Will Kitty Accept Your New Dog Friend?

Renee DiPietro, CVT
Veterinary Information Specialist

So you have decided to bring a dog into your home. Everyone in the family is excited and looking forward to the new family member. But….you have a cat. Will that work? Will your cat accept the dog? Will your new dog respect the cat? Consider, and then reconsider how this will affect the cat. Is your cat a young adult (not a small kitten), laid back, playful, healthy, and more likely to adapt to change? Or are they older easily stressed, or has health problems? If your cat is the second character, maybe it would be best to not add a canine family member at this time.

Dogs and cats living in the same home can have sane, workable, and at times even affectionate relationships with each other. It is generally more about how your new dog will behave with the cat, but cats can also occasionally instigate problems. The resident cat or cats may feel a little put out at the addition of any new family member but if you teach your new dog to respect the cat and its space, the integration of the dog into your family can go fairly smoothly.

If you are adopting a dog from a shelter it is a very good idea to get one that has been tested with cats. Although a shelter dog may not behave exactly around cats in the shelter as it would in a home, the shelter personnel should be able to get a pretty good idea of how the dog will interact with feline friends. Do not adopt a dog that has a history of aggression towards cats and expect to be able to change his ways.

Some breeds or breed types have a very high prey drive and no matter how well trained cannot be trusted 100% with your cat. I have a Jack Russell Terrier. This is a breed with a very high prey drive. She was bred specifically to kill small animals. We have had her since she was 12 weeks old. She is now 14 years old. We taught her at a very young age that she was not to harass or abuse the cats in anyway. She knows the rule well, but you can see by watching her that she is always right on the edge of containing herself. We never, ever leave her alone with the cats. She is crate trained and in a crate whenever we are not home, or the cats are put in a separate part of the house. A dog can kill a cat in an instant, either intentionally, or through rough play. A cat can also do serious injury to a dog when trying to defend itself.

If you are adopting a puppy you can teach him to have manners with the cat from a very young age. If it is a breed of high prey drive, (Terriers, Nordic breeds etc.) I would still recommend never leaving the dog alone with the cat when you are not home or not close by in house.

If your cat has lived with dogs before, this will also likely be to your advantage and shorten the initial transition.

Regardless of the situation, you can prepare ahead of time and take steps to maximize the potential for a successful relationship between your dog and cat.  Plan for the integration of the new dog into the home, and into an amicable or at least tolerant relationship with your cat, to take weeks, possibly even months. Some cats and dogs will eventually become so fond of each other that you may eventually find them sleeping and/or playing together.

Some tips:

Plan to introduce the dog at a time when you will be at home (days off from work) for a day or too and can monitor and mediate the situation.

Allowing the dog and cat to smell each other through a solid door for a day or two may also help ease the first interaction.

Don’t force your cat to interact with the dog. Don’t allow the dog to force itself on, corner, or chase the cat.

It is wise to have the dog on leash for the first few interactions. This way you can keep the dog from overenthusiastically or aggressively approaching the cat. This also gives you opportunity to correct the dog and teach it appropriate cat interaction behavior.

It will be important to make sure your cat has a quick escape route and place to hide in any room that it may encounter the dog. This will allow the cat to retreat safely whenever it feels threatened and before a conflict can escalate. Kitty can back off and try again another time.

Another important rule to implement early on is separate feeding areas. No matter how friendly your pets become, the cat and the dog should not eat together. Food can be a catalyst for defensive guarding behavior especially in dogs. You can keep the cats food somewhere high up in the home where the dog cannot get it. I recommend keeping the cat(s) out of the room when you feed the dog.

You can also ask your veterinarian about products such as pheromone sprays or diffusers that may help you cat feel less stressed while introducing the dog. If the dog is overly anxious about the cat, canine pheromone products may also be helpful.

The following link also offers good information on helping your pets learn to live together.  http://www.americanhumane.org/animals/adoption-pet-care/dog-behavior/introducing-dogs-to-cats.html

Occasionally, even with much planning and due diligence the relationship between your cat and dog may not work. Have a backup plan for this that is fair to both animals. When you adopt your new dog it can be on a trial only basis to see if you can make the relationship work. If you feel that you must keep both the resident pet and the new pet but the attempt at a livable relationship between them has not been successful, it is possible to set up separate quarters within the home for each species.

Good luck! Living with pets from different species can be a rich and rewarding experience when everyone gets along!