Welcome to “Ask the Pet Experts,” where you can find helpful pet advice from HSMO’s Behavior Manager, Linda Campbell (CPDT-KA, RVT, VTS). Need advice? Click here to submit your question!
What’s the number one tip for introducing a new cat into a home with a dog?
When bringing home a new pet, the most important thing is giving everyone their space. Although you may want to immediately allow the animals to meet each other, avoid the temptation. It is important to avoid initial interactions between either pet that causes fearful or aggressive behavior. If these behaviors are allowed to become a habit, they can be difficult to change. Instead, introduce your pets to each other so gradually that neither animal becomes upset.
Ensure your dog has some basic obedience skills (such as sit or down and stay) and practice regularly before attempting any meetings. This will help keep you in control of the situation.
The first step is to isolate your new cat in a room all his own with a litterbox, food, and water. Keep the cat and dog apart for seven to ten days. Allow your dog to sniff around the door, but do not permit scratching, digging, or barking at door.
Feed each animal near the door to the room (but not so close the either one is upset or will not eat). Over the next few days move the bowls closer to the door until both animals are calmly eating directly on either side of the door.
At the same time, allow both animals to safely become accustomed to each other’s scent by rubbing a towel on the cat and placing it underneath the dog’s food dish. Repeat with the dog. Wait until the cat is relaxed, eating well, and comfortable before the next step.
Step By Step
The next step is to allow the cat an opportunity to explore the house while placing the dog in the cat’s room. This not only helps with scent recognition, it allows the cat time to explore the new environment without fear.
After several times you can now begin the face-to-face meetings. Remember, if either animal becomes fearful or threatening, you are moving too quickly. Move back to the initial introduction process.
Start with the dog and one person on one side of the room where they can see the door to the room where the cat is. Your dog should be on-leash and in a sit or down stay position. Have lots of very tasty treats to reward the good behavior. Have someone else enter the room and sit down next to the cat. The person should have lots of special tasty treats (tuna, canned cat food, etc.) to offer the cat. Avoid physically restraining the cat.
Allow both animals to see each other while offering great treats to help make the process positive. These visits should be very short, but can be done several times a day. Do not allow either animal to become agitated or stressed.
Getting to Know You
Once the animals are accustomed to seeing each other, allow the cat loose to check things out. Make certain your dog is on leash in a sit or down position while feeding you continue feeding him treats for good behavior. A key to success in for the dog to learn the cat predicts great things. Never punish the dog for his behavior. This can result in the dog redirecting his frustration toward the cat.
Over the next few weeks it may help to keep the dog on leash so you can interrupt any unwanted behavior. Continue to offer treats to encourage good behavior. Additionally, provide the cat with an “escape route” and a place to hide in case of an emergency. Keep your cat and dog separated until you are certain there is no risk or aggression.
If at any time you observe fearful or threatening behavior from either animal, things are moving too fast. Separate them and move back a step.
Although they may never become best buddies, with patience and consistency, they should learn to tolerate each other and coexist peacefully.