Tips on Introducing Your New Cat to Resident Pets
Last year I went through the process of introducing my newly adopted cat to my two dogs. I admit that I was a bit hesitant to add a cat to the household knowing that neither of my dogs had any previous interactions with cats. I knew that my dogs could be protective of their home and of us, too. Along with worrying about how my dogs would react, I worried about my new cat, too. Not much information was known about him prior to ending up at the rescue. I wasn’t sure if he had been around dogs or lived with them before. I was able to take the information I learned from Dr. Parsons to introduce my pets to each other in a safe, effective, and gradual way. Below I will mention a few techniques I used to help my cat become familiar with my dogs. The key to all the techniques is time; if you feel your pets are afraid or aggressive at any point in the progression of the introduction process you can move back a step or two and try again. The goal of these techniques is to allow the pets to co-exist in the household and maybe even become best friends!
Before bringing your cat home, prepare a room for your new family member to temporarily stay in away from other pets in the home. This room should have all your cat’s necessities like his/her own litter box, food, water, a bed, and maybe some toys to keep him/her entertained. Personally, I put a baby gate in the doorway of a basement bathroom so my cat can jump over it if he wants a break from the dogs and so my dogs can’t get to the litter box and eat the “snacks”. From this room, your cat will begin to become familiar with other furry members of the home. You can start the introduction process by feeding all the pets on each side of the door starting some distance away. As they become more comfortable eating at that distance from each other, move the bowls closer to the door. Once they are calmly eating on either side of the door, you can move on to the next step.
The next step in the introduction process is allowing your pets to explore each other’s spaces. To do this, you can put blankets and/or bedding from one animal’s space into the other’s space to allow them to become used to the new family member’s smell. Once you feel your pets are ready, you can let the new family member explore the house while the other pets explore the room your new cat has been staying in. It is still recommended they stay separated during this process. When they are back in their original space, use a doorstop to prop the door open for them to see each other but not physically reach each other. If you have the baby gate like I did, still use the door and a doorstop; my cat would try to swat at my dogs through the gaps in the gate. It may take more than one time of exploring and allowing them to see each other through a crack in the door before your pets are ready to meet each other officially. It is important that your pets are supervised during these meeting sessions. Try to have someone on each side of the door to have better control of the situation in case it goes south; i.e. my cat running up to the gate and swatting at my dogs.
There are a couple extra steps to take when introducing a cat to a dog versus a cat to another cat to ensure a safe introduction for all parties involved. If you are introducing a cat to a dog, practice obedience commands with the dog(s), set up controlled meetings, and use positive reinforcement. The typical commands like sit, stay, come, and down will help during the introduction. Be sure to give treats when practicing the commands, even if the pet knows the commands already; they can be used as a distraction. When allowing them to meet each other, make sure the dog is on a leash and have him/her sitting or lying down when another person and the cat come into the room. Feel free to give treats to the cat as a distraction too. Start at opposite ends of the room and bring them closer as they become comfortable with each other. This step may need to be repeated several times and in several separate visits until they tolerate each other’s presence. Once you feel this step has gone well, allow your cat to roam freely with the dog still on a leash. Continue to use commands and treats to keep control of the dog during this process. If the cat or dog gets scared or aggressive, slow down progression and go back to previous steps of the introduction. If you are introducing a cat to another cat, be sure to have a plan in place in case the cats begin to fight. Don’t try to separate the cats by going in between them or trying to grab one of them; doing so can cause injury. Instead have a squirt bottle filled with water ready or a pillow that you can throw at them to hopefully stop the altercation. It is best to wait until they calm down before reintroducing them. Make sure that your cat has a place to hide if he/she does get scared; cat trees, furniture that the cat can get underneath, and a baby gate separating a room are good escape/hiding options. Until you feel the pets are getting along and you are confident there won’t be an issue, make sure to keep the pets separated while no one is home. If you feel like the pets aren’t improving in the introduction process, feel free to call your veterinary clinic for guidance. Dr. Parsons has a strong interest in animal behavior and is very informative when it comes to this subject. Sometimes anti-anxiety medication can be prescribed or pheromone diffusers that release a pheromone that calms the pet.
The introduction process can be frustrating at times but the end result can be peace in the household. My cat and two dogs will occasionally be seen giving each other a bath and cuddling together. Take your time and watch your pets’ behaviors throughout the process. If you feel that they may need more time, go back a few steps and try again. Don’t let signs of aggression continue to happen because the problem can be harder to resolve the longer it goes on. Our clinic is always willing to give advice and help you through the process.