Introducing a new dog to resident cats, the do’s and dont’s
If you haven’t already heard the news, I’m officially a volunteer with the City of Chicago at Chicago Animal Care & Control. I’m ecstatic because I was able to help with my first adoption last week and Nenita is now happily in her forever home. Endora is also in her forever home so we’re back to a (relatively) quiet home with two cats and one diva dog. You can bet I’m already gearing up to fostering again.
Speaking of fostering and cats, when I brought Endora home, I got a lot of people asking me how to introduce dogs to your resident cat. I figured it was quite a lengthy subject so it was time for a blog post. This is for introducing a resident cat to a new dog.
I shouldn’t have to put this disclaimer but I’m not interested in getting sued, so you should know I am NOT a trainer and these are just tips I’ve personally used. If there are any issues, please consult a professional dog behaviorist.
Take things slow
Whatever you think slow means, take it slower than that. The dog and cat(s) shouldn’t meet the first day or two. Everyone is stressed and nobody will be in any mood for an introduction. Really, don’t push it. Keep them separated in different rooms for at least the first two days. While the dog may have been previously “cat tested” each cat is different and dogs don’t necessarily love all cats, even if they’re okay with one. So err on the side of caution, slow and steady is the way to go.
Associate good things
Feed them on the opposite sides of a door. We keep our cats in our bedroom and let the dog have free roam of the rest of the space. You’ll want to associate good things with one another’s smells. Food is probably the best thing to cats and dogs, so feed them close to the door that separates them at the same time. This way, they’ll smell and hear one another but be in a good mood because they’re eating. Positive association is key.
Getting used to the other’s smell
If you can, confine the dog to a different room while the cat roams and smells the dog’s area. Let her get used to the dog’s scent and of course, reward her while she’s in the area. Then, confine the cat and let the dog smell the cat’s area. Give lots of treats or pets and praise the dog while smelling the cat’s stuff.
Let them see one another
I have to admit, this is slightly harder because cats can jump about anything. If you have a high baby gate, put the gate up and let the dog see the cat through the gate. Monitor the dog for signs of stress, including stiffness, lip licking, body leaning forward, tense mouth, and panting are just a few things to watch for. If the dog is doing any of these, close the door and remove the dog from the area.
Keep these sessions short and keep the dog on a leash for backup.
First, always, always, always, give the cat a place to escape to where the dog cannot get to it. Never force close physical proximity and always let the cat have an option to leave. My favorite trick is the baby gate, raise it up about eight inches off the ground. This way the cat will be able to go under it but the dog *shouldn’t* be able to go over it.
Always keep the dog on a leash when doing the intros and try to have more than one person present if possible in case something goes wrong. Let the cat wander and approach the dog on their own terms when the dog is calm. If your dog lunges, barks, or growls at the cat, it’s an indicator that the dog might not be cat-friendly. You will definitely need to separate and slow down the intros.
You can also hold your cat and carry it around with you as you go about your day. Watch TV, walk around, let the dog get used to the cat around you.
If the dog is starting too intently at the cat, make sure you can redirect the dog with a treat or call its attention away from the cat. The best kind of interactions with dogs should be ones of indifference.
I always do a couple of introductions before I give the cats and dogs free roam together. By doing a couple, short intros a day, you can ensure they become desensitized to one another.
There are a lot of don’t with cat introductions.
Don’t rely on someone else’s definition of “cat-friendly” dogs. Cat tests are only a small, quick test that shelters will sometimes provide upon request. Plus, each cat is different to a dog. While cat tests can help eliminate dogs that are truly cat aggressive, shelters are very overwhelming and the tests aren’t completely reliable. If the dog has previously lived with a cat, it’s still important to take things slow.
Don’t rush it
If there is one thing you take away from this, it’s GO SLOW. I know it’s more work to keep animals separate, but it’s even more of a hardship for things to go horribly wrong. Give everyone time to decompress and set everyone up for success.
Don’t force it
Honestly, this advice is good for all aspects of life. If the cat is scared, or the dog is stressed, don’t make them meet. Don’t force them to be in the same room if they don’t want to be. Let them decide for themselves when they’re ready to meet the other.
If the introductions don’t go as perfectly as you’d like them to, don’t give up. It could take months before the dog becomes completely desensitized to the cat.
If you notice any aggressive behavior from the dog, consult a local dog behaviorist for help.
Hayden – I love this dog. She’s of course cat-friendly and has done so well with the resident foster cat she lives with. She was pulled from CACC in September 2018. In the words of her current foster mom:
“I went there to meet her and fell in looooooove with her. She had ears that were caked with infection, hair loss all over and she just looked a mess. Hayden now sees a holistic vet and we manage her environmental and dust allergies naturally with no drugs. She gets bathes a few times a week, wipe downs with malacetic wipes, and needs to be fed a raw diet to really keep her ears and skin under control. She will require someone who has had experience with allergies and will be devoted to keeping her as healthy as she can be holistically. She is cat and dog-friendly and just LOVES life. I’ve never met a happier dog, her personality hasn’t changed a bit since I met her at CACC. She’s just the best”
For more information on this perfect velvet hippo, click here.
I picked up this blazer during my trip to Sweden. I’m not a huge blazer person but this color and fit really spoke to me. I found a similar one and linked it below.
All photos: Margaret Rajic