This post is sponsored by Hill’s. I am being compensated for helping spread the word about Hill’s® Food, Shelter, & Love® Program, but Bling, Bitches & Blood Blog only shares information we feel is relevant to our readers. Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc. is not responsible for the content of this article.
This past weekend I was the Emcee at a pet expo in Dallas and was thrilled to offer advice to hundreds of pet lovers. There were dozens pet dogs in attendance as well as animal shelter adoption events featuring kittens, cats and dogs, with lots of dog rescue groups. I was pleasantly surprised that so many “dog” folks asked cat questions, because the truth is, LOTS of dog folks love cats, too, but aren’t sure how to make the combination work.
The Hill’s Food, Shelter & Love® program has provided over $240 million worth of food to nearly 1,000 shelters, 365 days a year helping over 8 million pets find a new home…and counting. The program is designed to encourage loving individuals to support their local shelters by caring for and spending time with or even fostering local shelter pets. Mom-cats especially need a foster family for a quiet place to raise kittens until old enough for adoption.
Here’s where you come in. Foster a cat. Volunteer to help. And adopt a needy kitty–even if, or ESPECIALLY if you already love a dog. Here’s how!
CATS & DOGS MATCHMAKING TIPS
Easy-going dog breeds that don’t view smaller critters as LUNCH! make the best doggy friends for cats. 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.
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 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.
- Sequester the new kitty in a single room with all the necessary kitty accoutrements. Choose a room with a door that shuts completely such as second bedroom. Isolating the new cat tells your dog that only a small portion of the house has been invaded, not all the territory. It also gives your cat a safe retreat and place to cheek-rub and “claim” her territory. Cats will NOT be eager to meet new pets until they feel safe and comfy in their surroundings so give the cat a chance to find all the hiding spots, resting areas and safe perches 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, especially if the canine “play-bows” at the door or the pair play patty-cake-paws under the door. Magic whined…he wanted to meet the cat NOW NOW NOW!
- After the kitty has been in the room alone for a few days, and any hisses or growls have faded, bring out something the new cat has scented, such as a plate of food where she just ate, and allow your dog smell it. THAT’LL bring on the wags! At my house, Magic gets to clean up the cat food bowls, but cat and kitten food has more protein and calories than dog food so too much could pack on the pudge. We have to be careful because Karma whats to eat Magic’s food, too.
- Cats and dogs have very different nutritional needs and should eat only food that’s formulated for their specific needs. One lick here and there probably won’t hurt, though. (At least, that’s what Magic and Karma say!). The stress of introductions may cause some upset tummies or skin/coat issues, too. Hill’s® Science Diet® Adult Sensitive Stomach & Skin can help.
- Once the hissing fades and the paw pats increase, allow your new cat to wander around the rest of the house while Rex stays outside in the yard. Don’t force anything, simply open the isolation room door and let Sheba explore and “map” the location of all the good hiding places and high perches to feel safe.
- While Sheba explores one of the other rooms, let your dog check out the “safe room” to become more familiar with the new cat’s smells. Just be sure the litter box is out of dog sniffing/munching range (yuck!). Putting the kitty potty on a countertop may work well.
- Next, install a baby gate in the isolation room so the pair can meet at their own speed, but through the safety of the barrier. We still have baby gates for the kitchen that allows the tiny 5-pound Seren-Kitty to come and go but keeps Magic and Karma inside (or outside) as needed.
- Once Sheba feels comfortable navigating your house, and meetings through the baby gate has gone well, 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.
- 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.
- If the pets aren’t interested in food, engage them in play. Whoever your dog feels closest to should interact with the cat, so Rex sees that YOU accept the kitty and will be more willing to follow his beloved owner’s example.
- Ensure feline perches are out of dog-sniffing range but within Sheba’s reach. This was very important for Seren-Kitty, and she still prefers second-story territory when Magic is around. Interrupt sniffing every now and then by calling the dog away or guiding him with the leash. Keep these initial meetings short—about five to ten minutes—so you don’t wear out the pets.
- If they start to play, great! Allow play for a few minutes, and then break up the games and end the session on a good note so they want more of each other. Please be aware–unlike dogs, cats play SILENTLY, so if your cat starts to vocalize during interaction with the dog, the kitty isn’t happy. Separate them and try again later.
- Continue to segregate the cat 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.
Nine years ago we introduced Magic-the-Puppy to Seren, it took her six months to feel comfortable enough to tell him off. Seren spent most of her time in my office on the second floor, and only came downstairs when the puppy slept. The only reason she lets Magic get close today is that at age 18 she can’t run away too well, so she resorts to hissing. Magic lets her bully him because from the very beginning he was taught that Seren was the boss.
But every cat and dog is different. 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! Today the pair play chase and get each other into trouble and old-lady-Seren-Kitty stares with disdain from afar and kvetches.
So what are you waiting for? A shelter cat needs you–and your dog wants a kitty friend of his very own. Take it from Magical-Dawg, a cat can be a dog’s best pal.
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