Dogs are natural predators of cats, so unless they’ve had prior positive experiences with dogs, all but the most laid back cats will feel threatened by the introduction of a new dog. The way in which the two pets are introduced can have a significant effect on their future interactions, so it’s important to do the right things when you first put the two animals together.
There is a risk that the dog will attack the cat. Dogs that have lived with cats previously usually get along well with other cats, but a dog with no prior cat experience may behave unpredictably. In the case of a puppy under 3 months old, the risk is relatively low, but with a bigger dog, it’s important to ensure the cat’s safety.
If you are adopting a dog from an animal shelter, you can request that the staff check the dog’s behaviour around cats before you make your final decision. If adopting the dog from another owner, ask the owner about any prior interactions the dog has had with cats. Ideally, the dog has lived with cats before, has a gentle nature, or is very young. A dog that has been raised with cats is very unlikely to attack them. If possible, start with a trial adoption to make sure that the dog is not inclined to be violent toward your cat before making the final decision.
Bringing a New Dog Home
Keep the two animals separate until they can get used to one another. Use a baby gate or some other type of barrier to confine the dog to one area of the house or apartment – a room or two. This will enable the cat to take the initiative in approaching the dog, which is important because the cat is the one that will feel threatened.
Once the cat is able to calmly approach the dog, the gate or barrier can be removed. After removing the barrier, monitor their behaviour together during initial meetings. Don’t let the dog bark, chase, or lunge at the cat, as this can create a negative association that eliminates the possibility of future friendship. Use a short leash if the dog is inclined to be exuberant, and watch the situation closely. Attacks can happen swiftly, and as she is much smaller, the cat can be seriously hurt in a very brief scuffle.
Most cats attack aggressively only when cornered by a dog, so preventing the dog from cornering the cat will reduce the likelihood of scratches (trimming the tips of the cat’s claws before introducing the animals to one another is also a good idea). In a worst-case scenario, the cat may scratch the dog’s eyes, but such corneal lacerations, when treated by a veterinarian, usually heal without any permanent ill effects.
When stopping the dog from chasing or barking, use commands or restrain him gently – if you are too punitive, the dog may develop a negative association with the cat. Similarly, the cat should not be punished for growling, hissing, or swiping at the dog, as she will develop negative feelings about the dog as a result. Reward both pets with treats and praise for interacting positively, or even for being in the same room without behaving negatively toward one another.
Owners should never try to force interactions – let the cat set the pace, and don’t leave the dog and the cat alone together until you’re sure that they’re completely comfortable with one another. Dogs and cats can become the best of friends as long as the introductions are handled carefully.
Introducing a New Cat to Your Dog
If you have a resident dog and the cat is the newcomer, all the same strategies should be used. The main difference is that the resident dog has established territory and may be inclined to guard food and other aspects of this territory, which could present a risk to the cat. In this case, the dog should be retrained, if possible, to share his space. If this does not work, then the two animals may need to be permanently kept apart using a gate or other barrier. However, most cats and dogs can learn to share a territory peaceably.