Introducing a kitten or new cat to a resident dog (or other pet) often leads to a peaceful family coexistence, many times these two species become life-long friends.
Doing all you can to make the best possible feline-canine introduction will go a long way to fostering a lasting friendship in these pets’ forever home.
Consider all possible factors that might affect successful introducing a kitten or new cat to a resident dog.
The key is to have realistic expectations about your family dynamics, your dog and your potential new feline family member.
Understanding what drives the behavior of each species is crucial!
For cats, it is all about how they see their world. Their main focus in life is staying clean and tidy, physical safety and territorial security, not necessarily in that order.
By nature, most felines are loners and fend for themselves. They track everything that goes on inside their territory. Protecting their food source is important.
In contrast, Dogs are pack oriented. They look to a leader, an authoritative figure, to be the alpha member.
As pets, dogs look their human owner to fulfill the alpha member roll in their pack life. The rules of authority the dog understands are dominance, submission and aggression.
It is in their nature to challenge the boundaries set by the alpha member.
It is also in their nature to “chase” prey, and to dogs, that is what pet cats are . . . “prey”.
The dynamics of canine group living are complex and becomes more so when their “pack” is of mixed species.
From a dog’s point of view, your kitten or new cat is “prey”, but you are sending your dog signals that what it naturally perceives as “prey” is now to become its “pack”-mate.
Think about how confusing and unnatural that is for your dog!
For a dog to go against its natural instinct and accept “prey” as its “pack” is a huge compliment to you, the dog owner. It means the dog would do just about anything to please you, even fight the good fight against its natural instinct to chase “prey”.
Moreover, things become even more complicated when “pack” members speak different languages.
Think about the impact language has on clearly communicating a message between humans. Multiply the difficulties and misinterpretations of that scenario when the communication occurs between two different animal species.
What about three different species such as human, dog and cat?
Canines are natural adversaries to domesticated cats.
When introducing a kitten or new cat, at first it will be nervous and fearful; it is through that filter which your cat perceives all communication.
Rethink introducing a kitten or new cat into a home with more than one dog. By nature dogs are pack animals. A “pack” of dogs are more likely to engage in instinctual canine behaviors, such as harassing and chasing prey with intent to harm.
If the language your cat receives is non-native and from its natural adversary, your cat’s instinct is to escape danger and hide, doing the very thing that delights your dog, making it want to give chase.
Unlike dogs, cats don’t live to please their owners, so they have no frame of reference from which to draw on to control their natural instinct to escape from dangerous threats, such as adversaries.
Introducing a kitten or new cat is all about desensitizing the feline until it is comfortable with a different level of safety when faced with its adversary, your dog.
For the best chance of successfully introducing a kitten or new cat, it is vitally important your dog is dependably obedient to your commands, especially in distracting, unpredictable situations.
Please keep in mind, not all cats and dogs will socialize peacefully no matter how you introduce them.
Sometimes, this problem can be overcome with special help from a professional, such as a veterinarian, dog trainer or cat behaviorist.
How your cat and dog will react is unpredictable. Respect that fact; sometimes things are just not meant to be.
Some breeds generally do not socialize well with their own kind, except for blood family members such as siblings, let alone with another species. For example, certain characteristics bred into dogs to hunt, chase or herd, might hinder any kind of friendly relationship with a new pet of any kind.
There are exceptions to this generality. There are many Pit Bulls, Greyhounds and Collies that love kittens.
Likewise, a cat, no matter what its breed, might have such a dominate personality it will overrule all other resident pets, perhaps even its human family members.
Cat mojo, a term coined by Jackson Galaxy, host of the television series, “My Cat from Hell”, can be a barrier to peaceful relations between species.
For our Abby, her big cat mojo strained any kind of relationship with Dodger right from the start. I’m not sure introducing her in any particular way would have made a difference.
I believe in their hearts Abby and Dodger wanted to connect; they tried, each in their own way, but they were complete opposites, such that even their communications failed to connect . . . and they were the same species!
Consider certain temperaments, as well. Imagine a home filled with pet confrontations and mayhem when a Siamese cat and a Dalmatian dog socialize with each other.
Even if they have a great friendship, these two high energy breeds are naturally full of hijinks. I hate to think what family life might be like if they chose not to get along with each other.
It does help if your dog has had previous experience living peacefully with another cat, and visa-versa.
Puppies and kittens that are raised together are more likely to be best buddies for life than any other age group. At these young ages, puppies and kitties are looking to bond with new family members after having been separated from their mama’s and siblings.
Introducing an adult cat, especially an older one, to a resident puppy almost never works out. The young puppy’s energy, excitement, curiosity, playfulness, lack of self-discipline and lack of training are huge stressors for adult cats.
When introducing an adult cat to a resident dog, a more realistic relationship expectation is one of “tolerance”, a peaceful coexistence, rather than a friendship.
This kind of relationship is more likely to come about if the new cat is of a more relaxed temperament and has previously lived with a dog, and the resident dog is an adult with a laid back temperament that has previously lived with a cat.
When introducing a kitten or new cat to a resident dog consider the health condition of both pets.
Elderly animals, sick animals and animals living with chronic pain, such as arthritis or other chronic health conditions might not socialize well. Their stress levels are already high.
Any new or dramatic change in their lives might be too much for them to handle.
Tips to Introducing a Kitten or New Cat to a Resident Dog (or other pet)
There are many things you can do to ensure the best possible outcome for the whole family when introducing a kitten or new cat to a resident dog.
Tip #1 Set Aside a Quiet Room
Prepare your resident dog for the change that is about to come into its life.
Set aside a small quiet room in your home to receive and isolate your kitten or new cat.
Choose a place where in the future your cat will not cross important territory claimed by your dog, such as pathways to its kennel, bed, and food and water bowls.
Likewise, consider future pathways to your new cat’s territories, including the litter box.
Equip the room with food, water, litterbox, scratching post, toys and a cozy bed.
Make sure the room has some places for the cat to escape to and hide, such as a slightly open closet door, book shelves, window sill, and a table top with a box sitting on top or a solid sided cat carrier.
Place a pet gate across the threshold of the door, and then allow your dog to explore the changes from outside the pet gate. When your dog no longer shows interest, shut the door and leave it shut.
Tip #2 Adopt from a Shelter
Consider adopting a kitten or new cat from a shelter, or other place that allows you to bring your leashed dog to meet potential new kitty family members.
Doing so can be very revealing. For example, you might learn your very well behaved dog is not well trained enough to handle introducing a kitten you would have chosen to bring home. Perhaps the cat would not be compatible with your dog, nor your dog with the cat.
When first introducing a kitten or cat to its new home, isolate it in the room you’ve prepared with the door closed.
Let the cat acclimate to its new surroundings. Provide lots of love and attention, but also recognize when the cat needs to be alone.
Cats’ nervous systems are high attuned, and their emotions are very sensitive to any input. They are on alert at all times; it is the way they were created.
Introducing a kitten or cat to anything new is a slow process in order to prevent fear and uncontrollable behavior.
Tip #4 Introduce Slowiy
Start with a relaxed atmosphere. If you, your dog or your new kitten or cat are up-tight or nervous, all parties concerned will detect “tension” and will be on guard against “something not right” or worse, a possible confrontation.
You want to foster an atmosphere of assurance, love, acceptance and friendly openness.
Reward both cat and dog with the behavior you want to help develop trust and establish a friendly relationship.
Scent is everything to animals. It is their first line of communication.
As humans like to know the name of the person they are talking to and they recognize each other by name, animals get to know and recognize each other by scent. You might say individual animal scent denotes their name.
Introducing a kitten or new cat to a resident dog using scent is simply done through the space between bottom of door and floor. This is how they first begin to get to know each other.
When a dog is ready to meet a cat whose scent it is acquainted with, the dog will exhibit excited behavior, wag its tail, scratch at the door or assume a posture of play.
Likewise, a cat will become very friendly or curious, perhaps purr or want to play by batting at movement beneath the door.
However, if the dog becomes razor-backed, its ears lay down, growls or barks, or your cat lays its ears back and swishes its tail, or arches, puffs up, hisses, lashes out or seems inconsolably upset, DO NOT ATTEMPT FURTHER INTRODUCTION at that time; wait a few days to continue.
Tip #6 Keep Meetings Brief
On the day of introducing a kitten or new cat face-to-face with a resident dog for the first time, make sure the dog has been walked and is at its most relaxed time of day, perhaps just before its afternoon nap.
Keep the dog on a collar and leash. Should the first meeting go bad and the dog decide to chase the cat or exhibit other unacceptable aggression, then use the leash as a restraint.
When your cat and dog are ready, keep the first meeting extremely brief, a few minutes. Open the door of your new kitty’s room just a crack, enough so the cat and dog can see and smell each other.
Depending on their reaction, open the door a bit wider. Let them touch, or not, as they wish. Don’t force the issue. Repeat these meetings as many times as necessary until both animals are comfortable with each other.
When your cat is comfortable with the new surroundings, it is time for fully introducing a kitten or new cat to your resident dog.
Put the pet gate across the doorway, open the door, and then let your cat and dog have a brief meeting.
If all goes well between cat and dog, leave the door open with the pet gate across the threshold for progressively longer times until both pets become accustomed to each other, lose interest and eventually go about their daily routines.
Tip #8 Full Visitation
When you and your pets feel it’s time, with the door closed, remove the pet gate.
Crack the door open to allow visitation as usual. Let the restrained dog sniff the cat’s fur while talking in a soft, reassuring voice to both pets. Pet the dog, too, and let the cat sniff the dog’s scent on your hand.
If the introduction fails and the cat or dog became dangerous each other, TERMINATE THE MEETING IMMEDIATELY!
You will have to do some serious rethinking about cat-dog introductions and pet relations in your household.
Reward the cat and dog for the behavior you are looking for: quietness, patience and gentleness. Reassure the cat and dog by stroking their fur in their favorite ways, perhaps giving them their favorite treats.
If the dog behaves and it shows inviting behavior, command the dog to a stay position, and if the cat is calm and inquisitive, then let them explore each other. When the cat is ready to expand the visit, open the door wide enough for it to slip out for a visit, and to escape through should the meeting turn bad. Let the cat explore the dog restrained in a stay position.
As the cat and dog become more acquainted, it is more likely the cat will walk way, the way cats do, feigning nonchalance, and the dog will want to follow sniffing and licking the cat, a kind of “chase”. Keep the dog in the stay position until it loses interest in the cat.
This is a very positive meeting!
Keep the first meeting very short, about 10 minutes; dog’s easily become over excited and cats can start to become annoyed.
Repeat introducing a kitten or new cat to your resident dog using short meetings until your cat and dog become more comfortable with each other, and then slowly prolong the meetings. During this time, never leave your pets unsupervised.
Tip #9 Protect Pet Territories
Slowly over time, extend meeting times and room locations using the tips above until your kitten or new cat is comfortable living in its new home.
Be extremely protective of “territory” for both animals. This means neither the cat or dog is not allowed to take over the essential territories of food and water, bedding, toys or litter box of another pet.
Resident pets almost always have some territorial rights as well; these need protecting, too.
Tip #10 Never Leave Your Cat & Dog Together Alone Unsupervised!
Just because you perceive no territorial disputes or ambushing behaviors, doesn’t mean they are not happening when you’re not keeping watching.
Even cats and dogs that have been known to get along together all their lives will get fed up with encroachment, suddenly snapping. Usually, it is a dog attacking and killing the cat when the owner is asleep or away from the household.
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