DOG behaviourist Nanci Creedon is one of two animal consultants taking part in a new TV show, Cats And Dogs at War which launches on the 5 Star channel on March 1.
The Cork canine specialist, along with animal expert, Chirag Patel, will be giving advice to families whose fighting pets have caused havoc in their homes.
In this time of pandemic, where children are at home all the time and parents are working from the house, pets are being added to the household. But mixing pets, such as cats and dogs, can be extremely problematic.
“A lot of people who love pets and might have a cat, have added a dog to the household, which brings with it a whole new dynamic,” says Nanci, who runs Creedon’s College of Canine Studies as well as Creedon’s Doggie Daycare.
If you must mix the canine with the feline, the ideal order is to have a puppy brought into the house where there is already a cat — and not the other way around.
“The puppy learns that they don’t chew on the ‘toy’ or pounce on it because the ‘toy’ has claws.
"The puppy learns to respect and stand back from the cat with the claws. The cat should ideally be the more senior animal in the house.”
Cats like heights. A cat should be allowed to escape to a high shelf, which is a secure place for them and allows them to share the environment with a dog. The dog should have its own crate.
Nanci says: “But if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. That is never more evident than when you just throw a cat and a dog together and think it’ll be grand. It won’t.”
Nanci says that in easing relations between a dog and a cat, you should do a scent swap, swapping the animals’ blankets.
“Do it twice a day so they’ll get familiar with each other and bored of each other. It will mean that they’re both aware of each other’s presence but they’ll learn not to be overwhelmed by it,” the Cork woman said.
Another trick that will help the dog and cat to co-exist in the same room is to provide them with ‘licky mats’. These mats comes with ridges on them. You smear moist food on to them, one for the cat and one for the dog. The dog should be on its lead and the cat on a height.
“In eating the food, they have a nice enjoyable treat in each other’s presence. Once they’ve finished the licky mats, remove the dog. And then repeat the exercise several times. The idea is that nothing bad happens when the two animals are in the same place. By sharing space but focusing on something different, by default it makes the other animal insignificant. Slowly get them together in this way so they can co-exist.”
For fear of the dog going for the cat’s food, keep it on its lead for a while.
When Nanci was a child, her father (the RTÉ broadcaster, John Creedon) used to get her and her three sisters to sketch the latest animal to join the household. At one stage, the family had eight pets including hamsters, guinea pigs, a rabbit, pet mice and dogs! Getting the children to sit at the kitchen table and make pictures of the new animal was calming for the pet.
Nanci recommends families with energetic young children do likewise when a new pet is introduced.
She is all too aware of the need to prepare animals for life after lockdown.
“Once humans go back to work and school, the animals are essentially going to go into lockdown because they’ll be locked up at home.
"At the moment, we’re telling owners to leave their pets on their own for half an hour and then an hour. But that is not enough.
“Pet owners need to start preparing their dog to enjoy life with or without human companions. So you should set your dog up in what I call a ‘spa zone’. It’s like a treatment room. Find a nice, calm, quiet room like a spare bedroom or a utility room or a conservatory and give the dog a really comfortable bed there. Put on relaxation music or have a calming audio book on play. You can get plugged-in essential oils with a diffuser.
“Give the pet a long-lasting treat such as a toy stuffed with food. When they chew it, it releases dopamine which calms the pet down. I’m advising people to start setting their dog up in a spa zone.
“Leave them there for half an hour at a time and they’ll associate it with nice things happening. When the household is gone back to work and school, the dog can go to the spa zone and hang out there.”