Jack Russell Terriers and Cats Can Live in Harmony

Jack Russell Terriers get a bad rap as "cat killers" sometimes, but with a bit of work, these two natural enemies can become great friends, or at least tolerate each other.

Jack Russell Terriers can be wonderful pets and are loyal to the end to their owners. Cats also make wonderful pets and some people, like me, would never be without one. However, sometimes, the two don't mix. I have heard horror stories of Jack Russell Terriers that have attacked cats and even killed them. I know a large number of Jack Russell owners and have spoken to them about the best ways to integrate the dogs with the family cat.

First of all, in my own household, I have a 16 month-old Jack Russell, PJ, male, neutered. My cat, Zack, male, also neutered, is about 15 years old and is quite settled in the house. At first, it took Zack a few days to finally come down from upstairs and walk around while PJ was around. PJ had the distinct advantage of being born and raised in a home with five cats. He was very used to the sight and smell of them. He even had been washing their faces and playing with one named Bambi. PJ took to Zack right away and just wanted to be friendly and play, but Zack didn't know that and it took him a good two months to warm up to him.

If you want your Jack Russell Terrier and your cat to be able to live peacefully together you must enforce some special rules to both of them from the very beginning. The cat must not be allowed to scratch or harm the dog in any way. You must also establish that the cat has dominance over the dog and that you have dominance over both of them. At feeding times, feed the cat first and have the dog wait untill the cat is finished. Once dominance is established, its best to feed them in separate areas. Make sure you have a "safe area" for the cat to go if they don't want to be sociable. The dog also must not be allowed to steal any of the cat's food and not allowed to bother the cat when he is asleep. Try to make an equal fuss of them and pet both of them so they won't get too jealous of each other. Be aware of signs that your dog is trying to establish dominance by things such as getting in your lap first, make them both stay off the couch for a while then call the cat up first.

Jack Russell Terriers were bred for hunting so they do like to chase things. PJ will chase some of the cats at his "Nanny's house" when they run away from him but when he catches up to them he licks their faces. Some Jack Russell Terriers may confuse the cat running for prey so it is best not to allow them to chase cats at all from the beginning. If you are adopting an older Jack Russell and don't know its history, please be careful to give them time when introducing them to your cats. Establish dominance over both animals (Ceaser Milan is great for giving tips on how to do this) and make sure they respect each other's space. Both can live together in a peaceful household and even learn to like each other.

You still have to establish dominance once in a while if they start a little argument or things get too tense. If the dog ever growls at the cat, even slightly, you must reprimand them. If they do play together, be sure that its both sided and its fun for both and not torture for one and that things don't get too rough. Generally, the cat can take care of themselves, but its always a good idea to keep an eye on the situation. Don't rush things or try to make them interact with each other. Let it happen naturally and in their own time.

In speaking with several Jack Russell owners, they say that their dogs are friends with the household cat and that they sleep together and clean each other's faces among other things. One owner I spoke to has three Jack Russell Terriers and five cats. They all get along although differently. Hugo, a Parsons Russell, about 7 years old, lives harmoniously with the cats, but doesn't pay them any attention. However, there was one cat named Sparky that sadly went missing last year that he used to sleep on the bed with. He just merely accepts the other cats. Topsie, PJ's mother, a tiny miniature Jack Russell, is as sharp as you like but loves the cats and is often seen sleeping next to them and washing their faces. Toffee, PJ's brother, also just tolerates the cats and has never given them any trouble. Just to note, he has not been neutered and has been used for breeding but is not aggressive (unless someone tries to take his ball!).

At the dog park, I interviewed Jane Wilson who has PJ's best friend, a small 15 month old Jack Russell named Louie. She doesn't have a cat in her house but her in-laws have three and Louie is very curious about them but gives them a wide berth. The cats are indifferent to Louie. Her in-laws also have a rescued Jack Russell Terrier that they adopted when he was about 2 or 3 years old. He had also been badly abused. Their dog gets along wonderfully with one of the cats, sleeping with it and playing with it and is generally great friends, while the other two cats are indifferent to the dog. The dog and these two cats just tolerate each other.

Within a few months, my dog and cat started to develop a relationship. I think it officially started when my husband and I went to the movies one night and PJ jumped over his gate and was lost in the whole house all alone. The cat was there and kept him company. It has been fairly smooth sailing ever since. They have since loved going outside together and even eating off the same plate. They play together, making up games that they both enjoy. The dog likes to zoom back and forth across the room and the cat attacks him (without claws) when he passes by. The cat likes to go behind the baby gate and bat at the dog on the other side. They like to lie next to me and the cat will have his tail wrapped around the dog's body. The cat has taught the dog how to come to me and beg for treats in the middle of the day.