Introducing Your Newly Adopted Dog or Pup to the Family Cat

If you are bringing home a new dog or puppy into your household, introductions with any resident pets should be approached slowly. If you have a cat or kitten please do not introduce the pets on the floor, but have the cat out of reach of the dog. It’s best to have one of the pets in a crate and let the other pet walk by. If the new dog becomes fixated or begins to salivate then you will need to keep them separate and consult a trainer to insure the safety of both pets. This is not only for the safety of your cat, but for the safety of the new dog or puppy as well.

One must never just bring a new dog or puppy into the household and assume that the dog and cat will “work it out” in their own way and in their own time. That is true up to a point. However, it is very important that one brings the new dog or puppy into the house on a leash and makes that initial introduction with considerable supervision, alertness, and preparedness for any sort of negative response on the part of either animal.

We have had dogs in foster homes that have done well with resident cats, come nose to nose with them, and had no fear. Given that experience, that same dog is going to logically assume that any cat is friendly. Most likely the dog will approach a new cat with curiosity, but also without due caution. If the family cat is not used to dogs, the chances of it taking a swipe with sharp claws is very possible. This can happen with even the most benign puppy or dog that has had only a good experience with cats in the foster home. If your cat has not lived with dogs and not seen dogs, it will be fearful.

Before bringing the new dog home, make a point of clipping your cat’s nails. If the cat does take a swipe, a dull nail can mean the difference between serious and non-serious injury. Cats go for the eyes of any threatening animal out of fear and the need to protect themselves. In split seconds, a cat’s nail can puncture the cornea of an unsuspecting dog or puppy. It is better to be safe than sorry.

The most important thing is that the resident cat knows there is a new member of the family. By introducing the new dog or puppy on a leash to the cat, and keeping the dog at a reasonable distance, one is playing it safe for everyone. The cat needs to see the dog, know it will be in the home, but on first sight, not have nose to nose contact. Never just allow the dog to walk up to your cat on its first contact. Some cats will hide and some will protest by not using the litter box. In most cases it can take one to three weeks for a cat to accept a new pet.

Sometimes these formal introductions have to be made over and over, if one suspects the cat might become agitated. On leash, allow the dog to move slowly up to the cat while the cat is elevated on a counter or something high. The cat needs to sense that curiosity, not aggression, is the motive behind the interest. After awhile, the cat will realize the dog is not going to hurt it. Puppies are particularly at risk for eye injuries as their reactions are not as quick as an adult dog.

Conversely, one may have a new dog that is not used to cats. The dog may be overbearing in its curiosity, and may be too rough. It may want to chase. This will take patience to do a lot of “on leash” introductions. The goal is to get the dog to say “Ok, that small fry lives here too, and it’s no big deal – I guess I don’t have to chase it.”

No matter what the past experience a dog has had with cats in its former foster or original home has been, always take the safe approach. Never assume. Walking in the door for the first time, have your new dog on leash. Place your cat in a room where it can not leave. Let it see the new dog. Make sure the dog sees it. Keep the dog on leash and be sure it does make eye contact with the cat. Then let each approach one another, keeping some distance between them. Take your time. Do not rush the introduction. If you sense any concern that the cat might hurt the dog, or the dog hurt the cat, make the introductions formal and on leash for several days, until some understanding is reached between them.

Once a cat senses a dog is not going to hurt it, it most often does not attack with its claws. But this comes with a lot of safe introductions in the beginning. Never consider de-clawing a cat to avoid eye injuries to your dog! De-clawing is a painful and unnecessary approach and it is not endorsed by most vets or humane organizations due to its disfiguring and negative consequences. If you truly feel the dog may hurt the cat, or the cat hurt the dog, please keep them separate, and call us to discuss.

Please do not leave dogs and cats alone together unsupervised for at least the first six months that the dog is in the home. It’s always better to err on the side of safety than to put your pets at risk.