Dogs and cats that are not familiar with each other will require some extra time to become accustomed to each other. Dogs usually want to chase and play with cats, and cats are usually afraid and defensive. You can use any of the techniques described in “Introducing a New Cat / Kitten to Your Current Cat.” In addition:
- If your dog does not already know the commands “sit, down, come, and stay,” you should begin working on them. Little tidbits of food increase your dog’s motivation to perform, which will be necessary in the presence of such a strong distraction as a new cat. Even if your dog already knows the commands, work on obeying commands in return for a tidbit.
- After the animals have become comfortable eating on either side of the door, and have been exposed to each other’s scents, you can attempt a face-to-face introduction in a controlled manner. Put your dog’s leash on, and command him to either “sit” or “down” or “stay,” using food tidbits. Have another family member enter the room and quietly sit down with the cat on his/her lap. The cat should also be offered some special tidbits. At first, the cat and dog should be on OPPOSITE sides of the room. Repeat this step several times until both the cat and dog are tolerating each other without fear, aggression, or other uncontrollable behavior.
- Next, move the animals a little closer together, with the dog still on a leash and the cat gently held in a lap. If the cat does not like to be held, you can use a wire crate or carrier instead. If the dog gets up from its “stay” position, it should be firmly repositioned, and praised and rewarded for obeying the “stay” command. If the cat becomes frightened, increase the distance between the animals and progress more slowly. Eventually, the animals should be brought close enough together to allow them to investigate each other.
- Although your dog must be taught that chasing or being rough with the cat in unacceptable behavior, your dog must also be taught how to behave appropriately, and be rewarded for doing so (e.g. sitting, coming when called, or lying down in return for a tidbit). If your dog is always punished whenever the cat is around, and never has “good things” happen in the cat’s presence, your dog may redirect aggression toward the cat.
- You may want to keep your dog on a leash and with you when the cat is free in the house during the introduction process. Be sure that your cat has an escape route, and a place to hide. Keep the dog and cat separated when you aren’t home until you are certain they will both be safe.
Precautions: Dogs like to eat cat food because it is very high in protein, and therefore very tasty. Keep cat food out on the dog’s reach (in a closet, on a high shelf, etc.). Why dogs like to eat cat feces is not well understood but it is a relatively common behavior. Although there are no health hazards to the dog from this habit, it is usually distasteful to the owners. Attempts to keep the dog out of the litterbox by “booby trapping” will also keep the cat away as well. Punishment after the fact will NOT change the dog’s behavior. Probably the best solution is to place the litterbox where the dog cannot access it – such as behind a baby gate, or in a closet with the door anchored open (from both sides) just wide enough for the cat. Always feed your dog alone. Cats should not eat dog food as it may cause dietary deficiencies.
Written by Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, Denver Dumb Friends League (Humane Society of Denver)