How to help your dog adapt to a new cat
Whilst the perception is that dogs love to chase and hunt cats, the two can live harmoniously together. Knowing how and when to introduce your dog to a new cat in the household is the key to them becoming friends and getting along well.
Are you wondering how to get your dog used to a new cat? This article looks at how you can stop your dog from being stressed by a new cat, so it doesn’t feel left out or see the new member of the family as a threat.
Start with preparing your home
Before bringing a new cat home to a dog it’s important to get things ready. Whether you’re introducing a cat or a kitten to your dog, both will need their own area where they feel safe.
Don´t move your dog’s bed or blankets from their usual position – this isn´t the time to make them feel excluded. Keeping things as normal as possible will smooth the introduction process.
Provide the cat with a high area (such as a cat play table) where it can escape the dog if it wants to. Cats enjoy sleeping and monitoring what’s going on from above – just make sure your dog can´t knock over the table if it chases the cat.
The importance of training
A well-trained dog is less likely to attack a cat as it will obey commands such as ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘down’. Training is essential whether you have a cat or not, so the dog knows its place in the pecking order of the family.
If you haven´t trained your dog as well as you planned or if you have a puppy, the time to do this is before you introduce a cat. A dog that understands its boundaries and is content will be more accepting of a new pet.
Remember that a puppy will be much more playful than an older dog, but an older dog may be set in its ways and feel stressed by change. You will know your dog’s personality and how it may react to the cat. However, never assume a dog will not attack a cat – it is in their instinct – it is up to you to manage the situation.
The first introduction
How to introduce a new cat to a dog for the first time? If your dog is prone to stress anyway you should introduce the new cat slowly. If you have a garden make the first introduction outside where nothing can be damaged if the pets get excited.
Let them get to know each other slowly and keep your dog on a lead at first. They need to learn this is a friend, not a plaything, so don´t allow them to jump on or chase the cat.
A firm ‘no’ each time this happens and removing the dog from the situation will make it clear this is not acceptable. If they have a crate put them in it, or in their bed in a separate room with the door closed for a short time.
However, don´t shout at your dog or put them somewhere they’re not used to as this will cause them stress.
Start by feeding the dog and cat on opposite sides of the room so they are aware of the other animal’s presence without feeling threatened. Gradually move the food bowls closer together over a period of time so they get used to eating together. Cats tend to leave their food and return to it several times – if your dog eats the cat food another ‘no’ will confirm that they shouldn´t do this.
If the temptation of the food is too much to resist you should put the cat food out of the dog’s reach.
Your dog may go off its food for a couple of days due to feeling anxious about the new situation. If this happens don´t worry – they’ll soon realise that the cat isn´t going to steal their dinner.
Learning to live together
As your dog becomes accustomed to the cat and realises they are still important to you they are less likely to feel stressed.
When the dog demonstrates good behaviour, such as stopping chasing or jumping when you tell it give a treat as a reward. This is known as positive reinforcement and is a successful way to train a dog to treat a cat with respect.
Never leave a dog and new cat alone until you are absolutely sure they get on. This could take several months. When you do eventually leave them make sure the cat has an escape route such as a cat flap.
Signs of stress due to a new cat
Your dog may seem fine but could be feeling very stressed and you should look out for signs of this. They may go off their food, as we mentioned before, bark or whine, pace the room or even adopt a cowering posture.
Another stress symptom is the dog peeing in the house after a new cat arrives. They may also poo in the house, which they may never have done before. If this happens you should go back to house training for a short while, as if they were a puppy.
Should I give my dog medication when I get a new cat?
Unless your dog is very aggressive medication to calm them shouldn´t be necessary. However, you may wish to try a natural way to soothe your pet by using Lactium®. This is a natural, milk-derived ingredient that is proven to reduce stress in pets without having any side effects.
The secret to harmony when you have a new cat in the house with a dog is to devote time to the introduction and the pets living together and, most importantly make your dog feel it is still loved.