It's exciting to add a cuddly new pet to your life, except maybe when you have to introduce it to another pet that has already staked claim to your home. That's especially true if one's a dog and the other's a cat. But whether you're introducing a new dog to your cats -- or a new cat to your dogs -- it doesn't have to be hard. Here is some expert advice to help keep peace during the transition.
Watch the Dog
If there's going to be a problem during cat and dog introductions, says Katherine A. Houpt, James Law Professor of Behavior Medicine - Emeritus at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, it's usually caused by the dog.
Most dogs will chase a rapidly moving object. So if a cat gets frightened and runs, "a dog often feels honor-bound to chase it," Houpt says. "It's important to nip that in the bud." If you don't, the result can be injury, and even death, for the cat.
- Make sure your cat can run and hide if it wants to. Whether your cat is the newbie or the senior pet in the house, the cat needs to be able to move freely when the introduction is made. Christopher Pachel, DVM, a veterinarian who focuses on animal behavior issues says there should be perches or cubbies for hiding, someplace where the cat can get off the floor and settle in. "You basically want an elevated resting place [for the cat]."
- Make sure your puppy or dog is well restrained. Your dog shouldn’t be able to chase, even if the cat darts away. "This is a bigger issue with herding breed dogs, who have a prey instinct," Pachel says. "But it's really a hardwired response in all dogs to chase small fluffy things that run away quickly."
- Consider baby gates. Gates can help you gradually introduce dogs and cats, and the barrier minimizes danger to the cat. Houpt says a baby gate is often better than a cat carrier because it gives the cat much-needed freedom.
Age Can Make a Difference
When introducing a new pet to the household, youth can be a virtue. That's because puppies are much less dangerous to adult cats, and kittens can be quite fearless with adult dogs, Houpt says.
The same safety rules still apply, though. When adding a kitten or puppy, you may want to enforce separation longer or extend your period of supervision. That's because kittens tend to scurry (an enticing behavior for dogs) and puppies "are just goofy and will want to pester the cat," Pachel says.
Here are four common mistakes you don't want to make when introducing cats and dogs:
- Forcing physical proximity: Picking up your cat and holding it in your dog's face by way of introduction will tempt your cat to scratch the dog and encourage the dog to not like the cat. Always let kitty decide when or if it will approach the dog.
- Not knowing the background of the dog you adopt. Adopting a dog from a shelter is often a wonderful idea, especially if you don't have other pets. But Houpt notes that people rarely know a shelter dog's past. "If a 2-year-old dog is looking for a home, there's usually a good reason," Houpt says. In some cases, the dog may be aggressive, destructive, or have other problems. If you want to bring a canine into a feline household, Houpt usually recommends getting a puppy.
- Not preparing your pet for change: Pachel suggests making changes -- like moving your cat's litter box, putting up a baby gate, or closing certain doors -- before you bring your new pet home. That way, your long-time pet has a chance to get used to the changes before the new pet shows up.
- Not thinking about your pet's reaction. Try to think about the changes you're making in your home from your pet's perspective. For example, be aware that if you move the litter box and the cat has to walk past the dog's kennel to get to it and the dog is barking -- that's going to be stressful for the cat.
When to Get Help
If you're lucky, it can take just a few minutes for a new pet to settle in, although it's more likely to take days or even weeks.
But if you've come home to find your kitty cowering in fear, if one pet is always hiding, if your dog is displaying resource guarding behavior (such as snarling around its food) or being aggressive toward your cat, get help.
Don't wait until a pet gets hurt. Talk with a veterinary behaviorist (a veterinarian specializing in animal behavior). These professionals can help you troubleshoot so that your old and new pets get along.