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Introducing a New Dog to a Resident Cat

First impressions are important.  That’s true for pets as well as people.  If you’re thinking of adding a dog to your cat household you’ll want to consider the age, health, and disposition of your resident cat.

The introduction between your new dog (adult or puppy) and resident cat will set the tone for their relationship.  This blog runs through the preparation, expectations, and steps of introducing a new dog to a resident cat.

Why this is Important

You might be tempted to bring home Rover and let the pets work things out themselves.  According to the Humane Society and other resources doing this can be dangerous for both the Rover and Fluffy.

Cats and dogs place different value on physical space and social hierarchy – it will take Rover and Fluffy some time to learn how to treat one another.  You can help them build a friendship by supervising their first meetings.  The first meeting is particularly important if neither Fluffy nor Rover have lived with other cats and/or dogs before.

Before you bring Rover home to Fluffy you might want to check out this article: http://www.hawaiianhumane.org/sites/default/files/introduce_dog_to_cat.pdf

Preparation

Your resident cat already has food and water bowls, a bed, litter box, and toys.  Before you bring home Rover move Fluffy’s food and water bowls to a place where Rover won’t be able to access them – perhaps somewhere off the floor.  Also, you’ll need to do the same for Fluffy’s litter box.  Cats are very territorial and dogs like to eat cat poop.

Designate a space for Rover – a room where you can put Rover’s bed, food and water bowl, and toys.  That way you prevent Fluffy and Rover from interacting when you aren’t able to supervise them.

Once you’ve brought Rover home keep him separated from Fluffy until he has mastered some basic commands.  You may want to train Rover yourself or you can take Rover to obedience classes.  You may also want to train Fluffy to come when she’s called using treats as reinforcement for good behaviour.  For more on this check out: http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/cat-behavior/introducing-your-cat-new-dog

In addition, you’ll need:

  • A leash for Rover – prevent Rover from attacking Fluffy
  • A leash and harness for Fluffy (optional) – prevent Fluffy from attacking Rover
  • Treats for both Fluffy and Rover – reward positive behaviour
  • A baby gate/cat door – allow Fluffy to escape from Rover and prevent Rover from getting to Fluffy’s litter box, can also be used to for scent exchange
  • Cat nail clipper – keeping Fluffy’s claws short will minimize the chances of Rover getting injured

What to expect

It will depend on both Fluffy’s and Rover’s age and disposition but it will likely take 2-4 weeks for them to become comfortable with one another.

Both dogs and cats have something called prey drive – an instinct to chase.  Rover may view Fluffy as prey and try to give chase.  To prepare for this keep Rover on a leash during their meeting and make sure both Fluffy and Rover have an escape route.

Fluffy might bop (clawless) Rover on the nose or the head – (here’s a video of a “bop” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CApL5jTM6BU), this is harmless and a sign of play.  However, Fluffy might become defensive and take a swipe at Rover with her claws out.  That is why you’ll want to keep Fluffy’s claws trimmed short.

Steps

Scent Exchange:

Face-to-Face Meetings

  • Make sure Fluffy has an escape route just in case Rover gets too rambunctious.
  • Keep Rover on a leash – don’t restrain Rover unless the pets get into a scuffle.
  • Use positive reinforcement for good behaviour – for more on this check out: http://www.dpvhs.org/training/tipsheets/dog.to.cat.php
  • You may want to have another person with you during the first meeting just in case things get out of hand.
  • Have your pets meet in a main room in your home – somewhere that they are both allowed to spend time in.  Start with each pet on opposite sides of the room and allow the pets to approach each other at their own pace.

Continue to have Rover and Fluffy meet like this over the next few weeks.  Short, frequent meetings are better and more effective than long, infrequent meetings.  If your pets don’t seem to be getting along you may want to ask for some help from your vet.

Be patient and keep your own emotions in check.  Be calm and don’t over react even if things go wrong.  You want Fluffy and Rover to associate each other with good and positive feelings and outcomes.  Reinforce good, calm behaviour with treats and discourage poor, rambunctious behaviour by refocusing your pets’ attention on you.

For other tips from Partnership for Animal Welfare volunteers check out: http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_Cat.php

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