Bringing in a new member of the family always takes some adjusting for everyone, but introducing cats to dogs can be especially daunting. Cats and dogs have very different ways of communicating, which can make it hard for them to get along at first — but often their mixed feelings are no more than simple miscommunication. That’s where you come in. You can bridge that communication gap and help them learn how to live under the same roof.
The most important step to take when introducing your pet to a new animal is to closely monitor every interaction until you are completely confident that they have adjusted to one another. By controlling their interactions, you can serve as a mediator help make the transition smooth and safe for both animals.
Think about how your dog likes to say hello. She might run to meet you, jump up on you, lick your face. Dogs are often very confrontational and gregarious. Cats have a very different style of greeting friends. Unless it’s dinner time, your cat might not always come running to meet you. When a human meets a new cat, it’s best to approach very slowly and quietly, stretching out a hand for the cat smell you. Once the cat trusts you, s/he might rub their face against you or let you pet them. Dogs, however, are not inclined to exercise that level of caution! Your dog’s playful energy and excitement will likely feel like an aggressive attack to your new cat. Since you can’t explain to a dog that s/he needs to exercise gentleness, and you can’t inform a cat that the dog means well and is just being curious and friendly, you will need to get the point across by controlling the circumstances under which they interact with one another until they learn how to coexist. Here are ten tips for bring peace to your multi-species household:
- Foster First: Consider fostering to see if your animals are a good match before you adopt. All animals have unique personalities, and your shelter will be able to help you find a match that works for you and your other pets.
- Blind date: Give your cat a separate, private place to retreat where the dog will not bother him. Keep them separated by a closed door at first. Let them become accustomed to hearing and smelling one another before they meet. Give each one a toy, blanket or bowl with the other’s scent. Make sure the kitty has dog-free access to his food, water and litter box, even after they’ve met. It is also a good idea to provide your cat with some high perches and hiding spots in shared spaces.
- The zen of meeting: Pick a different room for their first meeting. Make sure the room is peaceful and quiet, and let your cat spend time in the room alone first. Be calm— if you are stressed about your animals meeting, your pets will sense that something’s up. If the cat is comfortable with the environment, the dog will be the only variable s/he has to worry about, making it easier for them to remain calm. Make sure your cat has a way to escape to his private space in case s/he becomes frightened or overwhelmed.
- Get the wiggles out: To keep your dog mellow and calm, try taking him for a walk and playing with him just before the meeting to help him run out his energy so he’s a little less crazy when he meets his new friend.
- Keep kitty on top: Give the cat the higher ground, especially if your dog is larger in size. Let your cat perch on a chair or couch and bring in the dog on a leash.
- Lead the pack: Let your dog see you interacting with the cat so that s/he knows the cat is part of the family. That way, s/he won’t treat him like an intruder, or a toy. Make sure to spend quality time with both pets so no one feels replaced or jealous. (Yes, pets get jealous!)
- Back off: If your cat starts to growl or hiss, take the dog away to the other side of the room (but don’t block the cat’s route to the door!). When your cat starts to hiss and howl, s/he’s warning you that s/he needs space. This is not always a sign of aggression; usually s/he just wants you to back off and leave them alone. They may feels cornered or threatened. Listen to your cat as soon as s/he gives this warning. Keep your dog on a leash until they’re well acquainted and separate them as soon as it becomes too much. By taking your dog away when the cat hisses, you can teach them that they should back off when the cat makes that noise, and you’ll show your cat that the dog is not a threat to his/her personal space. If the cat runs out of the room or hides, try again another time. Be wary if your dog shows his teeth, or any other sign of aggression, and put a safe distance between the animals
- Butter ‘em up: Give your pets treats and praise for peaceful interactions so they associate their new friend with happy things.
- Take the edge off: Pick up some pheromone diffusers at your local pet store to help relieve stress.
- Call for backup: If after many meetings the two still can’t get along, and you feel like you’re at the end of your rope, consider calling in an animal behaviorist for some professional advice. You might also ask your vet for tips or find forums online for those who have had similar experiences.
While many dogs and cats get along just fine after a few days to a couple weeks, it’s important to remember that it may take a good deal of time and patience before your animals become comfortable living together. There’s also a chance that the animals just won’t click. Be mindful that if bringing home another animal puts either animal in danger, or serious discomfort, you might have to pass on the adoption. That said, in most cases, by listening to your animals and being attentive to their needs and personalities, you can find a way to successfully integrate a new pet into your family. Even very stubborn cats and dogs may surprise you by how adaptable they are!