Introducing dogs and cats
Although dogs and cats are often portrayed as enemies, if introduced carefully, they can actually get on extremely well. If either pet or both have lived with the other in a previous home, then the introduction process is likely to be easier. However it is still a good idea to take things slowly by following this advice – a gentle introduction is far safer than a rushed one, and will hopefully result in both pets becoming good friends.
Whether you are introducing a new cat to your resident dog or vice versa, you will need to provide a safe area for the cat that your dog will not be able to access. If you are taking on a new cat, a spare room is ideal as they will need time to adjust to their new surroundings. If you are bringing in a new dog, choose an area that you know your existing cat will feel safe. Move all essentials to this area - a bed, food and water and a litter tray (even if your cat normally toilets outside). Even if your resident cat is confident, the introduction of a new dog will be unsettling at first, so safe access to resources will be necessary. Stair gates are invaluable when introducing cats and dogs, as they allow the pets to see and smell each other safely, and allow for ‘dog free areas’, which are essential until both animals see each other as one of the family. They come in various heights, so choose an appropriate one for you – some even have cat flaps built in, to allow the cat to move easily (very useful for older or arthritic cats), although these won’t be appropriate if you have a small dog that could fit through the hole. If you don’t have a stairgate set up already, introduce one as early as you can to allow the existing pet to get used to it prior to bringing the new pet home.
Installing a Feliway diffuser a few days before you bring your new pet home is a good idea, especially if the cat has not lived with dogs before or is of a nervous disposition. A Feliway diffuser emits pheromones that help cats feel safe – so this may help the cat feel more comfortable during the introduction period.
It is also important to ensure that your home has plenty of high places that a cat can easily access. Cats naturally like to rest and hide in high places, and this will be particularly important later on in the introduction process.
Extra care when introducing kittens
Kittens are far more vulnerable due their size and as they are usually more playful and active than an adult cat, they are more likely to excite a dog. If you are introducing a kitten to a dog, a stair gate won’t be practical as they will easily be able to slip through the bars, so for safety reasons the initial introduction is best carried out by placing the kitten in a dog crate. The dog crate should be large enough for a litter tray, a scratching post, bed and places to hide. Allow the kitten to get used to being in the crate prior to meeting the dog, by placing the crate in the area you have chosen away from the dog, so they get used to going in and out. Pop a blanket over one side which will help the kitten feel safe.
If your dog is already crate trained, you can use it as part of the introduction process when you cannot directly supervise your dog. If your dog isn’t used to a crate, then it’s a good idea to get them used to one in preparation.
The importance of scent
For both cats and dogs, smell is extremely important for communication. You can integrate the new pet into your home more successfully by making sure that they smell of ’home’ before being introduced. You can start this process even before you bring your new pet home by exchanging bedding between the pets if this is possible. This way, they get to know a bit about each other, even before they meet.
Once your new cat or dog is home, it is best to keep them separate at first. If you are bringing a new cat into your home, avoid the temptation to let them explore your home at first, as they will need a few days to adjust to their new surroundings. This will also give you plenty of time to carry out the important process of ‘scent swapping’. To do this, stroke each pet without washing your hands to mix scents and exchange bedding regularly. Also gather scents from the new pet’s head by gently stroking with a soft cloth and dabbing this around your home and furniture to mix with your existing pets scent. For this reason, it is useful to delay the pets from meeting for a few days or even a week. If you have bought in a new cat, let them explore the rest of the house when your dog is out of the house for a few hours.
Where this takes place will depend upon the lay out of your house, but ensure that the cat has an easy route back to their ‘safe area’. If your dog gets excited easily, then first introductions are best carried out after exercise, when your dog is likely to be calm.
One of the most important rules of introducing cats and dogs is to make sure that the dog is prevented from chasing the cat. Even if your dog does not want to hurt your cat, your cat will feel threatened and unlikely to want to be anywhere near your dog in future! Once a dog develops a habit of chasing, it can be difficult for to stop them, so it is best to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Put your dog on a lead behind a stair gate and have some tasty treats at the ready to reward them for calm and relaxed behaviour. Allow your cat to see your dog and approach if they want to. Most cats like to spend time ‘watching’ and will take their time to decide whether is safe to approach or not. It’s important that they are allowed to do this in their own time, so avoid bringing your cat closer yourself – you may get seriously scratched or bitten if they panic.
Your dog is likely to show some interest at this stage and what they do will depend on the individual. If they become overly excited and begin to bark, then you may need to use some food to distract them at first or move them further away. Looking at the cat for short periods is absolutely fine, but if they stare for too long, use food to interrupt. Don’t forget to praise and treat your dog for behaving well. If you are introducing a kitten in a crate, make sure that there is plenty of distance between them and take not to overwhelm either pet. Remember that the kitten won’t have as many escape options available, so take care not to overwhelm them by keeping your dog at a distance at first.
Keep these initial interactions short at first and try to end on a positive note.
If either your cat or dog appears frightened, go back a few steps and keep them apart for a while longer. Continue scent swapping regularly and try again the next day. If you keep these controlled, short meetings up regularly you should see an increase in the cats confidence and a reduction in the dog’s excitement as they become more familiar with each other, but if you don’t and are concerned about either pet’s safety, then it’s important to seek professional help. The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors or the Animal Behaviour and Training Council will help you to find a reputable behaviourist or trainer local to you. If your cat or dog was rehomed from the Blue Cross, then please contact the centre you rehomed your pet from and we will do our best to help you.
Maintaining good relations
As things progress in the right direction, you can allow the cat and dog to interact more freely, but until you are sure they have become good friends, keep your dog on a ‘houseline’ to prevent any chasing. This is a lightweight lead without a handle, designed to trail behind your dog without your dog really noticing, yet allowing you to take control should you need to (eg if you think your dog may be getting too excitable, you can step on the line or pick it up). Breeds that like to chase, such as terriers or greyhounds, may need to be kept well under control until they have learned that the cat is not to be chased. Take extra care with young energetic dogs who are easily excited - you may need to work hard to keep things calm and be aware that a sudden dash from the cat might trigger a chase.
If all goes well and both pets are comfortable with each other, you can progress to removing the houseline, but make sure you are there to manage the situation carefully and ensure there are high places that your cat can use to feel safe. Never leave the dog and cat together unattended until you are happy that they are safe together.
Cat food is hugely tempting for any dog, so keep it well out of the way. Likewise a litter tray can be pretty tempting too, and should be kept out of your dog’s reach. Cats need to toilet in private and if your dog is able to access the litter tray easily or pester your cat while toileting, your cat is likely to become distressed and may even resort to toileting elsewhere in the house.
Remember that all pets are very different and you’ll have to work at the pace that they are comfortable with. Some introductions will progress quickly without a hitch, but others may take several months. It’s important not to rush things – take things slowly and carefully, and this will hopefully result in your cat and dog living together peacefully or even becoming the best of friends.