Introducing a Dog into a Cat Household

Puppies and kittens that are raised together often will grow up as friends, not knowing that they’re not supposed to get along. Many times, however, you may want or need to add a dog to a household with cats, or vice-versa.

A general rule for the easiest integration is that the new animal should be younger and of the opposite sex, even between dogs and cats. It may be easier to bring in a puppy to a cat household, as the puppy won’t be as big or as threatening as a dog, and may not think of a cat as something to chase. On the other hand, an active, playful puppy may be more annoying or frightening to an adult cat than would be an adult dog that behaved calmly around cats. Shelters and rescue groups usually can tell you if a dog or cat is comfortable with the other species.

Also know that certain breeds of dogs are less likely to be safe around cats. This includes terriers and sight hounds (due to a stronger prey drive), and herding breeds (who may nip at the cats’ heels, trying to herd them). Many breed rescue groups will test whether these dogs are “cat safe,” but think carefully and go slowly with the introductions. Generally safe are hounds (such as beagles and bassets – who readily will accept the cat as a member of the “pack”) and bird dogs or retrievers (bred to have a “soft mouth” and not to hurt anything). The same tendencies apply to mixed breeds with these ancestries. Of course, each animal is an individual and may behave differently.

General Steps

* Make sure that the new animal will not be exposing the resident to fleas, worms, or other parasites. Get a vet check-up for the new animal before it is introduced to the resident animals.

* The cat’s first reaction is likely going to be to hiss and/or to run. This is normal.

* If your dog is not obedience-trained, start immediately. Particularly important are the commands “sit,” “stay,” and “leave it.”

* Supervise all interactions, keeping the dog on a leash, until you are certain that he is cat-safe. If the dog starts to chase the cat or is at all aggressive, give a quick jerk on the leash, and use the “sit” or “leave it” commands. Praise the dog (or give a treat) the instant he complies and stops trying to get to the cat.

* If you feel that the dog is behaving well after about an hour, let go of the leash, but be prepared to grab it or step on it if he starts after the cat.

* If the cat swats the dog on the nose, distract the dog with a toy; don’t punish the cat. Sometimes one swat is all it takes to establish the rules.

* Speak in a calm and soothing voice, using both animals’ names.

* Don’t punish either animal if there are accidents or spraying in the house. Simply clean it up, using an enzymatic cleanser, without comment.

* Create a safe place for the cat that the dog absolutely cannot access. For a small dog or puppy, this may mean a using baby gate, or it may be a cat door to a room. If you are adding a dog to a cat household, do this in advance, so that the cat has time to adjust to the new arrangements before having to adjust to the dog. Ideally, the cat will have an escape location in every room, even if it is just the top of a bookcase.

* It’s a good idea to put the cat’s litter box and food and water dishes in the safe area. Many dogs will eat cat feces, and if the dog ambushes the cat in the litter box, the cat may become afraid to use the box and go elsewhere. Also, cat food is too rich for dogs, and dog food lacks nutrients that are essential for cats’ eyesight and heart function, so each must have his own food.

* If the resident pet enjoyed a particular play time or other routine, maintain that.

The dog and cat may eventually become friends and playmates, or may simply share space peacefully. Recognizing the needs of each – and taking some extra time in the beginning – should help the process.

When It’s Time to Bring A Dog Into A Cat Household

* Make any necessary adjustments to the location of the cat’s food, water, and litter box in advance.

* If possible, give the dog some exercise (a walk) before bringing him in the house. This will calm him, and reduce the chance of accidents.

* Put the cats in a safe place, and let the dog roam the house for 30-45 minutes. Then put the dog in his crate or take him for a long walk, and let the cats out, to “meet” the dog first by smell. (If it is a puppy, you will probably have a place to confine him when you are out; have someone take him there while the cats explore.)

* If the dog is – or will be – crate-trained, let the cat approach the dog in the crate – don’t force this introduction or put the cat next to the crate. (Don’t force the cat to do anything.) You also can crate the dog if he starts to chase the cats; if you do this immediately, the dog will learn quickly. Don’t underestimate the value of crate-training, for a variety of reasons. (Also, dogs like to have a den of their own.)

* Consider attaching the dog’s leash to your belt for the first few days. This will ensure that the dog cannot chase the cats; will enable a quick correction if he starts to do so; will establish you as the “alpha dog,” as the dog must follow you everywhere; and is also a good way of bonding with the dog.

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