Introducing your cat to a new dog
Lisa Radosta DVM, DACVB
Dogs and cats have long been portrayed as enemies.The truth is that while dogs and cats don’t always get along, many of us have dogs and cats that live together peacefully. If introduced correctly, your cat can appreciate your dog’s company or at least learn not to hate her! To get your pets off on the right foot, follow these simple steps.
Consider your pet’s personality
Has your cat lived with dogs previously? Is he confident around other animals? If so, you are likely to have an easy transition. One quick swat to your dog’s muzzle and your cat will have laid down the law even if your cat is declawed. If your cat becomes piloerect (puffs up), hisses, or runs from other animals you will have a more difficult time introducing him to a new dog. For cats that are fearful, a safe place and good control of the dog will be the keys to keeping a peaceful household. Consider as well your dog’s personality. Is is playful, but not aggressive? Dogs with this temperament will be easily take corrections from a cat and be well controlled. The dog who is lunging, growling and difficult to control may never be safe with your cat. If this is the case, consult your veterinarian.
Let your cat do the talking
If your cat is the confident type and your dog is the easy going type, it is best to let your cat handle things. Even then, the meeting is not a free-for-all. Put your cat on a higher surface than the dog and put your dog on the leash for the meeting. Have the treats ready for reward or distraction. Reward him for calm behavior. If he can’t stay calm, back up away from your cat. Even a confident cat can get scared of an unruly dog. When your dog and cat finally meet, let your cat correct your dog and reward your dog for backing off. For the next month or so, don't leave them together without your supervision. Dogs can hurt cats or scare them in a second.
Keep them separated
Until you can feel very confident that your cat will be safe when with your dog, they should be separated when you cannot directly supervise them. The safest way to do this, is to keep your dog in a crate. Even a dog who simply wants to play can seriously or fatally injure a cat. Dogs can jump over or bust through baby gates leaving cats in a dangerous situation. Cats are more difficult to confine generally and will jump over baby gates to get to dogs even when the dog is threatening them. You may have to put your dog on a leash when they are together to keep your cat from running and hiding. Some dogs will never be safe with cats. If your dog is lunging, growling or pulling very hard toward your cat, consult your veterinarian and keep your cat separated from your dog until you have a plan. Your veterinarian may refer you to a board certified veterinary behaviorist (www.dacvb.org).
Give your cat a safe place
Give your cat a safe place where he can escape the new dog. This could be a room with a baby gate at the doorway (make sure that your dog can’t get over or under), a cat tree with a protected space at the top or a room with a cat door installed. A couple of safe places enable your cat to get away from your dog without running very far. Once cats run, dogs chase. Then, it’s game on! It is very important to prevent this at all costs.
Give your dog some skills
In order to help your cat feel safe, your dog has to be under good control. She will need basic tools such as leave it, sit, and stay. If you are unsure of how your dog will behave with cat, keep the dog on a leash at all times when the cat is loose in the house and you are home. Separate them when you cannot monitor them. This will also help your cat to gain confidence. When your dog sees the cat, ask him to sit or send him to his bed and reward him for calm behavior.
Keep your dog busy.
If the only thing your dog has to do is chase your cat, chasing your cat is going to be his favorite pastime. Keep your dog very well exercised and busy by using food toys, and rotating his toys so that he is constantly occupied. You can even reserve these fun activities for times when your cat is loose in the house.