Introducing Your New Cat to Your Pets
Cats who live in the same house may never become the best of friends, but usually learn to at least tolerate each other with a minimum of conflict. You will need to take some time to introduce your cat to other family pets in order to prevent fearful and aggressive problems from developing.
Introducing A New Cat to Other Cats
- Confine the new cat to one room with its litter box, food, water, and a bed. Feed the present cats and the newcomer near either side of the door to this room. Don't put the food so close to the door that the cats are too upset by each other to eat. This will help start things out right by associating something enjoyable (eating) with each other's presence. Gradually move the dishes closer to the door until the cats can eat calmly directly on either side. Next, use two door stops to prop open the door just enough to allow the cats to see each other, and repeat the whole process.
- Switch sleeping blankets between the new cat and resident cats so they have a chance to become accustomed to each other's scent. Also put the scented blankets underneath the food dishes.
- Once the new cat is using its box and eating regularly while confined, let it have free time in the house while confining the other cats. This switch provides another way for the cats to experience each other's scent without a face to face meeting. It also allows the newcomer to become familiar with its new surroundings without being frightened by other animals.
- Avoid any interactions between the cats which result in either fearful or aggressive behavior. If these responses are allowed to become habit, they can be difficult to change. It's better to introduce the animals to each other so gradually that neither cat becomes afraid or aggressive. You can expect mild forms of these behaviors, but don't give them the opportunity to intensify. If either cat becomes fearful or aggressive, separate them, and continue the introduction process in a series of gradual steps, as outlined above.
You'll need to add another litter box and scoop and clean all the boxes more frequently. Make sure that none of the cats is being "ambushed" by another while trying to use the box.
Expect hissing, spitting and growling. If a fight breaks out, do not interfere directly. Instead throw a blanket over each cat, wrapping the blanket around the cat before picking him up. Separate the cats until they have calmed down. It may be best to leave the cats separated when you are not home until you are sure they are getting along well.
Successful introductions require time and patience. Don't
expect things to be perfect overnight!
Introducing a New Cat to a Resident Dog
Dogs and cats who have not experienced each other will require some extra time to become accustomed to each other. Dogs usually want to chase and play with cats, and cats are usually afraid and defensive. You can use any of the techniques described in "Introducing a new cat to other cats." In addition:
If your dog does not already know the commands "sit," "down," "come," and "stay," you should begin working on them. Little tidbits of food increase your dog's motivation to perform, which will be necessary in the presence of such a strong distraction as a new cat. Even if your dog already knows the commands, work with obeying commands in return for a tidbit.
- After the animals have become comfortable eating on either side of the door, and have been exposed to each other's scents as described on the other side, you can attempt a face to face introduction in a controlled manner. Put your dog's leash on, and command him to either "sit" or "down" and "stay," using food tidbits. Have another family member enter the room and quietly sit down with the cat on his or her lap. The cat should also be offered some special tidbits. At first, the cat and dog should be on OPPOSITE sides of the room. Repeat this step several times until both the cat and dog are tolerating each other without fear, aggression, or other uncontrollable behavior.
- Next, move the animals a little closer together, with the dog still on a leash and the cat gently held in a lap. If the cat does not like to be held, you can use a wire crate or carrier instead. If the dog gets up from its "stay" position, it should be firmly repositioned, and praised and rewarded for obeying the "stay" command. If the cat becomes frightened, increase the distance between the animals and progress more slowly. Eventually, the animals should be brought close enough together to allow them to investigate each other.
- Although your dog must be taught that chasing or being rough with the cat is unacceptable behavior, your dog must also be taught how to behave appropriately, and be rewarded for doing so (e.g. sitting, coming when called, or lying down in return for a tidbit). If your dog is always punished whenever the cat is around, and never has "good things" happen in the cat's presence, your dog may redirect aggression toward the cat.
- You may want to keep your dog on a leash and with you when the cat is free in the house during the introduction process. Be sure that your cat has an escape route, and a place to hide. Keep the dog and cat separated when you aren't home until you are certain they will both be safe
Precautions: Dogs like to eat cat food because it is very high in protein, and therefore very tasty. Keep cat food out of the dog's reach (in a closet, on a high shelf, etc.). Why dogs like to eat cat feces is not well understood but it is a relatively common behavior. Although there are no health hazards to the dog from this habit, it is usually distasteful to the owners. Attempts to keep the dog out of the litter box by "booby trapping" will also keep the cat away as well. Punishment after the fact will NOT change the dog's behavior. Probably the best solution is to place the litter box where the dog cannot access it such as behind a baby gate, or in a closet with the door anchored open (from both sides)just wide enough for the cat. Always feed your dog alone. Cats should not eat dog food as it may cause dietary deficiencies.
Written by Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, Animal Behavior Associates