Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Introducing a new dog to your cat

So you've just got a new dog and you want to introduce them to your cat. When introducing any new pets to each other, it’s much better to control the situation rather than leave the animals to sort it out for themselves.

First impressions are important and a negative start could lead to lifelong conflict. If a kitten and puppy have had plenty of positive experiences with each other then they’re more likely to get along with each other. Unfortunately this may not have been possible or, if you've adopted one or both of your pets, you may not know much about their history and so how they’ll behave when they meet.

Regardless of their past experiences, it’s really important your new dog and cat are introduced really gradually and in a controlled manner. Remember your home is your cat’s home and they should feel safe in this environment.

Puppy and grey kitten sitting together
First impressions between a dog and cat are important. Photo courtesy of nguyen hoangnam via flickr / Creative Commons
Here’s how to safely introduce your new dog and your cat:

Prepare the home

Have a good look at the existing layout of your home, exit and entry points and placement of your cat’s resources (food bowls, water bowls, beds, scratching posts etc) before the dog arrives. Consider whether any changes will need to be made to accommodate the dog, with minimum disruption to your cat.

Ensure there are plenty of high hiding places around the home so that your cat will be able to get out of reach from the dog. The top of wardrobes and shelving are ideal. You may also wish to install cat flaps to internal doors or use baby gates to allow your cat to retreat to a dog-free room.

Prepare a sleeping area for your dog away from any of your cat’s resources.

Move the cat’s food and litter trays out of reach from your dog, as unfortunately your new dog may show an interest in each the contents of both!

Swap their scents

Try to bring home bedding that your dog has been using before bringing them home and letting the cat sniff it to get used to the smell. If you’re adopting your dog, you could ask the rescue centre whether you can also bring home their bedding.

When you bring the new dog home, keep the dog and cat separated. Give your new dog a room to sniff and explore which isn’t accessible to the cat. Gently stroke a soft cloth on your dog and leave it in the cat’s environment for them to sniff. Also stroke a second cloth on your cat and allow your dog to smell it.

After a few days, dab the scent of each animal onto furniture around the home.

Allow your dog to settle for a few days and continue swapping scents in this way until both animals are showing no reaction to the smell.

If possible, also spend some time teaching your dog basic obedience commands (such as ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘down’) in preparation for meeting your cat.

Your new dog should follow basic obedience commands before meeting your cat. Photo courtesy of jeffreyw via flickr / Creative Commons

Prepare your pets for an introduction

Before allowing your dog and cat to gradually meet, ensure both are well fed as they’re more likely to be relaxed.

If possible, take your dog for a long, relaxed walk. Avoid any games of fetch and dissuade them from chasing as this will encourage their chase instinct. Don’t over-excite your dog and try to keep them very calm.

Gradually introduce them

Stage a very gradual introduction between your cat and dog by using a glass barrier between them so that they can see each other but cannot physically meet. Keep the dog on a lead and reward them with treats for good behaviour. Don’t force either animal to approach the glass but instead let them investigate in their own time and hide if they choose. Keep these sessions very short.

Progress to using a mesh barrier and repeat the exercise.

When both are showing positive signs towards each other you can try a face-to-face introduction without the barriers.

Face-to-face introductions

  • Keep your dog on a lead and have treats ready for them
  • Get your dog to sit or lay down and reward them for doing so
  • Only reward calm behaviour
  • Allow your cat to enter the room but don’t encourage your dog to look at them. Continue to reward your dog for following commands and showing calm behaviour
  • Try to keep the dog’s attention on you

Do not

  • Don't encourage your dog to look at the cat
  • Try to ignore the cat, as too much focus on them will make the dog think the cat is more important
  • Ensure the cat doesn’t feel trapped and can run away or hide if they wish to
  • If your cat runs out of the room, do not let your dog try to chase them

Keep sessions short and repeat them. When both pets seem comfortable, gradually use a looser lead so that the dog can approach the cat. If they are both relaxed, allow them to sniff each other and then calmly call your dog away, praise them and reward with a treat.

Eventually, when they no longer seem bothered with each other’s presence, you can take your dog off the lead. Make sure that your cat can escape onto high ledges or furniture if they want to.

Don’t progress too fast; it’s really important you’re cautious and all the introductions are gradual. No matter how well the meetings go, never leave your dog and cat together unattended. In some cases dogs and cats may not tolerate each other and in this situations you may need to keep them apart or in some circumstances consider rehoming one of the animals.

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