by Jenny Mee // August 2018
Is it possible to introduce a cat to a household with an existing dog(s) without upsetting your other furry companion(s)?
With careful planning and management in the early stages, it can be done! Obviously, it depends on the individuals – some dogs just don’t get along with cats without a little help, just as some cats can be a little worried by dogs. It also depends a lot on prior experiences – has your dog ever chased a cat, been scratched by one or made friends with one? These things can all have a big bearing on how well they are likely to take to a cat. Just as the cat’s reaction to dogs is equally important – if they are a naturally nervous, flighty type of cat, it may not be the best mix! As a general rule, it is easier to introduce younger animals as there is less prior experience and learning to work against, but it really does depend on the animals as individuals – so think carefully before adding a new four-legged family member, and follow these simple few pointers.
Teddy and Bolt snuggling
We recently welcomed a new kitten called Rocky, to an already busy household of three dogs, two kids, another cat and various other pets! Our three dogs have a good relationship with our existing cat, and my mastiff Teddy was particularly attached to our old cat Bolt, who we sadly lost recently.
So they are used to adult cats who are confident around dogs and won’t run away from them (my two spaniels would just think that was a great game!) But they have had very little interaction with kittens before, so I was concerned about introducing them without terrifying Rocky and teaching the dogs that they need to be extra careful and gentle around their new potential BFF!
Remember that both dogs and cats could potentially frighten or injure each other, even unintentionally, if they feel threatened so take it slow and in the first few weeks think safety first. Don’t be in too much of a rush to cement their friendship. These things take time, and for the first few days, your cat or kitten will be busy acclimatizing to the change in environment. Keep early interactions short and sweet, perhaps allowing them to see each other for the first time through a gate so that physical contact is minimised. To begin with have your dog on a lead (and for multiple dogs introduce one at a time), ensuring the cat can move away and escape if they feel worried. It also helps you to keep closer control over your dog – always remembering to reward and praise calm quiet behaviour. For the first few days we kept the dogs separate from Rocky, but once he had come out of his shell we started to let the dogs in for some very controlled “hello’s”.
Let their noses lead the way
Dogs and cats get to know each other through scent, so in the early days allow each other access to the other’s smell! I allowed the dogs to smell Rocky, first of all on me and then later by putting a blanket from his bed near the dogs. Likewise, when the dogs were outside I allowed Rocky into the kitchen to have a sniff around (and a sneaky sit!) on Teddy’s huge bed!
Rocky chills out on Teddy’s bed
Give me space!
Make sure both pets have space to retreat from each other somewhere quiet and snuggly, allowing you to keep first interactions short and sweet. This could be a separate room or behind a barrier or baby gate. But it is essential they both feel they can escape – whether just from too boisterous play or from a potentially worrying interaction – and can eat/sleep/toilet without disturbance! And remember to ensure the cat’s food and litter tray are not accessible to the dog, as most dogs have a good appetite when it comes to both of these! Cats like to be able to escape up high, so having a stairgate on the bottom of the stairs (to stop the dog from following them) or just a few high shelves or stations to get to, can really help build confidence.
To encourage calm behaviour around each other, use distractions if needed! If your dog enjoys a kong or bone and doesn’t get upset with people or other animals around while they have it, consider using something like this to distract them while the cat has a mooch around. This can help them both get used to each other, without the dog being too inquisitive and overbearing. Ensure you are supervising at all times though, particularly if your cat is getting quite brave!
And don’t underestimate the value in brushing up on some basic training! Here is Teddy practicing his down-stay and some leave work (with food) while Rocky sits up out of the way just observing. Training sessions (on lead if necessary) while the cat is about are a great distraction and also brilliant for self-control, whilst the dog and cat get used to sharing the same environment.
Just remember that these things take time and all dogs (and cats) are individuals. Some will become best buddies, others will just learn to tolerate or ignore each other. Sometimes this will take a couple of weeks, other times it may take a few months. There is no textbook answer on how these things should go, so just take your time, praise both pets for calm behaviour and ensure lots of space away from each other for when they get tired and need a sleep in peace!