Whether you have just adopted a cat or a dog or currently have both a cat and a dog, the process of making a happy, blended family is the same. Sometimes nothing needs to be done but let them sniff each other but this is not the norm. Usually, intermediation is required. Whether you are introducing a kitten or a cat to dog or multiple dogs or vice versa, you will need a little time and patience.
It’s important to note that a small number of cats and dogs may never become bff’s. Usually, it’s the breed of dog that is the cause – some breeds are much more likely to look at cats as prey and it is very difficult to change their behavior. We’ll get into this later. Let’s look at the average cat and average dog.
Understanding your pets’ body language is very important. Knowing when one is over-excited or scared early on will help you step in and either slow or move the process along. When cats feel threatened, they often will do one or more of the following: 1) crouching 2) flatten their ears 3) tuck their tail 4) arch their back 5) hide or 6) hiss. For dogs, they may 1) growl 2) tuck their tail 3) pin their ears 4) yawn or lip-lick or 5) yawn a lot. If your pets are not exhibiting these behaviors, you’re good to go to the next step.
You will need to set up prior to the introduction. You’ll need the following: 1) treats for both cat and dog 2) toys for both cat and dog 3) a helper 4) a gate to place between the pets and 5) towels. One other thing you will need lots of is time and patience. It is not abnormal for the introduction period to take weeks or even months.
To start, keep your dog and cat apart via the gate, which will be in a doorway such that the pets can be separated by both the door and the gate. On one side is the cat space and the other belongs to the dog. Next, just let a couple of days pass as they get used to each other’s scents and habits. Thirdly, get the towels and place them in areas where your cat rests/sleeps and areas where your dog rests/sleeps. Then exchange the towels daily for a couple of weeks. This will increase their awareness of the other’s scents. Fourth, start performing things (simultaneously with helper, cat and dog) on each side of the door (closed) like training or playtimes. Use a flirt pole, a tug toy, balls, a laser pen, whatever your pets like to play with. Keep the sessions at 10 minutes or so, engaging your pets the whole time – do this twice a day or so. Some good training implements are coming when called, “look at me”, and “leave it!”. These will become helpful down the road. Fifth, open the door and keep the gate closed. Continue to train/play per the above. This part may take a few weeks before they remain calm with just the gate between them. During the entire time, from day one, feed your pets at the same time, in the same place, near the door. This will help them feel positive toward the other.
There is no basic timeframe for how long all of the above should last. You will have to play it by ear, using the tools above on body language to help you get a feel for whether they are calm or not. It’s a good idea to put up cat shelves/trees so the cat can escape if needed. If you find that your pets are not adjusting, back up the steps and try it again, perhaps even more slowly. Lastly, the pets’ safety should be paramount, patience is the virtue, and really get good at understanding their body language. Your pets may never be bff’s but if you follow these instructions, there is a very good chance they will come to at least tolerate each other.