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Welcome to the Family: How to Introduce Cats and Dogs

Animals are wonderful creatures and it is always fun to have at least a couple in the house. Despite what you may think, you can teach your kitty and pooch to live harmoniously together in one household. The key to getting your feline and canine to get along has to do with the introduction. The following are tips to help train your cat and dog to get along without attacking each other

Things to consider before the introduction:

When you add a new pet to your household, there are several things to remember. Your older pet is the king or queen of the castle. Your new pet will be an intruder. You need to treat them that way for a little while. For example, if you have had your cat for awhile, then your cat will see the dog as an unwelcome guest. You should not let the new dog have the run of the household for at least a while. Give your cat and dog time to adjust to each other slowly. Keep the new pets separated in other rooms for a couple of weeks and allow the introductions to happen over a few days. Let them get used to each others new smells and all the new stuff before you start introductions.

You will have better chance of success if your dog is a puppy. A puppy who grows up with a cat is likely to see the cat as part of the pack. Puppies can meet older assertive cats (cats who stand their ground and don’t flee) very successfully.  It is more difficult to introduce a young fearless kitten to a high energy prey-driven dog.

Combinations that will definitely clash:

  • If our dog has an aggressive or predatory nature. An aggressive dog can seriously injure or kill a cat. Dogs with intense prey drive are tough to counter condition in this case, the chase instinct can be too hard-wired.
  • If your cat is a small kitten, or is declawed, handicapped, or elderly. A kitten can be injured by an overly playful dog., older, or handicapped cats are less equipped to defend themselves so they will usually bite a dog as a first line of defense since they have no other weapons. This is not good for cat or dog.
  • If your cat is very skittish and prone to fleeing. This makes they cat appear like prey and can induce the chase instinct in the dog. Remember most dogs will chase rapidly moving objects. So if a cat gets frightened and runs, a dog often feels honor-bound to chase it. It’s important to nip that in the bud. If you don’t, the result can be injury, and even death, for the cat.

Two Basic Rules

Here are the top two rules to follow when you introduce a new cat to a dog household, or add a dog when you already have a cat:

  • Make sure your cat has total freedom, and can run and hide if desired.
  • Make sure your puppy or dog is well restrained and can’t follow a fleeing cat.

The reason for these rules is simple: In any cat-dog introduction, there’s more potential danger to the cat than to the dog. If there’s going to be a problem during cat and dog introductions, it’s usually caused by the dog, says Katherine A. Houpt, VMD, PhD, James Law Professor of Behavior Medicine – Emeritus at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Preparation steps – Important!

  • Get to know your dog and cat well. Be able to interpret their body language and sense their moods.
  • Your dog should have some training, and respond to commands to come, stay, and sit. Leave-it (turn away and make eye contact with you) is also a good one to have on board and should be heavily rewarded.
  • You should also know how to blend mild discipline and positive redirection to gently influence both pets behavior.

Do not proceed with the introduction until you have completed the steps in this section.

The Introduction

  • Beforehand, exercise your dog and feed him a nice meal; put him in a relaxed mood. Put your dog on a short leash or in his crate.
  • Put your cat in her carrier if she’s a scaredy-cat by nature; otherwise let her walk around. Be armed with lots of treats for good behavior.
  • Let dog and cat check each other out at a distance. Pet and talk to your dog soothingly. It’s not time for dog to approach cat just yet. Give your dog and cat some treats and praise as rewards for calm behavior.
  • Encourage your dog to do the sit/stay or down/stay while being HEAVILY rewarded for being calm around kitty.
  • If your dog bolts toward your cat, correct him with the leash. If he shows any signs of excessive excitability, calm him. If this doesn’t do the trick, cut the visit short and try again later when the dog is calmer.
  • Repeat these short visits several times a day, gradually giving your dog more leash as appropriate.

Do not move to the next phase until you have several consecutive days of incident-free visits in which both animals demonstrate to your satisfaction that they are comfortable with each other.

Helpful Gear

To keep all the pets in your home safe during introductions, the experts recommend using this gear:

  • Cat trees or perches. Whether your cat is the newbie or the senior pet in the house, before making cat and dog introductions, be sure your cat can move freely. Make sure there are “perches or cubbies for hiding, someplace where the cat can get off the floor and settle in somewhere,” says Christopher Pachel, DVM, a Portland, Ore. veterinarian who focuses on animal behavior issues. “You basically want an elevated resting place” for the cat.
  • A dog leash. Make sure your dog is safely restrained so it’s not able to chase, even if the cat darts away. This is a bigger issue with herding breed dogs, who have a prey instinct, but it’s really a hardwired response in all dogs to chase small fluffy things running away quickly.
  • Baby gates can help you gradually introduce dogs and cats, and the barrier minimizes danger to the cat. A baby gate is often better than a cat carrier because it gives the cat much-needed freedom.

Providing hiding space and perches for your cat, and finding a way to restrain your dog — and doing these things before anything is expected of the pets — sets the stage for a calmer introduction. Just make sure the dog is comfortable, the cat is comfortable, the dog can’t chase, and the cat can get away.

The Next Phase

Once your dog and cat consistently get along during leashed visits, you’re ready for the next step. Take your dog off the leash, and supervise the two closely. If you see problems, and they don’t abate with a few simple voice commands, back up to the previous phase for a few days. Gradually make the no-leash sessions longer. Do not leave the cat and dog alone until you’re sure they’re both fully comfortable with each other and there will be no trouble. Make sure your cat has places she can jump to for safety. Make some private space in your home for each animal. Use cat doors or baby gates if practical, as well as gentle discipline and rewards to enforce the rules. Keep kitty’s litter box and food bowl out of your dog’s reach.

Now relax and give these guys some hugs.

Don’t Do This

Here are common mistakes that people make when introducing cats and dogs:

  • Just throw them together and let them work it out! Not only is this dangerous, but it sets the stage for disaster. First impressions are everything to a cat and a bad experience makes it nearly impossible to get them to want to participate again.
  • Forcing physical proximity: Picking up your cat and holding him or her in your dog’s face by way of introduction will tempt your cat to scratch the dog and encourage the dog to really not like the cat. Always let kitty decide when or if it will approach the dog.
  • Not knowing the background of the dog you adopt. Adopting a dog from a shelter is often a wonderful idea, especially if you don’t have other pets, but Houpt notes that people rarely know a shelter dog’s background. “If a 2-year-old dog is looking for a home, there’s usually a good reason,” says Houpt, who also professionally consults on animal behavior issues. In some cases the dog may be aggressive, destructive, or have other problems. If you want to bring a canine into a feline household, Houpt usually recommends getting a puppy.
  • Not preparing your pet for change: Pachel suggests making changes — like moving your cat’s litter box, putting up a baby gate, or closing certain doors — before you bring your new pet home. That way, your long-time pet has a chance to get used to the changes before the new pet shows up.
  • Not thinking about your pet’s reaction. Try to think about the changes you’re making in your home from your pet’s perspective. For example, be aware that if you move the litter box and the cat has to walk past the dog’s kennel to get to it — and the dog is barking — that’s stressful for the cat.

When it Doesn’t Work Out

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, it wasn’t meant to be. Some dogs are simply too dangerous to be around cats (occasionally the reverse is true). If your gut is telling you that this isn’t working out, respect that message. The humane thing to do in this case is  find a good cat-free home for the dog or dog-free home for the cat. In the interim, keep dog and cat separated and give them both lots of love.

Dogs and cats can usually live together peacefully, although creating a harmonious “blended family” requires some planning, patience, and careful guidance on your part. In some cases your dog and cat will become best friends. Some dogs unfortunately will be too dangerous for your cat, and one of the most important points of this article is that you need to recognize when this is the case. Like any love affair, you shouldn’t force a relationship that just isn’t working.

Excerpted from Introducing Cats and Dogs Without Re-Writing the Movie By Gary Loewenthal
and When Dog and Cat Meet By Wendy Fries