INTEGRATING YOUR NEW DOG WITH AN EXISTING CAT
How you introduce your new dog to your cat or cats plays a significant role in establishing their long-term relationship. We want your new dog and your cat to have many happy years together!
We ask that you please follow the steps below to help them to get adjusted to each other:
1. Before your new dog arrives set your new cat up in one room in your house; preferably a bedroom, or any other room that you know where your cat feels comfortable. This room should have a door or should be a room where you can install a baby gate high enough for the dog not to jump over. Avoid a room where you will not be interacting with your cat very often (e.g., the laundry room or the basement) as this may only prolong the integration process, causing more stress for your cat.
2. Place your cat’s food, water, litter box and toys in this room. Make sure the food/water and litter are as far away from each other as possible (just like humans, cats do not want their food close to their toilet!).
3. Bring your new dog into your home and let him/her explore everywhere except the room where the cat is. When your dog starts to settle down (within an hour or so), give him/her a good patting and leave your dog with someone (if possible) and go into the room with your cat. Make sure to take treats with you! Sit with your cat and let her/him sniff your hands, then praise your cat and give a few treats. Leave him/her and go back to your dog. How did your cat react? If your cat is very fearful (hissing, growling, hiding after smelling your hands), you may need to keep the cat in the room for a couple of days. If your cat shows indifference (approaching the door, rubbing on your hands, lots of purring), this process may take only a day or two. It is very important that you do not force your cat to interact with your dog – both animals need to adapt at their own pace. The more positive and happy the experience is, the quicker they will feel comfortable with their future best friend.
4. If your cat has reacted fearfully, it would be best to wait until the next day to introduce the cat to the dog. When you feel your cat is ready, follow steps 1-3 again. The eventual introduction may be a week from when the dog is brought home. It all depends on progress made along the way.
5. When you are ready to introduce your new dog and cat nose-to-nose, leash your dog and bring him/her to the door of the room where the cat is residing. Open the door, but do not let the dog inside the room. Watch both animals’ behaviour towards each other. Any aggression (lunging, snarling, barking) from your dog should be discouraged with a sharp “no!”, and then bring your dog away from the door. The idea is to make your dog understand that the cat is not prey, only play! Hissing and growling from your cat should be allowed, but not scratching; use a “no!” and bring your dog away from the door. If they sniff noses, that’s a great sign!
6. Bring your dog away from the room, but leave the door open. Please leave your dog leashed until you are confident he/she will not chase the cat. It is advisable to not leave your dog and cat unsupervised until the cat is relatively comfortable (i.e., not hiding or excessively hissing or growling). If you are unsure, you could put a baby gate in the doorway to the cat’s room until you notice your cat approaching the dog on his/her own. If your dog is respectful of your cat (showing playing behaviour or approaching the cat and sniffing, but not showing any signs of aggression) praise both of them and give them treats. You are showing them that this is the way you expect them to act in your house.
7. While your cat and dog are getting acquainted, we suggest putting a second set of food/water and litter in their usual locations in addition to leaving the ones in the segregation room until you see your new cat using them regularly. You want your cat to have a “dog free” zone that they can retire to if they feel nervous, threatened or anxious – a place where the dog cannot reach them.
How will I know when I can let my cat out of the room?
Your cat will let you know when he/she is ready to come out of the room. He/she will be “out and about” and interacting with you a lot. He/she might meow at the door, or paw at the door. Make sure you leave the door open to the room to allow for a safe place to retreat from your dog if startled or frightened. Keeping a baby gate across the door of this room will not only give your cat a safe retreat but will also keep the dog from eating their food or getting into their litter box, as many dogs are prone to do. Don’t rush this step: it may take days or a week (or more)!
What can happen if I don’t follow these steps?
Our experience with adoptions shows that cats adapt quickly to their new life if they are not overwhelmed with what they perceive as the “commotion” of adding a new animal to their home. Owners who do not allow for slow integration may see the cat fearful of the dog for a long time or throughout their time together. As any cat owner knows, you don’t want to get on a cat’s “bad side”. Some ways in which cats may show their stress and displeasure could be but are not limited to, not eating, going to the washroom outside their litter box, marking (particularly in the case of male cats), hiding and/or showing aggression towards you (scratching, biting, not wanting to be pet, etc.). Cats are complex animals, and typically have no qualms about showing their true feelings. While most cats will integrate with a dog within a few days, some cats are shyer or have never lived with a dog in the past, and may need more time to adjust. Kindness and patience are the keys! As long as there is no aggression present, we are hopeful that all furry family members will be fast friends in no time.
Enjoy your new best friend, and do not hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with additional questions or concerns. You can also reach out to your dog’s former foster parent, as they will know the dog’s personality best.
If you would like to seek professional help in integrating your new dog and your existing cat(s), please let us know and we can put you in touch with someone for more advice.
Read some great info from dog trainer Victoria Stillwell here!