Introducing a new cat to an established canine household or a new dog to an established feline household can be a bit touchy. Before bringing home an additional four-legged, it might be best to look for a companion that already has some cross-species experience and has coexisted peaceably.
Do keep in mind that though many dogs and cats can learn to live together, there are some dogs that just aren’t suited to such. A dog that is already known to stalk, chase or otherwise harass small animals, squirrels and other cats, will likely not be a good candidate for multi-species coexistence as he or she likely has “prey drive”, which is a tough instinct for the dog to be taught to ignore.
If the dog loves to chase things, a shy or fearful cat that runs away should be avoided as it may “trigger” the chase response from the dog. If the dog plays roughly, then small cats, kittens and elderly cats should be avoided, rather a young, playful adult would likely do best.
THE FIRST DAYS:
For the long term welfare of both the cat and the dog, the cat should have “safe places” that the dog cannot get to. This may be accomplished by installing an interior “cat door” that allows the cat access to a room that the dog does not have access to. Additionally, elevated hides will also serve as “safe zones” for the cat to leap up onto.
If you use baby gates or install cat doors, make sure the cat is taught how to use them. Lure him or her through these with the help of a tasty treat. Do so several times until you see the cat using the door unassisted.
If the cat is the current resident, do set up the cat’s belongings where the dog can’t get to them. Plan ahead and make these arrangements BEFORE bringing home any addition to the household. Move the cat’s food, water, toys, and litter box to an area the dog can’t reach. This will allow the cat to do whatever he or she needs to do without needing to go near the dog.
As the saying goes, “slow and steady wins the race”. That is oh-so-true for getting to a harmonious introduction. Don’t go too fast. Let the animals set the pace. The goal is to keep fear and aggression to a minimum.
A SMELL IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS:
- Use a towel or sweat shirt, pet the cat with it, then put the item in the dog’s area. Of course treat and praise the dog for good, calm behavior.
- Same goes the other way. Maybe even using the same towel with the cat scent on it that the dog already investigated. Now pet the dog with it, overlaying the dog’s scent. Casually put it in the cats’ room, not making a big fuss. If the cat is calm about it, treat and praise that! If they hiss at it, that’s fine, too, they will soon become accustomed to it.
- Keep it up until neither cat nor dog seems to show signs of “caring” about the scent anymore.
CSI and DSI (cat scene investigator and dog scene investigator):
For the first several days, rotate which animal has freedom and which is confined to allow each animal plenty of time to investigate the other one’s scent.
- Confine the dog to a crate or better yet, to another room to allow the cat some free time to roam around and investigate the smell of the dog.
- Of course let the dog do the same. Confine the cat to another room allowing the dog to investigate the scent of the cat on its “home turf”.
- Move on to the next step once the dog and cat no longer seem to “care” about the other one’s scent and is remaining calm.
- When no one is home, the dog or cat must always be securely confined so unsupervised interactions are not possible.
A LITTLE CLOSER:
With a door shut or at minimum a secure baby gate between them bring both pets to opposite sides (a person with each one) to sniff.
- Use praise and some small treats to help the dog understand that the smell and eventually the sight of the cat brings good things.
- If you are with the cat, and the dog sniffs at the door and the cat hisses, using a calming tone with the cat, or calling the dog away from the door can be helpful.
- It may be helpful to ask the dog to respond to a few cues (sit, down, etc…) that he or she already knows as a means to not “focus” on the cat, but to still get rewarded in the presence of the cat.
- Do not force the cat to stay in the area, rather use treats and praise to encourage that behavior.
- Keep these sessions short – just a few minutes.
- Repeat this process until both animals seem to be relaxed.
ON LEASH INTRODUCTIONS:
When you are ready for a nose to nose introduction, it is recommended to let the cat meet one dog at a time with the dog on leash. The leash is NOT to correct the dog, rather just to keep him from chasing the cat if it looks like that might occur. Good behavior gets treats and praise on both sides. If there are additional dogs, introduce them separately, also on leash, of course.
- If you are getting a reaction by your dog of either ignoring the cat or only mild interested sniffing — that is a really good reaction. Keep encouraging your dog by delivering many rewards for those behaviors.
- Do not force the cat or restrain the cat, rather once again reward the cat for staying in the area with really high value treats.
- This process can take several days, a few minutes at a time, judging the time line by the cat’s behavior and how stressed he/she seems to be. Some hissing is normal, most cats will “punch” a sniffing dog but hopefully the dog won’t be too offended.
- Continue indefinitely until both the dog and cat seem relaxed around each other.
- If there is any fear or aggression displayed on either animal’s part, go back to having them separated and rewarding the calm behaviors in their separate areas.
- Again, when no one is home, the dog or cat should be securely confined to separate areas so unsupervised interactions are not possible.
Do not scold or punish any of the pets for their behaviors. Rather help them to learn to live peaceably with each other. This may take a few days, a few weeks or even longer, but time and patience will pay off in life-long dividends.
Source: ARL – Animal Rescue League of Iowa, Inc. 2021 – https://www.arl-iowa.org/