How To Introduce A New Puppy To A Cat
Plus tips for when your cat's reallyyy not feeling it 😳
When you’re bringing your new puppy home to meet your cat, you’re obviously hoping they’ll end up BFFs.
And they probably will, but it’s best to be prepared with a plan so you can help them start off on the right foot.
So The Dodo spoke with Dr. Stefanie Schwartz, a veterinary behaviorist at Pet Behavior Medicine in California, who offered some advice about the best way to introduce your puppy to your cat.
Introducing a puppy to a cat
When it comes to introducing your new puppy to your cat, the outcome is going to depend on a ton of factors.
Things like the size and the age of your puppy are going to affect just how threatened your cat will feel by his new roomie.
“If we’re talking about a puppy that’s around the same size or smaller than the cat, it may be less threatening to the cat,” Dr. Schwartz told The Dodo. “But it also means it’s an easier victim if the cat is not accepting.”
On the other hand, the bigger the puppy, the bigger the visual threat to your cat.
“If a puppy is larger than a cat … then that’s an immediate threat to most cats, unless they’re a cat that had a dog before the new puppy,” Dr. Schwartz said.
If your cat has lived with a dog before, you might have an easier go of it, since your cat will have some idea of what to expect, and your puppy won’t feel as unknown or unfamiliar.
“If it’s a new puppy for a cat that’s never been with a dog, then you’re basically starting at a deficit, regardless of the size of the puppy, because they have no reference and no experience, so it’s not usually well-accepted,” Dr. Schwartz explained. “Although there are always exceptions.”
You want the two of them to get along more than anything, but there’s really no telltale sign of how the introduction will go.
“It’s difficult predicting that magic in any relationship, regardless of the species,” Dr. Schwartz said. “So much of it is visual, but sometimes … cats and dogs can fall in love with each other and be best friends, or they can hate each other instantly just like people do.”
But even if it’s not love at first sight, all hope isn’t lost!
“Even a cat who’s never seen a dog before can sometimes take it in stride and work it through and think about it and then they can become really good friends,” Dr. Schwartz said.
While you can’t entirely control how your puppy and your cat will feel about each other, there are some things you can do to make sure their interactions go the best they can.
“[If you’re] letting things go naturally and just putting up levels of security and letting things proceed by baby steps, they will at least learn to coexist, if not become really good friends,” Dr. Schwartz said.
Tip #1: Set up baby gates
“The first thing I would do is put up lots of baby gates to section off [parts of the house] so that the cat can get away,” Dr. Schwartz said.
The last thing you want is for your cat to feel backed into a corner, because that’s when aggressive behavior can come out (since he won’t feel like he has any other choice).
“For the average age cat and the average puppy, the baby gates are helpful because it gives the cat the opportunity to avoid the dog, and [prevents] the dog [from pursuing him],” Dr. Schwartz explained. (That’s because most cats can jump over the gates, while a puppy will be stuck behind them.)
Try putting the gate in places like:
- The hallway
- The kitchen
- The entrance to the cat’s favorite room
Tip #2: Keep the puppy on a leash
Dr. Schwartz also recommends putting your puppy in a harness or a collar and keeping her on a leash while introducing her to your cat.
“Sometimes just restraining the puppy while the cat has a chance to visually inspect them and smell them … then that can help too,” she said.
“Unless the cat is clearly not aggressive, most pet owners are … concerned about the cat scratching the puppy’s eyes if their face gets too close,” Dr. Schwartz explained. “That does happen, no question, but most of the time if the puppy’s restrained and the cat has a chance to leave, they will simply leave rather than attack.”
Tip #3: Nap time might be the best time
If you don’t want your cat to only see your new puppy as a threat, consider letting him try to approach the pup while she’s sleeping.
“Puppy naps are sometimes a nice opportunity to let the cat get in a little bit closer,” Dr. Schwartz said. “When the puppy is sleeping, that’s sometimes a nice time to let the cat out and check out the puppy while [she’s] sleeping, since puppies tend to sleep really hard.”
Tip #4: Give your puppy another energy outlet
It’s super important to make sure you’re giving your puppy plenty of exercise and the chance to play with other puppies (provided she’s had all the right shots, of course).
“If [your puppy is] kept inside and not allowed to develop social relationships with another playmate, then it’s all going to be focused on the cat,” Dr. Schwartz explained.
This might not seem like a bad thing, but you have to remember that dogs and cats don’t play the same way, so your cat might feel threatened by your puppy when all she’s trying to do is play.
“Although there are some dogs and cats that absolutely play together, most of the time it … won’t go well,” Dr. Schwartz said.
Tip #5: Obedience training is key
Obviously, you’re going to want to train your puppy anyway, but basic commands are actually super helpful when introducing her to your cat.
“Most puppies can learn to ‘sit’ [or ‘come’] at a very young age,” Dr. Schwartz said.
This can be especially useful if you’re introducing your pets and your cat is NOT having it.
“If the puppy knows ‘come’ and the puppy is about to pounce on the cat or vice versa, then the owner can [give the puppy a command],” Dr. Schwartz explained.
It can even help if their relationship is off to a rocky start, since it will allow your cat to build trust with your puppy.
“Cats don’t necessarily trust right away,” Dr. Schwartz said. “Once [the cat] sees they aren’t in any danger and that [the puppy] is not a threat [because she backed off when you called her], then that opens the door for them to have a good relationship.”
Tip #6: Keep their food away from each other
You definitely don’t want your cat or your puppy to develop food aggression — especially not if it’s directed toward each other.
So your best bet is to make sure they have their own designated eating areas.
“Feed the cat from an elevated surface or in a room that’s closed in,” Dr. Schwartz said.
“For the dog, pick up any leftover food in the bowl, because you don’t want either of them to start getting negative association with the other over food,” Dr. Schwartz explained.
Tip #7: Keep your cat separated when your puppy first comes home
Your cat may have been there first, but your place is now your puppy’s home, too.
So it’s only fair to give her a chance to get to know her new digs without the risk of your cat interfering or making her feel uncomfortable.
“Initially, when you bring the dog in, it’s sometimes nice to have the cat closed in and let the puppy come in, check out the place and kind of take their introduction in baby steps,” Dr. Schwartz said.
Things to watch out for when introducing your puppy and cat
Obviously, signs of aggressive behavior are going to be your main concern when introducing your puppy and your cat.
(For example, if your pup is a breed that’s more active or prey-focused, like a husky, you’ll want to go really slowly with introductions.)
The biggest red flag would be predatory aggression.
“If the dog is being very quiet and looks like it’s stalking the cat and like it’s absolutely not playing … that’s the kind of thing that you’re very unlikely to get over because that’s very hardwired,” Dr. Schwartz explained. (That’s a case where you’ll definitely want to consult a professional trainer.)
And even if your pets don’t get along right away, don’t give up hope!
“[If your pets don’t like each other,] definitely leave the baby gates in place and make sure that the dog gets basic obedience training,” Dr. Schwartz said.
Making sure those precautions are in place could still help your cat and dog eventually build trust with each other.
After all, according to Dr. Schwartz, it can take six to 12 months to get used to any new relationship.
So sometimes you just need to give it time.
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