Introducing a New Dog to your Cat
September 7, 2017
We’ve already gone over introducing a new cat to your cat, now let’s talk about introducing a new dog (or puppy) to your cat(s). Remember that all cats and dogs are individuals, and may make the transition to living together more or less easily, but dogs and cats live together peacefully in millions of households across the country and with a little planning you can make things go smoothly for everyone.
Maisy and Solo are good friends.
The single most important thing when introducing a new dog to your cat(s) is that it is important for cats to have a dog-free space where they feel safe. This means that cats must be able to access all of their resources (food, water, litter boxes, resting areas, and hiding areas) without having to encounter the dog at all during their introductions (and ideally forever, if possible). Without this, cats may become extremely stressed and develop behavioral or medical problems.
To achieve this, you can use baby gates or other physical barriers to block off a floor, hallway (and associated rooms), or room in your home. If the layout of your home makes this impossible, then provide plenty of vertical spaces where cats can get out of reach of the dog; for example, tall cat trees or wall-mounted perches. Choose where your dog-free zone will be and set it up before your new puppy or dog comes home. This will give your cat some time to adapt, especially if you will need to move food, water, litter boxes, etc.
Other important considerations include:
- Never force interactions between your cat and a new dog. Some cats, especially cats who have lived with dogs before, adapt very easily to a new dog in the house. However, most cats do not like change and need time to adapt and feel in control. Always allow your cat to choose whether and how to interact with a new dog.
- Never allow a new dog to harass or chase your cat. This is very stressful for your cat, they are unlikely to “work it out” on their own, and there is a risk of injury to both animals. See below for more details on how to manage initial interactions.
- If you are getting an adolescent or adult dog, limit your search to dogs who have lived with cats or been cat tested in their previous home or foster home. You will still need to introduce with care, but this allows you to avoid dogs with known aggression towards cats.
- It is normal for cats to completely avoid a new dog at first and gradually increase their interaction from there; observing the dog from around a corner or behind a baby gate but retreating if the dog notices them, then observing but standing their ground if the dog notices them, and so on. Don’t worry if these initial steps seem to take a long time.
- Some cats and dogs in a household will become good friends, while others will simply learn to tolerate one another. Do your best to keep your expectations out of their relationship, as trying to make things work a certain way can backfire and create negative associations.
The nuts and bolts:
How closely you need to manage interactions and how much training you need to do depends on your new dog’s level of interest in your cat. Some dogs avoid cats, some are curious but not persistent, and still others are intensely interested and difficult to distract.
In general, the goals are: 1. To prevent behaviors like stalking, charging, pawing, etc. 2. To teach and reward alternative behaviors 3. To reinforce calm interactions with the cat.
- Preventing unwanted behaviors: Not only are stalking, charging, chasing, pawing, etc stressful for your cat, but the more your dogs practices them, the more likely they are to become ingrained habits. It is best to have a zero tolerance policy from day one.At first you will probably need to maintain some physical control over your dog to make this happen. Either confinement with a crate/kennel or exercise pen (ex-pen) or tethering on a leash are good options. This provides safe, passive interactions for dogs who are curious but not intensely so. Your cats will quickly learn that they are physically safe when the dog is restrained; this allows them to acclimate to being closer to the dog as well as allowing you to interrupt and redirect any inappropriate behavior. And always reward any calm behavior from your dog when your cat is present.
If your dog unexpectedly encounters your cat when not restrained and as you give your dog more freedom in the house, if necessary you can use your body to block or shield the cat while calmly giving your dog a known cue such as “sit” or “go lay down.” Always reward generously for calm behavior or ignoring the cat.
Lastly, if your dog’s interest in your cat is particularly intense, I highly recommend acclimating your dog to a basket muzzle and using it liberally until you are able to make some progress. There are some dogs who are simply not safe with cats; in these cases physically separating dogs and cats in a household may be the only safe option other than rehoming.
- Teaching an alternative behavior to bothering the cat allows you to move from physical control to voice control, as well as being a useful behavior in general. I am a fan of “go to your ____” (bed, place, mat, etc) because it can be generalized to any situation where you need a dog to lie down and stay out of the way (dinner, doorbell rings, folding laundry, etc). There are several tutorials online for teaching a dog to go to a specific place; two of my favorites are online here (click here for link) and here (click here for link). Again, reward generously for success.
- Frequently and generously rewarding any calm interaction with your cat, ignoring the cat, or other desired behaviors will pay off in the long run. Behaviors that are rewarded will be repeated.
As always, if you have any questions about the topics covered in this blog please feel free to contact the clinic and speak to one of our staff. We want your household to be happy and harmonious!
Karen Christopherson DVM CVA