Introducing Cats and Dogs
Dogs and cats do not have to be enemies; in fact they can be the best of friends. They certainly don’t naturally hate each other. The problem is that most dogs love to chase and most cats will run if they see a big, hairy hound hurtling towards them at speed! If a puppy or kitten is given plenty of chances to meet other friendly adult dogs or cats, there is every chance that they will get along well in the future. Sometimes though, this is not possible, or perhaps you have adopted a dog and you don’t know how he is going to behave when he meets your cat or vice versa. If this is the case, you’ll have to be very careful during the first meetings to keep either pet from becoming frightened or injured – or they may never get along.
If you’ve already got a cat and are bringing a new dog into your home, you really have to think about how this will affect your cat. It is the cat’s home and the cat has every right to feel safe there. If you know that your cat is very frightened of dogs – or has had very bad experiences with them in the past, then think very carefully before getting a dog or bringing one into the home. It is not fair to put your cat through so much stress, if you know that she cannot cope with it.
Preparation before the big day
To ensure that the first meeting goes well, you may have to make some changes around your house. These things should be done in the weeks leading up to bringing your new dog into the home, so that your cat has chance to get used to them. Make sure that there will be places in your home where your cat can go but your dog cannot. These are places where your cat can escape from your dog if she wants to relax and get some peace and quiet. You may have to put a cat flap into an internal door or upstairs window, or install a baby gate, so that your cat can have access to a dog-free room. You may also want to put the litter tray, food and water in here. You may want to put up some shelving around the house so that your cat can travel around out of reach of your dog. The cat’s food and bedding can be placed on shelves or higher levels of furniture so that she can come into rooms where the dog is allowed, but feel happy and safe. Make sure that your cat always has a clear escape route from any area that she may come face to face with the dog – just in case. Try to get some bedding that the new dog has used before bringing him home. Leave it in places where the cat can sniff it, so that she can get used to the strange smell.
And for your dog…
If possible, spend some time with the dog before bringing him home to teach him some basic obedience commands. Make sure you find treats that he absolutely loves as this will make it easier to keep his attention when the cat is around. Prepare somewhere that the dog can use as his sleeping area, which is not in a place that the cat has to use on a regular basis. For instance, don’t expect the dog to sleep in the kitchen if the cat has to pass through on its way to the cat flap. Remember that most dogs love cat food and will eat it if they can reach it – so you may have to move it from its usual place.
After a few days of allowing your new dog to settle and become relaxed, you can try introducing the animals.
Get some treats that your dog really loves, have him on a long, loose lead and ask him to sit or lie down. Reward him with the treats as long as he is calm and relaxed. Then allow the cat to enter the room. If your cat is happy being carried, it may be better if someone she likes can bring her in and sit down with her on their lap. If the cat wants to move away or jump up onto high surfaces – let her. Don’t encourage your dog to look at the cat or to meet her – instead continue to reward him for sits/downs in a calm relaxed manner. If your dog looks to the cat but looks back to you when you call his name, immediately reward him with a treat, calm fuss and praise. If both animals seem calm and comfortable, allow your dog (still on the lead) to approach the cat. If safe, allow them to sniff each other and then calmly call your dog away whilst praising and rewarding. Repeat this whole procedure again every day, until you are happy and confident that they will tolerate each other. Once you have repeated this daily until you are happy they are comfortable with each other, then start to let them sit with each other and even lie with each other if they are happy to. Many dogs (especially when they are young) will just want to play and may annoy the cat and she may lash out in frustration. However, after a while the cat will become more tolerant and the dog will also calm down as he gets older.
If your dog barks or stares intently at the cat it means that it’s likely to take a bit longer! Do not move him closer but instead continue to ask for relaxed sits/downs with lots of rewards, and try to keep his attention on you. Keep the sessions short and keep him on the loose lead. During the session, practice moving away from him and rewarding him for coming to you. However well it goes, do not get complacent and don’t leave the animals together unsupervised. It may take a few days for some dogs and cats to become friends, or as long as months for others! Patience is key and only time will tell if they are to get along.
By following these guidelines and introducing the pets slowly there is every chance they will get along and live together happily. Unfortunately we must accept that in some cases a dog will not tolerate a cat being around (or vice versa) and we must resort to control and management of these situations – i.e. keeping them safely apart, one way or another!
Student Veterinary Nurse