By Emily Parker
As a dog parent, welcoming your cat into the family must be orchestrated carefully. Without safeguards in place, both pets are at risk for casualties. However, with gradual exposure, they’ll likely become good friends! Here’s how to introduce a cat into a dog home and help Kitty and Rover get off on the right paw.
1. Prepare Kitty’s headquarters.
Create a home base for Kitty, inaccessible to Rover. Ideal spots are a guest bedroom, second bathroom, or any quiet room with a door. Furnish Kitty’s domain with food and water bowls, a litter box, bed, scratching station, and toys.
Next, ensure lofty spots in other rooms your cat will frequent. If Kitty gets panicky and needs to escape, there must be tall havens available. Plus, felines love surveying their worlds from above. For this purpose, allot space on tables, chairs, bookshelves, and cabinets. If possible, obtain a cat tree, sure to delight your newcomer!
2. Protect your cat’s food.
Elevating Kitty’s food beyond Rover’s reach is crucial. While dogs love the smell and taste of cat fare, regular intake makes them very ill. The high protein in cat food is hard for canine tummies to digest. Cat kibbles also lack the specific vitamins and minerals dogs require. Routinely eating cat cuisine makes dogs prone to liver disease, pancreatitis, kidney disease, stomach upset, and obesity.
Note also that Kitty’s food and water should be a considerable distance from the litter box. Cats have keen noses, and the litter odor can interfere with food aromas, dampening Kitty’s appetite.
3. Secure the litter box.
Dogs have a natural yen for eating cat feces, with disastrous results. Cats, appalled by the territorial invasion, stop using the litter box, finding substitute spots around the home. Dogs get sick from the parasites and bacteria in cat waste.
To avoid these hazards, place the litter box behind a baby gate. If Kitty can’t leap over it, place an object near the gate, like a step. Alternatively, buy a door latch from a baby store, leaving a small gap for Kitty to pass through the gate. If Rover is small enough to squeeze by too, use a litter box with a hood and narrow opening.
4. Separate your pets.
Before bringing Kitty into your home, station Rover in a separate room, behind a closed door. Then, place Kitty in the sanctuary you’ve designed. Speak reassuringly to Kitty, but don’t be alarmed if the cat hides.
Depending on your cat’s temperament, it may take time for him to become sociable. Until this occurs, periodically visit Kitty each day, equipped with cat treats and kind words. Lavishly give affection if Kitty seeks it, but otherwise, just be a calm and friendly presence. Meanwhile, keep the door to Kitty’s room closed, and let Rover occupy the house, as usual.
5. Have Rover well-trained.
Before you introduce a cat into a dog home, you need to ensure that Rover can heed commands to “Sit,” “Stay,” “Down,” and “Come.” If your dog wavers in obeying, clicker training promotes consistency. This teaching method uses a clicking device to mark desired behavior, followed by giving a treat. With repetition, dogs associate the sound and reward with specific actions. Note that this technique works best when dogs are hungry.
To clicker train Rover, first obtain the supplies, the sound device and a pouch for dispensing treats. Next, fill your pouch with dog kibble, and bring Rover to a quiet room. Sound the clicker, and immediately give Rover a treat.
To impart the association, repeat this sequence five to 10 times. To test for success, click the device when your dog’s distracted. If Rover promptly looks at you, the stage is set for learning basic commands.
Begin with “Sit.” The moment Rover does, press the clicker, followed by giving kibble and praise. Repeat until Rover has “Sit” down pat. Then, progress to “Stay,” “Down,” and “Come.” Here’s a brief video demonstrating clicker training.
6. Manage prey instincts.
Are your walks fraught with struggle when Rover spots another dog, bird, or squirrel? If so, your canine has an inborn prey drive and may want to chase the cat. Fortunately, this instinct can be tamed with certain types of play. Here are three examples:
You can also add two commands to Rover’s repertoire – “Leave It” and “Watch Me.” Reward these responses with special treats, not given at other times. To satisfy the preying drive, take time each day for hunting games.
7. Trade animal smells.
Scent-swapping lets your pets get acquainted while safely on their own turf. One way is alternately stroking each animal, and your hands will transfer their smells. Another is exchanging toys. Or, rub separate washcloths against each pet, switch them, and put the cloths in your pets’ rooms, away from their belongings.
Next, take Rover for a 20-minute stroll, allowing Kitty to sniff the dog’s scent around your house. Upon returning, place your cat in its haven. Then, bring Rover inside for the chance to scope out Kitty’s smell.
Keep your pets apart until Kitty seems relaxed and comfortable. Getting to this stage can take several days. However, waiting for Kitty’s readiness yields the best outcome.
Then, erect a baby gate at Kitty’s door, and feed your pets on opposite sides. This step creates a pleasant association – eating and being near each other. Start with their food bowls separated by a wide distance. Once both pets can eat peaceably, gradually shorten the gap.
8. Hold a pet visit.
For this phase, obtain the help of another adult. Equipped with treats, each person takes responsibility for a pet. Put Rover on-leash, and lure Kitty into the same room with a wand-type toy, shoelace, or another item Kitty can chase. If not possible, gently speak to the cat while carrying it to a chair or table, preferably sprinkled with catnip. Also, make sure Kitty has an escape route upon seeing your dog.
Ask Rover to “Sit,” followed by giving kibble and praise. Likewise, your helper offers Kitty a treat, fostering good feelings about being near Rover. If your pets show adverse behaviors, revert to feedings behind the baby gate. Wait a day, and try another meeting.
If both animals aren’t in danger, let them interact. If Kitty warns Rover with a bop on the nose, that’s okay. This is the feline way of establishing boundaries, necessary for a congenial relationship.
Limit the first visit to five minutes. When the animals appear to accept each other, hold meetings three times daily. Increase their time together in five-minute increments, while keeping Rover on-leash.
Note – Throughout the acclimation process, avoid yelling or speaking sharply since this will heighten your pets’ fear.
9. Expand Rover’s radius.
Upon sensing trust between your pets, at the next visit, release your hold on Rover’s leash. Keep it attached, so you can speedily regain control, if necessary. Remember to commend your dog for wanted behavior with spirited praise and yummy treats. Once certain your pets can abide together safely, let them interact freely.
After two weeks of attempted contact, if your pets remain at odds, obtain the help of a certified animal behaviorist. To locate professionals in your area, use this search tool by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.
Warning – Never leave Kitty and Rover alone until you know they’ll be safe without supervision.
It can take several weeks for a cat and dog to bond. Despite your eagerness for them to be friends, let them connect at their own pace, however long it takes. Here’s a video compilation of what’s possible between your two cuties.
Enjoy your blended family!
Emily Parker shares her life with her fiancé, Bill, and her two black cats, Gus and Louis. Gus only has one eye, but that’s why she adopted him! When she’s not exploring her neighborhood for new (cat) cafes, she’s researching and writing over at her website, Catological, where her goal is to help cat parents love their kitties better.