During lockdown two of my friends bought puppies to add to their family of pets. Unfortunately, in both cases, their cats were less than impressed!
If you’re thinking about getting a dog, the planning should start during the decision-making process.
Your Cat’s Experience with Dogs
Do you know if your cat has had any previous exposure to dogs, either as a kitten or adult cat? If your cat is from a rescue background, are you aware of any history of exposure to dogs, either negative or positive? Do you know how he reacted, was he curious or anxious? If you don’t know the answer, you could try signing up to an organisation that puts dog owners in touch with those who can look after their dog when they are away. This will give you the opportunity to not only find out if a dog is right for you, but if a dog is right for your cat!
Indoors or Outdoors?
Is your cat indoor-only or does he have access to the great outdoors? For cats that are kept exclusively indoors it’s even more important for them to feel comfortable with a dog as they have no means of escaping the four walls of their home. If your cat is able to go outside it’s possible that, if distressed by the new canine arrival he might leave home for a period of time before coming to terms with this drastic change in the household.
Your Home Environment
Do you have enough space in your home to house your cat and dog separately if needed? If your cat shows signs of anxiety in the presence of the dog, you may need to restrict your dog to specific areas of your house not used by the cat. It’s not ideal though!
If frightened, cats will seek a quiet, private place to hide, so you need to ensure you have plenty available. It’s also in the cat’s interest to have lots of high places he can climb up to without the dog being able to follow.
Your Cat's Temperament
Think about your cat’s temperament. If your cat is fearful or nervous a dog could reinforce his feelings of anxiety.
Which Dog Breed?
Avoid breeds such as terriers, greyhounds and other breeds designed to chase small furry objects. Instead try dogs such as the Golden Labrador, Retriever or Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Does Age Matter?
Puppies are easier to work with as they are young and malleable and will soon become used to the presence of another species, treating it as just another member of the family. If you want to acquire an older dog, make sure you determine its previous history with cats.
DECISION MADE - PLANNING THE INTRODUCTIONS
Introductions between cats and dogs should be carefully planned conducted gradually so as not to allow the dog to chase the cat. In most cases cats will want to run away and when confronted with a disappearing cat, many dogs will automatically give chase even if they have no intention of doing harm should they catch the fleeing feline. For the cat this will automatically create a negative association with what in their mind is an unknown predator!
The Guidelines - Introducing a Cat to a Dog
Consider using a baby gate to section off areas of your home which your cat can access but where your dog isn’t allowed.
Ensure there are plenty of high resting places in the home where your cat can retreat, away from the new arrival.
Introduce your puppy or dog to his new home using a dog crate.
If you are introducing an adult dog, then the crate can also be used for quiet times and sleeping.
Plan ahead and start to feed your cat in an area way from the location where you intend to put the dog crate; this will prevent your cat going off his food.
Try to place the crate well away from the thoroughfare leading to the cat flap or normal exit route for your cat.
If litter trays are provided indoors, ensure they are located discreetly and in areas where your new dog will not be able to go.
Introduce the new dog to your cat in a room from which the cat can easily escape.
With the dog in his crate allow the cat to approach, if willing. The cat should be in control of his own movements at all times and be allowed to choose whether or not to approach the crate.
Your cat may hiss or growl, but the dog will be protected by the crate.
Give your cat attention at this time. Grooming, play or his favourite food treat will help to create positive associations with his new canine pal.
Likewise, the dog can be given treats when showing calm behaviour in the presence of the cat or (if an adult dog) can be given a tasty chew in his crate before the cat is allowed into the room.
When your cat seems relaxed in the same room as the dog you can open the pen, with the dog on the lead, and allow the dog to sit beside you whilst you hold him on the lead to prevent him from chasing and reward his calm behaviour with a treat.
Continue to have the dog and cat in the same room (with the dog on a lead) and give food treats to both to reward calm, relaxed behaviour.
After a few weeks, depending on progress, you can try without the lead.
It’s important not to allow any unsupervised encounters until both parties are relaxed in each other's presence and the dog has been trained not to chase.
It's important to remember that cats and dogs are species at opposite ends of the spectrum. Dogs are a social species and you as their beloved owner will be the most important thing in their lives. The most important thing in your cat’s life is its territory. Their life is all about establishing and defending their indoor and outdoor territory, not only from other cats, but from dogs too.
My friends who recently acquired their dogs now find themselves in a tough situation. In both cases their cats have been sufficiently frightened to confine themselves to small areas of the house, and in doing so not only spend their days constantly on the look-out for their canine nemesis but have had their territory drastically reduced, along with their quality of life.
So, if you’re thinking about getting a dog, and already have a cat hopefully these guidelines will help you make what is a very important decision.