|"...dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!" - Dr. Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters|
Did you know that that cats and dogs don’t have to know each other from kittenhood and puppyhood to be able to live together? It is definitely possible to successfully introduce an adult dog into a cat household, and even for the two to eventually become pals. So if you’re an animal lover with a cat already in your home, it is still possible for you to adopt or foster a dog! Here are some tips and tricks to help facilitate successful introductions.
First, set up your cat for success! Before your bring a dog into your home, you can work on the following with your cat:
- Place the litter box, cat food and water in a safe space, where the dog cannot access it.
- Create high, safe spaces in your home that your dog cannot reach. You can use tall cat trees or install fun shelving on the walls for your cat to climb. Ideally, your cat would be able to get from one end of a room to the other without having to touch the ground. This allows your cat to observe and get used to the presence of a dog without feeling like they are in danger. This also provides your kitty with much more space as well as an easy escape route if they become overwhelmed.
- Even dogs that can be great with cats will chase anything that runs away, so work on building confidence in your cat! This can be done by spending lots of time playing with your cat, in addition to providing lots of vertical space and escape routes.
Second, take your time finding the right dog that is the right fit for your family!
- Ideally, you should select a dog that has had prior experience with cats. If this is not possible, it would be wise to choose one that has tested well with cats at the shelter. Although testing well with cats at the shelter doesn’t always translate to doing well with cats in the home, it can be a helpful indicator.
- If you have a senior cat at home, it may be a good idea to look for a more mellow, lower energy dog that won’t play too rough.
- Curiosity and chasing can be worked on, but if a dog is lunging aggressively towards cats and shows strong prey drive, it probably isn’t a good dog to bring into a home with your cat.
- Rotate the animals in the house for a few days to get them used to each other's scent - keep them from seeing each other by keeping the cat in a room during the day, and allowing the dog the rest of the space. At night, keep the dog in a room, and give the cat free run of the house to explore the exciting new scents.
- It’s critical to work on very strong basic cues with your dog, such as “leave it” or “wait” and to develop a very solid recall, so that you can recall the dog if it gets too interested in the cat. Berkeley Humane offers all sorts of training classes that would be helpful, you can see a full list of classes here.
Third, make sure the first introductions takes place in a calm, controlled environment.
- During the first introduction, the dog should be leashed and under control. Its best that the introduction take place when both animals are calm, and in an area where the cat has vertical space to perch up high.
- Give your dog plenty of treats and if it gets too focused on the cat, recall its attention. Do your best to ensure that both animals get used to being relaxed in the same space together. These leashed interactions should happen for several days without incident before you allow unleashed interactions. If you are away, make sure to keep the dog in an exercise pen, crate, or separate room where it cannot be alone with the cat.
Fourth, move on to supervised unleashed interactions
- Once a week or more of leashed interactions go by with out any alarming occurrences, you are ready for supervised, unleashed interactions.
- Keep a vigilant eye out for any signs of rising tension, and continue to treat the dog and keep the interactions calm and mellow. Do not hesitate separating the two again if you feel that they are not ready for this step.
Finally, unsupervised interactions!
- After a month or more of supervised, off leash interactions go without incident, you may be able to start leaving the two alone together. Start with shorter periods of time, and work your way up. Of course, you are the best judge of your dog and cat. Keep an eye out on body language and warning signs, and don’t hesitate to start separating the two if you have any doubts.
Signs to look out for:
- Dog getting overly focused in on the cat. Break the focus by recalling and rewarding with treats. If recall doesn’t work, physically body block the cat from the dog to break focus.
- Keep an eye out on your cat’s eating, drinking, and litter box habits. If these habits are not normal or don’t go back to normal after an adjustment period, your cat may be stressed.
- Be observant of body language and watch for aggression. This can go both ways - if your cat is continually acting out against a completely calm dog, and it is being properly exercised and has plenty of safe spaces to retreat, you may not have a dog-friendly cat.
Though it may seem daunting at first, once you get started the process will feel somewhat intuitive. Introducing a dog into your feline family can be a wonderful, rewarding experience for everyone involved.