How To Add A Dog To A Cat Household (Successfully)

As a pet lover, your desire to care for both cats and dogs can be overshadowed by certain concerns. How do you keep both animals safe from aggressive behavior? What to do to keep the stress levels at bay with two contrasting animals? Before you pick up a rescue dog or introduce a puppy to a cat household, it is crucial to do some research.

Increase Your Chances of Success

Know that bringing a dog into a cat household entails some preparations. You need to match their personalities (playful vs calm), size, age, and medical condition.

Dangerous combinations include a senior cat and a dog that loves to chase, a full-grown dog and a kitten, and a fearful cat with an aggressive dog. Vets often recommend getting a puppy or a well-trained dog.

Remember, some dog breeds have a better chance of living harmoniously with a cat household than others. Small dogs and toy dog breeds are generally accepted by playful cats. Golden Retriever and Boxer dogs are also great playmates with Maine Coon and Ragdoll cats as these cat breeds don’t get intimidated by the presence of large dogs.

When adding a cat to a dog household, opt for large cats. An adult cat is more fit to handle frisky play with a dog than do kittens. If you are bringing in kittens, you may have to kennel-train them along with your dogs. Cat breeds like Abyssinians can be leash-trained and enjoy playing fetch, making them a welcome addition to a dog household.

Before Bringing a Dog Home

Check the dog’s history. Some rescue dogs may have destructive or aggressive tendencies. Predatory dogs don’t mingle with cats easily. They have hunting skills rooted in their genetics that can be hard to unlearn. When a dog is uneasy, too excited, or aggressive at the sight of cats, training them to get along with your resident cat can be a challenge.

Make changes at home before bringing a new pet home. Install window perches and pet gates throughout your home and ensure high furniture are stable. Create escape routes and a safe place for your cat that the dog cannot reach and vice versa. Transfer the kitty litter and cat food bowl to the cat’s safe place. Prepare a section for the dog to feed, toilet-train, and sleep as well.

The First Few Weeks

Be aware of both pets’ experience and reaction to other animals. Introducing a new dog to a cat household should be a gradual process. It is better to slowly ease them into transition than to traumatize them with a surprise meet-up. Their first encounter should only be by scent and sound. They should not be allowed to see each other albeit they know the other is around.

Shower both with equal amounts of care and attention. Your puppy will need sufficient time for obedience training. Make sure your new dog obeys “Sit,” Stay,” and “Leave It” commands even before introducing your canine to your feline/s. Pay attention to cats showing signs of distress. Reassure your feline buddy that he/she is safe and loved.

Getting to Know Each Other

Once you see both pets are settled in a safe and stress-free area, you can start “scent swapping.” This is the process of introducing each other’s scent to the other. Rub a clean cloth on the cat’s scent glands around the cheeks, front paw pads, and tail. Rub a second cloth near the dog’s ears and paw pads. Swap the cloths to introduce the pets through scent.

Monitor their reaction with each other’s scents on the cloths. Give them the freedom to approach or avoid the cloth. Don’t force the dog/cat to smell the cloth, just leave it nearby. Do this everyday to get them used to the scent of the other. If you notice aggressive behaviors, you may not have a good match, will need a longer time, or require professional assistance.

The First Visual Encounter

With the absence of fear, anxiety, or aggression towards the scent of the other, you can progress to let them see each other. You will need a strong barrier between the two which can be a pet gate, mesh door, or glass door. Wear out your dog with exercise so he is calm during their first meeting. Also, both pets should be fed and played with previous to the introduction.

Ideally, two family members should be present during these visual meetings. One to offer reassurance on the cat’s side and the other to distract the dog with treats and toys. Watch out for potential problems and follow up with training to avoid or minimize untoward behavior. Opt for positive reinforcement instead of shouting or punishing your beloved pets.

Puppies and kittens are often unafraid of meeting their supposedly arch enemies. These young ones may be too playful or annoying for older pets. They are also too small and can get hurt when the older pet is in the mood for rough play. Also, shy felines may not know how to put a puppy in its place. In such cases, you can separate the young ones until they gain self-control.

Face to Face Meetings

It is important for cats to be in control in the presence of the new dog. Cats may want to perch high to feel safe. Never force a cat to get close to a dog. Cats scratch or bite in a moment of panic. Also, avoid placing your cat in a kennel where they don’t have control and no freedom to run or perch. Most cats also have negative associations with kennels and can feel stressed.

Slow and controlled introductions are key if you want to know how to integrate a dog into a cat household successfully. Reinforce calm and positive behavior with treats for both cats and dogs. It is good to run, walk, or play with your dog previous to their meetings.

Never allow your dog to chase your cat/s. Other warning signs include stalking, threatening, or focusing intensely.

Start with your dog on a short leash and draw attention away from the cat. Always reward good behavior with treats. As you see progress, you can use a house line that you can step on in the event that a chase becomes inevitable. Don’t let fearful or aggressive behaviors become a habit. Through a gradual process, they will learn to like or tolerate each other.

Unsupervised Time

Only allow your cats and dogs to be together when you are with them. Separate them when you’re not home or when they are left unsupervised. Once you are positive they won’t get on each other’s paws, you can begin to enjoy the company of both.

Remember, the whole process requires patience. Some cats and dogs warm up to each other almost immediately while for others, it can take several months. Also, don’t leave your new pet free to roam outside where aggressive dogs and cats can get to them.

When to Intervene

As pet parents, we can expect to deal with sibling rivalry even after successfully training a cat and dog to bear with one another. When you see your resident cat hissing, growling, or swatting at a calm dog, you need to separate them. Be wary of your cat’s health. If they don’t eat, drink, or stop using the litter box, they can be highly stressed.

Watch out for a dog that can’t take his eyes off your feline friend. The dog may lunge at your cat when the poor cat comes near. If the dog growls or shows aggression towards a calm and quiet cat, you also have to be on guard. Pay special attention to sick, pregnant, declawed, very young, and elderly cats. A cat that feels unsafe will withdraw from the family.

Be present during playtime as cats and dogs can hurt each other even when they are playing. Your dog can break your cat’s neck and your cat can scratch your dog’s nose or eyes. Always keep your guard up and place safety precautions for both your cat and dog. They both need a safe place for their escape.

If you are determined to make the cat-dog relationship work in your home, you may have to call in an animal behaviorist. A professional can tell if there is any likelihood of your pets getting along. If not, you may have to give up the canine and focus on your cat’s physical and emotional condition before you attempt to add a new canine to the family.

Final Thoughts

To add a dog to a cat household successfully, first choose the right type of dog that will suit the personality, size, age, and health of your cat. Be sensitive with their reactions to the scent and sight of the other. When they are together in one room, start the dog on a short leash, then train with a house line, and finally let them both loose. Remember, slow and steady wins this battle.

Do know that although your dogs and cats can peacefully cohabitate, it doesn’t mean they won’t pounce at the sight of an outsider cat or dog. They may learn to accept their frenemy as a member of the family, but will kill or hurt those they perceive are not a member of the pack. With that, you should still monitor your pets every time you introduce a new pet to the family.

Finally, dogs will be dogs and cats will be cats. They will pounce, nip, bite, and pull each other’s hair. Naughty cats will even prompt a dog for a chase. Your cat should always have places to jump up or escape to when things get out of control.

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