By Dr. Becker
If you’re adding a cat to your family and you already have a dog, or if you’re adding a dog to a household with one or more kitties, don’t expect pure bliss from the start.
In fact, it’s better to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Then if things go smoothly, you can exhale.
Chances are it will be the cat in your life who will need more TLC -- either because she’s coping with a strange new environment, or because there’s an interloper in her territory.
Kitties like their surroundings -- and everyone in them -- to be predictable and consistent day-to-day. It helps them feel less vulnerable and more in control of their lives. Even small changes like re-locating the litter box or moving dinner up an hour can be quite stressful on a cat.
The following are recommendations for how to safely, successfully introduce a new canine or feline family member to your current pet.
Introducing a New Dog to Your Cat
- Go slow. If you’re introducing a new dog to your cat, the last thing you want to do is fling open the door and allow the first meeting to happen on the dog’s terms. This is a good way to overwhelm and terrify your cat the first time he lays eyes on his new ‘sibling,’ and his initial fear response can become permanently imprinted.
- Instead, before you allow the new pup into the house, make sure your kitty has escape routes from every room and safe places to climb to and hide under that the dog can’t access. Make use of a few baby gates or other barriers that keep the dog from entering certain rooms or areas of your home.
- Bring the dog in on a leash and keep her restrained and unable to lunge at or get close to your cat. Once kitty realizes he’s not in imminent danger and makes the first move -- either in the direction of the dog or away from her – you can lead the dog a distance away from the cat and take off the leash. Chances are the dog will head in the direction of the cat, but kitty should be better prepared at this point to handle the advance in whatever manner his instincts tell him to.
- It’s a good idea at this point to distract your dog with a toy or a few treats, a short walk, a romp in the backyard, etc. Get her focus off the cat and onto other features of her new home and family. At no time should your dog be allowed to corner or unintentionally intimidate your cat. Many more kitties are injured by dogs than the reverse, so your first obligation is to keep your cat safe.
- Reward your dog whenever she focuses on you rather than the cat.
Introducing a New Cat to Your Dog
- If you’re introducing a new cat to the family dog, again, the first rule is to take it slow. A kitty new to your household will need double doses of care and consideration. Not only is she dealing with a strange dog and unfamiliar humans, she’s also faced with brand new, unsettling surroundings. It will take time for her to start to feel comfortable.
- Before you bring kitty home, I highly recommend you prepare a room for her that she can occupy by herself until she settles into her new life with you. Preferably it’s a quiet spot in a low traffic area – a spare bedroom might be ideal. Put her litter box in there, bedding, a few cat toys, and insure she has places to hide like under the bed or in a closet. Feed her in there as well, and make sure she has fresh water each day. Don’t close the door to the room, but do limit access with a baby gate so she can feel safe but not isolated. You might want to use a calming pheromone diffuser1 in her room.
- When you bring the new cat home in her carrier, don’t let your dog run up to it to investigate. Keep the dog at a safe distance and take the carrier directly to your kitty’s new room. Place it on the floor near the litter box, unlatch and open the door, and spend a few minutes speaking in a soft voice to her. Chances are she’ll remain in the carrier for awhile, until her urge to investigate gets the better of her.
- Cats have wildly varying temperaments. Your new girl may venture out of her carrier and even out of her room on her first day home. She may sit on her side of the baby gate and watch the dog watching her. Or she may wait until it’s dark and the house is quiet and then take a tour. At the other extreme are kitties who will at some point, when you’re not watching, bolt from the carrier under the bed or into the closet, and you might not see them much, if at all, for several days, weeks or even months.
As a general rule, it’s best to let a new kitty get acquainted with your dog on her own terms and timetable. If it takes a few days or even a few weeks for her to venture into the main area of the house to check out the rest of the family, that’s fine and perfectly normal.
- If your cat is extremely shy or fearful and seems to want to live the rest of her life under the spare room bed, you’ll need to spend time talking gently to her and using toys and food to try to entice her to come out and interact with you. If that doesn’t have any effect, I recommend you consult your holistic vet2or an animal behaviorist3 for advice on ways to reduce her stress level and help her become more comfortable with her new environment, dog and all. Talk with your holistic vet about specific homeopathic, herbal or nutraceutical remedies that might help address your kitty’s stress level. Also consider blended flower essences, such as Spirit Essences4 or OptiBalance Pet5 remedies.
It may seem as though your new kitty is content to exist under the bed, but it’s really not much of a life for her. I encourage clients with extremely timid or frightened cats to try a variety of things to reduce stress levels, enrich the cat’s environment, and build confidence so the kitty can participate more as a member of the family.
Many cats and dogs get along right from the beginning. Others grow to be friends after a period of adjustment. And some learn to co-exist by simply ignoring one another.