home can offer a variety of challenges, so let’s take a look at a few basic steps you can take to keep that harmony train on the track.
Step One - Catify Your Home
As discussed, Catification is all about optimizing your home environment for both you and your cat, and ensuring that your cat’s territorial security is taken care of. This will be absolutely foundational in our process here, because if your cat can’t feel secure in the home terrain, this will be a constant source of friction moving forward.
Your basic Catification checklist would include:
Establish a Vertical Terrain: Your cat is the only non-terrestrial being in your house. You can use this to your advantage by offering them multi-level environments (as best described in my “Cat Superhighway” concept). This essentially maximizes the real estate of your home and expands the available living space for all family members.
Signposts and Scent Soakers: Signposts are objects that signify territorial ownership for your cat, and scent soakers are soft items that absorb a cat’s scent. For optimal territorial security, make sure your cat has ample signposts/scent soakers, like scratching posts, litter boxes, towels, blankets, and cat beds.
Cat TV: Create a window destination location with a cat tree, perch, or cat bed that invites your cat to sit and observe the outdoor happenings. This will serve as a valuable activity/distraction for your cat, which indirectly benefits all family members.
Urban Planning: This is a process for setting up your home to accommodate the needs of everyone who lives there— humans and animals —in a way that promotes peaceful coexistence. The key is traffic flow: everyone must be able to move freely through the space without conflict. For cats, this means eliminating any dead ends or ambush zones, where a cat might be “forced" into an unwanted encounter with a child or a dog.
For more details on Catification, check out the Catifying Your Home for Harmony blog.
Preparation is Key!
Speaking of “unwanted encounters,” it is paramount that your dog can perform a down-stay, on command, without fail. Otherwise, you risk setting up a toxic relationship with your dog and cat from day one, and this isn’t fair for either one of them.
With this in mind, we move on to...
Step Two - Establish Base Camp
Just like with cat-to-cat introductions, you will initially want to establish defined base camp (personal territory) areas for both your dog and cat. It may seem like a lot of prep, but remember, you only have one chance to make a first impression. If during an initial encounter things get out of hand, it becomes a relationship immediately based on distrust. So your due diligence with base camps will set the stage for two important directives:
A. Slowly introduce the dog to the cat through scent first, and then visuals second. Again, first impressions can set the tone for the relationship here, so let’s give them the best chance possible. Allowing each animal occasional, but exclusive, access to the other’s (base camp) territory will give each a chance to “get to know” the other through scent.
B. Initially, keep your dog on a leash when she is in the same room with the cat... every time! This way, if your dog makes a sudden move toward the cat (even if her intentions are more playful), you can put your foot on the leash, prevent any potential issues, and offer her a correction.
Note: For cat-to-cat introductions, go to the blog The Do's and Don'ts of Introducing Two Cats. You will want to follow those steps carefully to ensure the most harmonious pairing possible.
Step Three - Children and Cats
A final part of the equation is establishing a good relationship in the household between kids and cats. The toddler age can be the most challenging where this is concerned, because young children often exhibit what I call “Kidzilla” behavior, as their motor skills are still developing and their movements can be abrupt and a little scary for a cat. Here are a few guiding principles to help this relationship flourish:
A. Good Catification will keep any inadvertent child/cat encounters to a minimum and, as discussed, provide your cat with a necessary escape route if need be.
B. When your child is in this toddler age range, it is imperative that all “official” interactions between child and cat be supervised. No exceptions, please!
It is best to plan for these supervised interactions at “lower-energy” times in the household, when both cat and child are at their mellowest. This might be after a play session with your cat, when his energy has been expended, and/or near bedtime or naptime for the child.
Touching, for children this age, is what they are all about. But again, their motor skills are not fully developed, nor is their sense of what may or may not hurt an animal. Supervision also means allowing them to pet with your hand guiding, so you can stop the hands from grabbing and pulling, and in general, avoid a hiss and scratch response.
Once again, these are just a few general guidelines for experiencing multi-species harmony between all members of your household. For a deeper dive into any or all of these moving parts, check out my latest book, Total Cat Mojo.