Introducing Cats and Dogs

Cats and dogs can become good friends.

There are several things to consider before introducing a new dog to your existing cat. You must protect their health by making sure vaccinations for both are up-to-date and each is free of worms and fleas. Cats are very territorial and often do not appreciate any change in their environment. Therefore, no matter what, this will be a stressful situation for your cat. Be sure your cat is mentally and physically healthy before introducing her to a dog. And make sure YOU are ready to accept that your cat may be upset for several weeks as the cat and dog work their new situation out. Too often, humans pull the plug too soon and miss out on the opportunity to have a successful dog-cat household.

To get your cat started, ask a friend to bring the dog to your home or if you have already selected a dog for adoption be sure the dog is on a leash and under control at the time of arrival.  Be sure the dog does not have a history of hurting cats. That is very important! If your cat does not run and hide upon initial meeting, let him make the first advances toward the new dog. If the dog lunges or barks, pull the dog back quickly to protect the cat. But know that an intial bark is not the end of the game! Sometimes dogs have never seen cats and are just plain curious! A dog that barks aggressively or lunges for more than several minutes without the ability to redirect his attention away from the cat may not be a good fit!

After a while of this controlled introduction, release your dog with leash still attached and let them come together. It is some dogs’ natural instinct to chase, so be prepared to grab the dragging leash and stop the chasing if it becomes intense. Be warned! Your cat may go on the offensive. Be prepared to protect your dog’s eyes or nose from scratches. Often though you will find that a dog will become fearful of a cat once the cat asserts himself and a healthy respect can exist between the two. Allow your cat to assert himself and carefully watch how the dog reacts. Some dogs will attack back if attacked/hissed at so be very prepared to intervene should that happen.

Chances are very good that your cat is going to retreat to high ground and survey this new creature from a safe height while your dog explores the house.  Your cat will be under some stress and may take several weeks to act as she did before this newcomer arrived. Talk to your cat, give him lots of hugs and great food treats. Be understanding, and forgiving, if he sprays a time or two or if she jumps up on something normally off-limits. He will get used to the idea of having a dog around, and chances are very good that they will become best friends or least happily co-exist.

Also provide praise for the dog when he responds to a command from you. It is important to re-direct your dog during this introduction to be sure he is still under your control. So a “sit” or “lie down” is good to ensure he is still paying attention to you and not overly focusing on the cat. The “leave it” command is a good one when directing your dog to literally leave something (food, toy, treat, cat) alone. Praising your dog for not chasing and instead following a command is a good way to go. Positive praise will likely make the dog more responsive to you. And treats often are a great distraction…the goal is to not have the dog 100% focused on the cat, but rather go about his business as usual.

Try putting the cat on your lap and petting him while also petting your dog and/or providing treats to the dog while he is allowing you to pet the cat. This reinforces to your dog that the cat is not a threat and is really no big deal. This will help the dog not to become too focused on the cat and even become bored with his presence.

Once you have a dog in your home with a cat, take caution for your cat. Be sure he has safe places to which he can jump should your dog start to chase him. A baby gate to a room and/or higher objects work. But a safe “out” is essential. Also be sure to protect your cat’s special places…if his bed is on a dresser, do not let the dog bother that. If your cat sleeps with you, do not let your dog sleep with you until the cat and dog have established a sharing relationship. Your cat must feel secure knowing that his favorite places have not been invaded. It is your job to do this. Fido must have limits in order to keep your kitty happy!