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Behaviour Articles
By Donna Brander, Animal Behaviourist

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This information is to be used as guidelines only. Decisions made about the future of any pet should be based on a professional assessment and a course of treatment that is personalised for the pet's individual situation.

Introducing a cat to the household dog

So you have decided that your dog needs company. You do not have the space for another dog. How about a cat? They will be the best of pals, spending time gently playing with each other and perhaps sleeping curled up with each other in front of the fire. Read On!

“I heard a noise and then I saw the dog running into the sitting room yelping.  The cat was attached to the dogs head and yowling.  I ran over and pulled the cat off and tried to hold it face down.  The dog ran off to the other side of the room.  The cat managed to turn onto its back and sink its teeth into my left arm.  When I let it go, it launched itself back onto the dog’s head.  The dog then ran off to the utility room where my wife and I managed to separate them.  The cat then sat by the window for at least an hour looking a bit distressed (fluffed up and annoyed) and the dog refused to come out from under the bed where it was hiding.”  (This is a verbatim report from a client).

This was obviously not what was envisioned when the decision was made to add a cat to the household. But variations of this scenario are common and some are less amusing and far more tragic.  The dog, the cat and the owners are all at risk.

It is important to realise, that from a dog’s point of view, this is not a new friend you have brought into your home but an invasion of territory and family by an unknown animal. ALL KINDS of problems are waiting to happen. The dog may perceive the cat as an animal to be chased, caught and killed. Or the dog may try approaching the cat as he would another dog.  If the cat is not familiar with the social niceties of a dog, he may be frightened or take offence. Or the dog may just perceive the cat as competition for the attention of the owners.  Hopefully,  this article will help you make a calm and successful introduction between your dog and the “invading” cat.

Dogs and cats need proper introductions in which all contact can be perceived as rewarding rather than alarming. To that end, the following action should be taken.

The two animals should be separated for about a week and confined to a comfortable but boring environment; i.e. no food left out, no toys and less cuddling from the owners.  During this period of isolation, the animals should be brought into each others’ proximity for between four and eight behaviour therapy sessions spread out during the day at about 10 to 15 minutes per session. Each animals daily portion of food should be separated into four to eight small parcels for this purpose. Both animals should be properly restrained when brought together, with the dog on leash and the cat in a kennel cage, if necessary.

Life totally changes for both of them during the 10-15 minute behaviour therapy interval.  Both animals should be fed, played with, cuddled, talked to and even given a calming massage when in the company of each other.  All games and praise should be done in a relaxing manner.  If there is only one person available for these introduction sessions, all attention should be on the “home” dog rather than the new cat. It is important for the dog to know that it is still number one.

One of the big mistakes that is made in introductions is to give all the attention to the new animal while the old member of the family is shouted at, smacked and generally told off for being too rough or curious. It might be pointed out that the same problem exists when introducing a new baby into the family! With dogs or children, this behaviour leads to “jealousy” and competing for the attention of the adults. The best attitude for the adult humans to take is that the old member of the family is the favoured one over the new.

For ongoing management of a dog/cat household, it is helpful to teach your dog the term “Gently”, to be used in conjunction with taking titbits from your fingers.  This same term can be used more generally in situations with the cat. Dogs need to learn that cats sometimes require an inhibition of boisterous behaviour.

To help the cat feel more secure, set up many high “safe” places for the cat to be able to be a part of the family without necessarily having to deal with the dog.  Place bits of food and soft blankets in various high places. You might make one room in the house a ‘cats only’ area.  Pheromone sprays are often useful in helping a cat feel more secure and less aggressive in new places and situations. Catnip can also be useful if it relaxes the cat. Be aware that catnip has the opposite effect on some cats! The main point is that it is important to make the cat feel secure so that it becomes calmer in its reactions to the overtures from the dog and to its new environment in general.

Overall, it is your job to make sure that your dog has no reason to feel that the new cat will take his/her place in your affections. Any situations where you will be shouting at the dog about his behaviour with the cat should be avoided.   The new cat should be made to feel as secure as possible in the new environment. Bolt holes and safe places may be necessary. Start this cat/dog relationship out as you wish it to go on.  Instead of scratching, biting, howling, yowling and general chaos, dog/cat togetherness is rewarding, with calming massages, meals and, best of all, your attention!

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