Welcoming a new pet into your home and family is a joyful time. But if you already have pets, introducing a new arrival can be tricky, especially if they are of different species. Dogs and cats have long been depicted as fierce adversaries, yet a recent article published in Forbes noted that 29% of American households have both a dog and cat living together.
So how can you be sure that introducing a new cat to your dog will go smoothly? And what can you do to help your pets live in harmony? Here are some tips to get you on the path to success!
Dogs and cats can live together successfully and even become close friends, but getting there requires some preparation and a good measure of patience. Here are some steps to consider before bringing a new pet into your home:
- Select a room where your cat can comfortably spend its first few days. Ideally, it should be a room that your dog doesn’t need or use for routines like eating or sleeping–a place where your cat can be isolated and feel safe. The goal is to reduce the flow of potentially overwhelming visual, auditory, and scent stimuli that your cat is attempting to process.
- Prepare the space with comfortable bedding, food, and water. Provide a litter pan in an area away from your cat’s food. Some cat toys are fine, too–they’ll help distract your cat and reduce its anxiety.
- Block the doorway with a child gate to prevent direct contact between your cat and dog. This is to allow a slow, measured introduction while assuring the safety of both animals. Check that your cat cannot slip through the bars.
- Check for escape routes. Cats are adept at fitting into narrow spaces to get where they’re going. Be sure there are no nooks or crannies your cat could use to get outside or into the rest of your home.
Now that you’ve created a safe, low-stimulus place for your pets to meet, you’re ready to begin the formal introductions.
The First Meeting
When two pets meet for the first time, the results are not easily predictable. That’s why it’s best to proceed slowly and to exercise patience. Remember that this is a new experience for each animal. It’s normal for a dog to be wary of a new arrival. You may notice the hackles rise on its back. Your dog may snarl, growl, or bark. Similarly, your cat may hiss, arch its back, and puff up its tail. These are normal fear responses, and as long as the animals are separated, present no danger.
However, profound fear or aggression should be avoided. One way to do this is to let your pets meet through a closed door rather than a gate. This way they can smell each other, but can’t see or access each other. Try giving each animal treats at this time. This will help both your cat and dog associate the other with something pleasant. Over time, their fear and aggression should subside.
In most cases, meeting through a child gate is sufficient. If you feel that your dog is difficult to manage because of its size or behavior, you may leash or harness your pet during the introduction.
If the animals are calm, they’ll likely be curious about each other. They’ll gather a lot of information through smell, so avoiding direct contact doesn’t diminish the experience. Let each animal approach the gate. Be gentle and soothing in the way you address your pets. Sharp commands and sudden movements are discouraged, as they increase stimuli and may increase your animals’ anxiety. If your dog seems to be aggressive, move it away to another area of the house and try again later.
After the Introduction
As time passes, your pets are likely to become less anxious around each other. When you feel it’s safe, you may want to let your cat explore the house while your dog is not present. This will give the cat a chance to explore without feeling threatened. Hopefully it will also be the first step in letting your cat know what “home” feels like.
If the introductions have gone well, you may now begin to allow limited, supervised contact between your pets. Let your pets share a space with you. Reward your dog for heeding your commands. Remember to bring some cat treats too. Shared treat time can also help both your cat and dog develop a positive bond.
Problem Behaviors to Watch
Not every pet introduction is a success right out of the box. If you continue to see signs of aggression in your dog (growling, bearing teeth, or straining to get at the cat), you may want to seek the assistance of an animal behaviorist. Modifying problem behaviors can help your pets learn to get along, even if they’re not best friends.
Similarly, if you notice that your cat is showing a loss of appetite, toileting outside the pan, or overgrooming, these are signs that your cat is stressed. A stressed animal is more likely to have health problems and to display unwanted behaviors. Again, an animal behaviorist can help resolve persistent problem behaviors. And your vet can recommend medication to help your cat cope with stress.
As animal lovers, we understand how important your pets are to you. We hope the above tips are useful in managing your new pet’s introduction. Remember that your animals trust you to create a safe place for them to live, eat, sleep, and play. The investment of love and patience now will yield a lifetime of joy.
If you have questions about your pet’s behavior or health, contact your veterinarian. They’ll have the skills and resources to address your needs and can recommend a reputable pet behavioral therapist in your area.