Introducing a New Dog to Your Cat
Dogs and cats can make wonderful companions for each other. A dog grooming a cat’s head or a cat snuggled against a dog can be some of the most “Aww!”-inducing sights for any pet owner. Care must be taken when introducing a new dog to a cat, however; these are two different species with different ways of communicating and interacting with others.
Change can be stressful for any animal but especially so for cats. A slow introduction should minimize that stress. The dog and cat should be completely separated from each other for at least a few days to give the cat time to acclimate to the sounds and smells of the dog. To impact the cat’s routine the least, it would be ideal for the dog to be kept in a spare room and to give the cat free roam of the rest of the home. The dog should have all necessities and comforts: bed, crate, water, toys. Put the cat in a room or is out of sight when taking the dog out for walks. Sometimes, it just makes more sense to confine the cat, however. In this case, confine the cat to a room he knows well and will be comfortable in. Be sure he has his food, water, toys, litter pan, bed, scratching post, and toys.
Feed the animals on opposite sides of the door separating them as close as you can place their dishes and still have them be relaxed. Pairing food with the dog’s scent should form a positive association for your cat.
Once your cat is not showing any signs of tension near the door or when the dog is near the door, it is time to let them see each other. Exercise the dog first so that he is likely to be more calm. The dog should be restrained, either behind a secure baby gate or on leash. Have treats on hand for both pets. Do not force them to greet each other or even be near each other. As soon as they see each other offer them a couple treats. Hissing and growling are not uncommon responses when a cat sees a new animal; do not reprimand your cat if he does these things. If your cat flattens his ears, arches his back, spits, or yowls, remove the dog immediately and separate them again for a few more days.
Do your best to keep the dog calm. Straining at the end of the leash or jumping against the baby gate, bouncing up and down, and repeated barking might scare the cat. Continue to feed treats to the dog if that will help him to stay still. Allow the pets to sniff each other if they both seem interested. Keep initial meetings short – less than 30 seconds, if necessary. Follow your cat’s lead. It is better to do ten sessions that are less than one minute and are successful than one five-minute session that ends with either of the animals scared or agitated.
Continue to keep the dog and cat separated when you are not actively introducing them. Gradually increase their exposure and then decrease their restraints based upon their behaviors. It might be several weeks before the dog can be around the cat without wearing a leash. Do not allow the dog to chase the cat under any circumstance. Praise and reward friendly interest and interactions.
Most cats appreciate having some peace and quiet when they use their litter boxes. It is best to have your cat’s litter box in a location that the dog can’t access. If that isn’t possible, consider a “dog-proof” box, such as Clever Cat, so the dog can’t bother the cat while he is occupied. Observe the dog around the litter box, as well, to be sure he isn’t waiting to ambush the cat when he exits the box. Also, provide perches so that your cat can have a respite from the dog when he needs it.