Introducing a New Dog to Your Cat
July 20, 2015
Although we’ve all heard the terms “dog person” and “cat person,” in truth many of us love dogs and cats and live with them both. Dogs and cats can live together safely, but dogs can also injure or frighten cats, especially cats who are not used to living with dogs. So when introducing a new dog to cats already living in your home, a little planning can go a long way towards stacking the odds in favor of a peaceful household.
Before your new dog comes home:
To start, choosing an appropriate dog helps set you up for success. If you are getting a dog from a rescue, look for dogs who have lived with cats or live with cats in their foster homes. If you are getting a purebred puppy or dog, research breeds carefully: Some breeds have a higher probability of instinctually stalking, chasing, hunting, or otherwise treating cats like prey.
Feliway, a synthetically produced copy of calming pheromones produced naturally by cats, is available as a plug-in diffuser and works well to help alleviate stress in cats. Having a Feliway Diffuser in place a few days to a week before your new dog comes home is a great idea to help prepare your cat ahead of time.
After your new dog comes home:
Never force cats to meet or interact with a new dog against their will. Most cats need to adapt to major changes in their own time and under their own control; “flooding” or expecting them to “deal with it” almost always backfires and makes the process take longer and be more stressful for everyone. Do not be surprised if your cat “disappears” at first. This is normal and most cats will soon start to investigate, often starting by simply observing the new arrival from a safe place and getting progressively braver over time.
Be sure that your cat is eating and using the litter box normally during the process of acclimating to your new dog. Stress can cause cats to stop eating, trigger episodes of serious acute or chronic health conditions, eliminate outside the litterbox, or even lead to self-harming behaviors. If any of these things are happening, we can help you problem solve to help your cat.
It is essential for cats to feel safe in their own home and have dog-free access to their important resources (food, water, litter box, sleeping and hiding areas) at all times, even long after the initial introductions are over. Use baby gates (cut a cat-sized hole or mount with a gap underneath), cat doors installed in interior doors, and other escape routes to create dog-free areas of your home. In common areas, provide vertical space (cat tree, allowing the cat on tables or shelving) and low hiding places (under a couch, the base of a cat tree).
Once your cat starts to show interest in the new dog, supervise all interactions closely. Keep your dog on a leash at first so you can interrupt stalking, barking, or lunging. An obedience class where you and your dog can learn helpful basics such as “stay” and “leave it” are very helpful in the long term. In the short term, to interrupt unwanted behaviors you can use a verbal marker (nope, uh-uh!), use the leash to move your dog, or step in front of your dog (body blocking); then, redirect his/her attention elsewhere (such as an appropriate toy). Reward any calm behavior around the cat and disinterest in your cat (for example, if the dog doesn’t bother to get up from his/her bed when the cat walks into the room). It may take a great deal of repetition before your dog learns to leave the cats alone, don’t give up!
A little planning goes a long way towards making sure your cat is safe and happy while introducing a new dog, so you can enjoy both of your friends and let them enjoy each other!