Adding a cat or a dog to a home where there is an existing dog or cat can pose a challenge, but it is not impossible. They may or may not become fast friends, but with the right introductions, they can learn to share the same house.
Remember that certain dog breeds have a higher prey drive than others and need to be monitored closely when introducing a cat to a dog, or vice versa.
Be sure to have the dog on a leash whenever the cat is nearby and during the initial period of adjustment.
Make sure to never encroach on a cat’s area or safe spot, as this can create a feeling of them being trapped, which can increase their fear, anxiety and stress.
Do not allow the dog to walk directly up to the cat, as this can be extremely terrifying for the cat and could pose a safety risk.
Make the introduction in a neutral area in the home with two people; one to reward the dog and one to reward the cat.
We want to create as positive an interaction as possible between the two. Treats in hand will help distract the dog from getting too excited and will help redirect their focus away from the cat.
Never leave the cat and dog unattended together, as this can pose a high safety risk.
To help ease the transition for the cat in the home, using a pheromone-based plug in and/or spray, such as Feliway (CEVA), can help to reduce stress-induced behaviours by sending calming signals to the cats. You can use both at the same time and they will not affect each other.
For the dog in the home you can use Adaptil (CEVA), which uses pheromones as “comforting messages” to help dogs feel calm, confident and reassure them in challenging situations.
Both pheromone-based products can be helpful during the initial stages of bringing a new pet home and can help them adjust to their new environment. Both products can be used at the same time without affecting each other.
Always ask your veterinarian before introducing any new product to your pet.
Step 1: Scent and exploration.
Take the dog for a long walk before any introductions to release some energy and increase focus before introducing animals in the home. Create a positive association with the environment before introducing the animals to each other.
Have the cat and dog separated in their own spaces with a door or a baby gate between them, if possible.
Place a scented blanket or bed belonging to the dog in the cat area and the cat’s blanket or bedding in the dog’s area so they can get used to each other’s scents.
Do not place the item near any resources that the cat needs to access (e.g. food, litter, bed area) as we don’t want to spook the cat away from those places.
Cats may take longer to adjust to the scent of a dog, so make sure to provide them adequate time to get comfortable with the scent.
Allow the dog and cat adequate time apart before moving onto Step 2 to be sure their stress levels are low when introducing them to each other.
Step 2: Observing each other in a neutral setting.
Safety for both the cat and dog is imperative. Always have the dog leashed and allow the cat to have a high perch or safe place to get away, if needed. A larger room is suggested for this meeting to keep the cat from feeling trapped.
*Note: It is best to continue the following exercise over the first few days, with brief visits to allow both animals to get used to having the other present without the situation being overwhelming to either animal.
Take the dog outside for another long walk or playtime prior to meeting the cat to reduce energy levels.
Bring the cat into the introduction room and allow it to settle before bringing the dog inside.
Be sure to have high value treats (e.g. cheese, hot dogs etc.) on you to reward positive behaviours during the meeting – this will also help you to turn the dog’s focus back on you if they are getting too excited.
Bring the dog inside on a leash and allow time to sniff around the far side of the room, opposite the cat.
There should be two people present, one handling the dog and one monitoring the cat’s behaviour.
If at any time the cat or dog is showing high amounts of stress, stop this activity and go back to Step 1.
The dog may see the cat right away and pull on the leash to get to it. If this happens, try to redirect the dog’s focus to you by distracting them with treats. Or, if needed, walk the dog back out of the room and reward them. Wait until the dog has settled down before trying again.
It is okay for the dog to be interested in the cat, but if the dog is fixated and cannot be redirected with treats or praise, the dog may have a high prey drive and extreme caution should be used.
The dog should be handled by a calm, relaxed adult and, if possible, try to have the leash slack as you let your dog explore.
Continue to have the dog sniff around the far side of the room and allow the cat to observe the dog from afar.
If the cat is staying calm and showing little to no signs of stress, slowly walk the dog into the middle of the room, closer to the cat but still keeping space between the two.
At this time, allow the dog to settle by getting them to focus on you, or gently pet the dog to help them relax. While you do this, allow the cat to freely roam the room to explore.
If the cat and dog are both staying calm, positively reward them with affection and/or treats and take the dog back outside the room.
Step 3: Monitored meet and greet.
This step should only occur when both the cat and dog have had calm periods of time observing each other from afar. Depending on multiple factors, like experience with another dog or cat, the breed of the dog and the personality of the cat, it may take days or weeks to arrive at this step.
As in Step 2, make sure the dog is exercised, leashed and calm and the cat has a hiding place and a perch available.
Bring the cat into the room and have the leashed dog walk in, as you were doing before.
Monitor both the cat and dog for stress.
If both animals are calm and relaxed, it is time to let them meet.
Slowly have the dog walk by the cat and allow them to sniff each other, watching for any signs of fear or aggression.
Try not to let the cat and dog sniff nose to nose as this can be very intimidating for the cat.
As soon as they sniff each other, reward both and continue to walk the dog away from the cat.
Allow both the dog and cat to settle apart from each other and repeat a few times.
Even if they are getting along well, keep the interactions short, as it is best to end these meet-and-greet sessions on a positive note.
Monitoring for emotional distress
It is imperative that cats are monitored for emotional distress, especially during the first days or weeks. If these signs occur during this time, allow for more space and separation from the dog. Body language signs of distress include:
Being highly reluctant to move around the room.
Flattening ears and/or body (if this occurs allow the cat to be able to get up high or to a hiding place).
An arched back, fur may be standing up and twisting their body to the side.
Urination or defecation out of the litter box.
Yowling, excessive vocalizations or hissing.
Swatting at the dog.
Monitoring your dog’s body language
Due to the fact that some dogs can have a high prey drive, it is extremely important for the safety of the cat that you closely monitor your dog’s body language during the different steps of introduction. Things to look for in your dog include:
Stiff body with a very direct stare at the cat.
Lunging towards the cat.
Over excitement, barking, jumping, whining.
Growling or trying to bite.
If these behaviours occur and redirecting the dog with treats and praise is not possible, it is suggested to keep the cat and dog separated and to contact a professional positive reinforcement-based animal trainer to assist in next steps.
Some cats and dogs can get along and thrive in a home together. However, others simply cannot do so safely. Each cat and dog have had different experiences and have personalities that can determine the success of cohabitation.
Being prepared and taking the necessary steps can greatly increase the likelihood of a successful relationship. With gradual exposure to the other, patience and a lot of positive reinforcement, a peaceful co-existence is possible.
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