‘Doing it properly can make a difference! How to introduce a new dog to your cat’
As most cat owners know, cats can be very sensitive to change, especially if it means that they are unable to gain access to their resources, or the locations that make them feel safe. When introducing a new dog, it is therefore essential to ensure that there is minimal amount of disruption to the cat’s environment. It is also important not to assume that because either the cat or dog have lived with other pets, that they will tolerate this new family member. Time and patience is therefore often the key.
The following guidelines should help to make the introductions go as smoothly as possible:
Before the dog arrives:
• Disruption to the odours in a cat’s environment can cause a cat to become anxious and stressed. It is therefore important to gradually introduce the smell of the new dog into a couple of the rooms, ensuring that initially the core (main) areas of the cats territory are left dog free. To do this the dogs blanket, an old collar or recently used dog toy could be placed around the room and then removed. If the cat investigates these areas with little concern, the items could then be left. Associating these new smells with tasty treats or the cat’s favourite game will help to build a positive association. Always try and give this stage some time (days or if possible a week). When the dog actually arrives it may also help to keep them completely separated for the first few days/week.
• Place baby gates on doors, passageways, or at the bottom of the stairs to allow the cat to travel between its resources (food, water, sleeping areas, owners). Ensure access is maintained to any outside areas and places the cat uses if it becomes scared. If the cat is unable to go through/jump over the gate, raise the gate off the ground so that the cat can go underneath but the dog cannot follow.
When the dog first arrives:
• Choose a time that is quiet i.e. no one coming or going, or other big changes to the environment, for example, decorating.
• Place the cat into one of its favourite rooms and allow the dog to investigate the rest of the house where it will be
• For the initial introductions, place the dog on a lead and have some treats ready to reward the dog for any calm, relaxed behaviour. Do not force any interactions, but open the door to the room you placed the cat into and allow the cat to choose to approach if it wants to.
• Always have a gate between the dog and cat during the initial introductions to ensure that if the dog tried to lunge at or chase the cat, the cat can safely move away.
• Ensure that gates are used until both the cat and dog are relaxed in each other’s presence. If either are struggling, remain calm and relaxed and ensure that both have got room to move away and gain access to their resources. Any calm, relaxed behaviour by the dog or cat should be rewarded using praise or a tasty treat.
• To try and encourage the dog to learn to move away from the cat, follow any investigation (sniffing, looking at the cat) with an excitable “what’s this” and throw a few treats in the opposite direction. Just be careful that the dog doesn’t learn to go to the cat to be rewarded for coming away!
• It may be necessary to increase the number of resources available to the cat, for example, if the cat’s food is usually in the kitchen where the dog is kept, it may be necessary to put additional feeding stations upstairs, or in an area the cat feels safe, for example, up high on a work surface. It may also be necessary to create more hiding places, elevate walk ways (shelves/extra draws/units) or create escape routes. This will ensure that the cat is under minimal amount of pressure to come in to contact with the dog. If the cat is forced to run the gauntlet it is likely that they will become quite stressed.
• Alongside this it may be necessary to create new exit points for the cat to enable it to get outside, for example, an upstairs window leading onto a garage roof.
• Once the dog and cat begin to settle in each other’s presence you should find that you can start to remove the gates and allow the dog to have more access. This however needs to be monitored to ensure that the cat remains happy and relaxed.
The key to success is often time and patience. If things are rushed and the cat becomes scared of the dog, it can take a long time for the cat to ever regain its confidence.
If interactions are not forced and the cat is given choice and space, strong relationships can develop and they can live very happily together.
If you are concerned about how to introduce a new dog to your cat, or you are having problems at the moment between your dog and cat, please contact me or your nearest APBC member (www.apbc.org.uk)