Despite what some believe, some cats and dogs really can get along very well. In fact, sometimes they can become the best of friends. However, if your kitty has never been around dogs before or if your dog has never been around cats before or if your dog is a terrier, retriever or breed known for their hunting skills, caution is encouraged and introductions should be taken slowly.
Dogs can kill a cat very easily, even if they’re only playing. All it takes is one shake and the cat’s neck can break. Some dogs have such a high prey drive they should never be left alone with a cat. Dogs usually want to chase and play with cats, and cats usually become afraid and defensive. Use the following techniques to begin introducing your new kitty to your resident dog.
- If your dog doesn’t already know the commands “sit,” “down,” “come,” and “stay,” you should begin working on them. Small pieces of food will increase your dog’s motivation to perform, which will be necessary in the presence of such a strong distraction as a new cat. Even if your dog already knows these commands, work with obeying commands in return for a tidbit.
- Many of the techniques described for introducing cats to one another can also be applied when introducing a dog and a cat – including eating on opposite sides of the ISO room door. After your new kitty and resident dog have become comfortable eating on opposite sides of the door, and have been exposed to each other’s scents as described in the previous section on cat introductions, you can attempt a face-to-face introduction in a controlled manner.
- Put your dog’s leash on, and using treats, have him either sit or lie down and stay. Have another family member or friend enter the room and quietly sit down next to the cat, but don’t have them physically restrain her. Have this person offer your cat some special pieces of food or catnip. At first, the cat and the dog should be on opposite sides of the room. Lots of short visits are better than a few long visits. Don’t drag out the visit so long that the dog becomes uncontrollable. Repeat this step several times until both the cat and dog are tolerating each other’s presence without fear, aggression or other undesirable behavior.
- Allow your cat freedom to explore your dog at her own pace, with the dog still on-leash and in a “down-stay.” Meanwhile, keep giving your dog treats and praise for his calm behavior. If your dog gets up from his “stay” position, he should be repositioned with a treat lure, and praised and rewarded for obeying the “stay” command. If your cat runs away or becomes aggressive, you’re progressing too fast. Go back to the previous introduction steps.
- Although your dog must be taught that chasing or being rough with your cat is unacceptable behavior, he must also be taught how to behave appropriately, and be rewarded for doing so, such as sitting, coming when called, or lying down in return for a treat. If your dog is always punished when your cat is around, and never has “good things” happen in the cat’s presence, your dog may redirect aggression toward the cat.
- You may want to keep your dog on-leash and with you whenever your cat is free in the house during the introduction process. Be sure that your cat has an escape route and a place to hide. Keep your dog and kitty separated when you aren’t home until you’re certain the cat will be safe.
- Dogs like to eat cat food. You should keep the cat food out of your dog’s reach (in a closet or on a high shelf). Eating cat feces is also a relatively common behavior in dogs. Although there are no health hazards to your dog (other than possibly contracting tapeworms, giardia or coccidia if your new cat has not been dewormed), it’s most assuredly distasteful to you. It’s also upsetting to your cat to have such an important object “invaded.” Unfortunately, attempts to keep your dog out of the litter box by “booby trapping” it will also keep your cat away. Punishment after the fact will not change your dog’s behavior. The best solution is to place the litter box where your dog can’t access it, behind a baby gate, in a closet with the door anchored open from both sides and just wide enough for your cat, or inside a tall, topless cardboard box with easy access for your cat. Some guardians actually buy large, high sided storage boxes to use as litter boxes and to keep poop-eating dogs out. Cats can jump in and out of these boxes with ease, but your dog will be prevented from doing similar and worse.
- Because they’re so much smaller, kittens are in more danger of being injured or killed by a young energetic dog or by a predatory dog. A kitten will need to be kept separate from an especially energetic dog until she is fully grown, and even then she should never be left alone with the dog. Usually, a well-socialized cat will be able to keep a puppy in its place, but some cats don’t have enough confidence to do this. If you have an especially shy cat, you might need to keep her separated from your puppy until he matures enough to have more self-control.