You’ve just got a new cat and your head is filled with pictures of cuddling cats and dogs, but the reality is that if your new feisty feline isn’t properly introduced to your dog at home, it could lead to a long term love-hate relationship, and could even end in disaster. When introducing a cat to a dog, it is very important to remember that dogs can easily hurt a cat, even through play.
Here is a step by step guide to introducing your new cat to your current dog:
Step One: Confinement
Confine your cat to one room in the house (which should be done even if you don’t have other pets), and remember that she needs to have easy access to her litter box, food, water and a bed, and not be able to escape the room. When starting the introductions, you will need to keep your cat and dog separate until you have completed each step – and remember to take it slowly!
Step Two: Feeding
Start off by feeding the dog and cat on each side of the door to the room where the cat is confined. This simple technique helps to familiarize them with each other’s smell, plus it helps to build an association between that smell and something they enjoy (food).
Make sure you don’t put the food so close to the door that they are too upset by each other’s presence to eat. You can gradually move the dishes closer to the door until they are both happily eating on either side of the door.
Step Three: Crack open the Door
When you are at this stage, you can prop the door open MARGINALLY using two sturdy objects, and only under supervision – allowing the animals to see each other just a little bit. Do not prop open the door enough for either animal to squeeze through, and do not prop it open and then leave – remember a large breed dog will be able to use body weight to push the door open if he really wants to. If you have a glass sliding door, you can also let them see each other through the door when they have settled in nicely.
Step Four: Swap Scents
Switch sleeping blankets or beds between your cat and dog. This will give each animal the opportunity to get familiar with the other’s smell. Using a new (unused!) cloth to rub on one pet and then putting it under the food bowl of the other pet is also a very good idea – again building that association between food and “that smell”.
Using the same cloth, you can also rub one pet down with it, and then leave that cloth in the other’s bed and vice versa. You need to do this as often as possible to help the process along. If there is more than one animal in the house, you will need to do this with each one.
Step Five: Switch Living Areas
When you have reached this stage, you can start swapping living areas. Have the dog in one room, and allow the cat access to the house – making sure the cat cannot get to the dog. Let the cat spend an hour or so in the rest of the house, whilst putting the dog in the cat’s room. This will allow the pets to get used to each other’s smell in their general environment without a face to face encounter.
Step Six: Avoid Fearful and Aggressive Meetings
You must be extremely careful of allowing any aggressive or fearful interactions to take place at this stage. It is far better to introduce them slowly without either animal getting fearful or defensive. Although you need to be aware of the fact that you may encounter some of these behaviours in the beginning, it is advisable to keep them to the absolute minimum.
If either animal becomes fearful or aggressive, you need to separate them and start from the beginning and take it slower.
Step Seven: Controlled Meeting
When your cat and dog are comfortable eating on both sides of the door, have been exposed to each other’s scents through the cloth work and by swapping environments, you can take the first step to introducing them face to face. The rule here is “CONTROL”. Do not allow your dog to pounce on the cat, or the cat to hurt the dog. Remember, first impressions count so it is vital that the two animals’ first association with each other is extremely pleasant.
Put your dog on leash in a different room, and have your cat in her cat box. Take the cat, in her box, and put her in a neutral room – in other words – NOT the room she’s been staying in. Allow her to settle in before bringing in the dog on lead and taking him to the opposite side of the room. Do not allow the dog to sniff the crate or approach it.
Get your dog to sit, lie down and stay whilst rewarding with food treats. At this stage you are simply allowing both animals to be in each other’s presence at a safe distance without forcing an interaction. You can continue to feed the dog and the cat their favourite treats – do not let this session last more than two or three minutes per session. You can repeat the session as often as you want per day, but remember to give each animal the opportunity to relax between each one.
Gradually extend the amount of time they spend in each other’s company until both start showing signs of relaxation. Once you are seeing these, you can start to let the dog sniff around and move a bit more so the cat can get used to the movements.
Step Eight: Let your cat go
Whilst keeping your dog on lead still, you can open the cat’s crate and allow her to come out and explore. Continue to feed the dog treats while the cat is out and about. If she just wants to stay in her crate, do not yank her out and force her to come out – she will come out when she feels comfortable enough.
Once your cat is confident and happy around the dog, you can move to the next step.
Step Nine: Letting the dog go
This must initially be done under supervision in an environment where the cat has plenty of escape routes and access to lots of places to jump onto. Have your dog on a longer lead and allow him to interact with the cat – while you are heaping on the praise and food treats! If your dog snaps or growls at the cat, you have proceeded too fast and you may need to go slower. Move him away and start over. Do not punish the dog for growling at the cat. When your dog is investigating the cat, you NEED to be there feeding him treats and telling him what a good dog he is.
Sometimes you will be surprized with how quickly the animals feel comfortable with each other, and other times it can be a long process. Make sure to go at their pace and only move on to the next step when you can see both animals are comfortable with what is happening.
Slow and proper introductions are the key to a peaceful and happy relationship between your pets.