Do you know how to introduce dogs to cats? Or how to choose the right pet for your existing pet home? This past week’s behavior consults included a family with two cats wanting to introduce a young German Shepherd to their life. The couple has had lots of dog and cat experience but wanted specific tips to smooth the transition and keep their kitties happy and safe.
I applaud anyone willing to take these steps! It reminded me of years ago, when we introduced our eight-week-old eleven-pound Magical-Dawg to nine-year-old seven-pound Seren-Kitty. Every pet home has a different dynamic, and even previously dog-friendly cats may not take kindly to a new (scary-smelling-acting) stranger pooch. Here are some considerations when choosing a new furry love to join your existing pet family.
CATS & DOGS MATCHMAKING TIPS
Easy-going dog breeds that don’t view smaller critters as LUNCH! make the best doggy friends for cats. You can also predict some behaviors with puppy temperament tests.
A dog already socialized to a cat is best. Learn more about puppy development and socialization in this post. Adult cats that have already lived with and been socialized to dogs also help speed up the introduction process. Kittens that are clueless may be more accepting of a new dog friend, especially if they’ve seen Mom-Cat be friendly with those weird-smelling bark machines. Learn more about kitten development here, and also choosing kittens in this post.
Be aware that dogs’ and cats’ body language can mean contradictory things, so YOU need to interpret for them. Wagging dog tails invite you closer, but wagging cat tails warn you away. Just be sure your dog doesn’t get a face full of claws for being too nosy–that’s a terrible way to start a relationship.
Both pets need to be healthy. Cats need preventive care just like dogs do, and kitties that feel under the weather from illness or being spayed/neutered need time to recover before meeting the dog.
Savvy dog folks know that dog-to-dog intros work best on neutral territory–that’s outside your home, perhaps at a park. But cat intros for safety reasons need to happen INSIDE the house, so there are some clear differences in setting up the steps. You’ll find lots more details and how-to help for dealing with cat-dog challenges in my ComPETability(Cats-Dogs) book, but here are tips for getting started to build your very own peaceable kingdom between cats and dogs.
Read for more details about introducing cats to cats, refer to this post.
- Sequester the new pet in a single room with all the necessary accouterments (bed, litter box, chew toys, etc). Choose a room with a door that shuts completely, such as a second bedroom. Isolating the new pet tells your resident pets that only a small portion of the house has been invaded, not all the territory. Isolate the new pet in this one room for at least a week.
- Expect cats to posture or hiss and dogs to sniff, whine, growl or bark on each side of the closed door. Feel encouraged once the barking and hissing fade, the canine “play-bows” at the door, or the pair play patty-cake-paws under the door.
- After the new pet has been in the room alone for a few days, and any hisses or growls have faded, bring out something the new pet has scented. Choose something like a plate of food where she just ate. Allow your dog to smell it. THAT’LL bring on the wags!
- Next, allow your new pet to explore the rest of the house while the resident dog stays outside in the yard. Alternately, have the resident cats wait in the vacated doggy isolation room to become more familiar with his strange smells, while the new dog sniffs around the rest of the house.
- Install a baby gate in the isolation room so the pair can meet at their own speed but through the safety of the barrier.
- Once the new pet feels comfortable navigating your house and meeting the other pet through the baby gate, prepare for whisker-to-whisker meetings. Avoid fanfare. Put the dog on a leash and then open the baby gate and watch what happens. Keep the pets away from halls, doorways or other closely confined spaces during initial meetings. An open room with lots of space reduces tension and gives the cat places to escape and you more control. The leash controls doggy lunges just in case.
- Feed both pets during this initial meeting, on opposite ends of a room to distract them and also help them associate FOOD with each others’ presence. Peanut butter treats work well for dogs, and a stinky canned cat food for cats. Make these treats only available when the other animal is nearby to associate each other with good stuff.
- Alternatively, engage them in play. Whoever your dog feels closest to should interact with the cat, so Rex sees YOU accept the kitty and will be more willing to follow his beloved owner’s example. Please be aware–unlike dogs, cats play SILENTLY, so if your cat vocalizes during interaction with the dog, the kitty isn’t happy. Separate them and try again later.
- Continue to segregate the new pet in her safe room whenever you cannot directly supervise the pair. Most cats can jump over or can squeeze through the baby gate and regulate interactions. Continue to offer more planned meetings for another week, monitoring the dog until he can control himself and respects the cat even when off-leash.
REALISTIC GOALS FOR CAT AND DOG INTRODUCTIONS
Some pets become fast friends very quickly. Others dislike each other and always require supervision. Usually, pets learn to tolerate each other, especially if you’ve followed the match-making tips previously mentioned.
We began introductions six months before Magic even arrived, We installed a dog crate and pet gates in the kitchen, and moved the litter box to a safe place. After the puppy arrived, we took it slow. It took Seren three months to come downstairs when Magic was awake in the kitchen, but she finally got curious and peeked under the blanket that covered the baby gate. It took her another three months to feel comfortable enough to tell him off.
Seren never cared for Magic. She finally learned to tolerate him, mostly because we made sure the dog knew the CAT ruled and could do no wrong. As she got older, and couldn’t run as fast, she allowed him closer and he always respected her hisses to back off.
MAGIC ADOPTS A CAT
When Karma came home, it was love at first sight between the kitten and German Shepherd. Magic finally had a cat that would (SWOON!) let him sniff kitty tail! The introduction that took six-nine months with Magic and Seren only lasted three days between these best friends. Karma-Kat had already met dogs in his previous life, and loved them.
After Magic left this world, we adopted Bravo-Dawg as much to satisfy Karma’s yearning for a dog friend as our own. He looked very different, and introductions took about two weeks before Karma decided to adopt Bravo-Dawg as his new best friend. Because of the great size difference (Bravo 120 pounds, and Karma 12 pounds), we supervised constantly.
INTRODUCING CATS TO DOGS
Then Shadow-Pup arrived, and we needed to introduce him to both Bravo and to Karma. The puppy clearly had been around other dogs and gave Bravo all the right puppy-subordinate signals. They became friends within the week–still supervised, again because of the size difference, and Bravo’s potential pain issues from his cancer.
Shadow had the benefit of watching Bravo’s behavior with Karma, and the cat knew exactly how to handle the pup. Today the pair play chase, “bitey-face” wrestling games, and adore each other. We’re fortunate but I don’t take it for granted and we constantly monitor and reinforce good behavior. Read more about Bravo, Shadow, and Karma intros in this fun post with pictures.
So what are you waiting for? Maybe another pet needs you–and your dog wants a kitty friend of his very own, or your cat would love to have a dog to snuggle (or tell off!). Take it from Magic, Bravo, Shadow, and Karma–as long as you introduce them right, a cat and dog can be best friends.
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