Introducing Your New Cat to Other Pets

Wouldn’t it be nice if all it took to introduce a new cat to your established pet was a brief handshake and a couple of hellos? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple, which means you’ll need to have some realistic expectations from the outset. First, you need to accept that your pets may never be best friends but will usually come to at least tolerate each other. Second, you need to understand that this introduction takes time. Please do not expect that they will get along immediately, unfortunately this is hardly ever true. It can take up to 4 weeks for them to start tolerating each other, please be patient during the introduction process to increase your chances for success. If you already have pets at home, please think carefully to see if you can dedicate your time and patience to help your new cat settle.

Of course, some cats are more social than other cats. For example, an eight-year-old cat who has never been around other animals may never learn to share her territory (and her people) with other pets in the household. But an eight-week-old kitten separated from her mum and littermates for the first time might be glad to have a cat or dog companion.

Cats are territorial, and they need to be introduced to other animals very slowly so they can get used to each other before a face-to-face confrontation. Slow introductions help prevent fearful and aggressive problems from developing. Here are some guidelines to help make the introductions go smoothly:

For the first 48 hours confine your new cat to one medium-sized room with her litter box, food, water, and a bed. Your laundry room would be great for this but please remember to keep the washer/dryer doors closed. Or if using the bathroom, please remember to move any chemicals and make sure the toilet seat is kept closed at all times. Feed your resident pets and the newcomer on each side of the door to this room, so that they associate something enjoyable (eating!) with each other’s smells. Don’t put the food so close to the door that the animals are too upset by each other’s presence to eat. Gradually move the dishes closer to the door until your pets can eat calmly while standing directly on either side of the door.

Swap the sleeping blankets or beds used by the cats/dogs so they each have a chance to become accustomed to the other’s scent. You can even rub a towel on one animal and put it underneath the food dish of another animal. If there are more than two animals in the house, do the same for each animal.

Time to Explore
Once your new cat is using her litter box and eating regularly while confined, let her have free time in the house while confining your other animals to the new cat’s room. This switch provides another way for the animals to experience each other’s scents without a face-to-face meeting. It also allows the newcomer to become familiar with her new surroundings without being frightened by the other animals.
Next, after the animals have been returned to their original designated parts of the house, use two doorstops to prop open the dividing door just enough to allow the animals to see each other, and repeat the whole process over a period of days—supervised, of course.

Avoid any interactions between your pets that result in either fearful or aggressive behaviour. If these responses are allowed to become a habit, they can be difficult to change. It’s better to introduce your pets to each other so gradually that neither animal becomes afraid or aggressive. You can expect a mild protest from either cat from time to time, but don’t allow these behaviours to intensify. If either animal becomes fearful or aggressive, separate them, and start the introduction process once again with a series of very small, gradual steps, as outlined above.

PLEASE NOTE: When you introduce pets to each other, one of them may send “play” signals which can be misinterpreted by the other pet as signs of aggression.

Precautionary Measures
If one of your pets has a medical problem or is injured, the introduction process might be stalled a bit. Check with your veterinarian to be sure all your pets are healthy. You’ll also want to have at least one litter box per cat, and you’ll probably need to clean all of the litter boxes more frequently. Make sure that none of the cats are being “ambushed” by another while trying to use the litter box, and be sure each cat has a safe hiding place.

Try to keep your resident pets’ schedule close to what it was before the newcomer’s arrival. Cats can make a lot of noise, pull each other’s hair, and roll around quite dramatically without any injuries. If small spats do occur between your cats, you shouldn’t attempt to intervene directly to separate the cats. Instead, make a loud noise, throw a pillow, or use a squirt bottle with water and vinegar to separate the cats. Give them a chance to calm down before re-introducing them to each other.

Cat-to-Dog Introductions
You’ll need to be even more careful when introducing a dog and a cat to one another. A dog can seriously injure and even kill a cat very easily, even if they’re only playing—all it takes is one quick shake to break the cat’s neck. Some dogs have such a high prey drive they should never be left alone with a cat. Dogs usually want to chase and play with cats, and cats usually become afraid and defensive. Use the techniques described above to begin introducing your new cat to your resident dog. Practice Obedience, If your dog doesn’t already know the commands “sit,” “down,” “come,” and “stay,” begin working on them right away. Small pieces of food will increase your dog’s motivation to perform, which will be necessary in the presence of a strong distraction such as a new cat. Even if your dog already knows these commands, work to reinforce these commands in return for a treat.

Controlled Meeting
After your new cat and resident dog have become comfortable eating on opposite sides of the door and have been exposed to each other’s scents as described above, you can attempt a face-to-face introduction in a controlled manner. Put your dog’s leash on and have him either sit or lie down and stay for treats. Ask another family member or friend to enter the room and quietly sit down next to your new cat, but don’t ask them to physically restrain her. Have this person offer your cat some special pieces of food. At first, the cat and the dog should be on opposite sides of the room. Lots of short visits are better than a few long visits. Don’t drag out the visit so long that the dog becomes uncontrollable. Repeat this step several times until both the cat and dog are tolerating each other’s presence without fear, aggression, or other undesirable behaviour.

Let Your Cat Go
Next, allow your cat some freedom to explore your dog at her own pace, with the dog still on-leash and in a “down-stay.” Meanwhile, keep giving your dog treats and praise for his calm behaviour. If your dog gets up from his “stay” position, he should be repositioned with a treat lure, and praised and rewarded for obeying the “stay” command. If your cat runs away or becomes aggressive, you’re progressing too fast. Go back to the previous introduction steps.

Positive Reinforcement
Although your dog must be taught that chasing or being rough with your cat is unacceptable behaviour, he must also be taught just what is appropriate, and be rewarded for those behaviours, such as sitting, coming when called, or lying down in return for a treat. If your dog is always punished when your cat is around, and never has “good things” happen in the cat’s presence, your dog may redirect aggression toward the cat.

Directly Supervise All Interactions between Your Dog and Cat
You may want to keep your dog at your side and on-leash whenever your cat is free in the house during the introduction process. Be sure that your cat has an escape route and a place to hide. And until you’re certain your cat will be safe, be sure to keep the two separated when you aren’t home.

It’s no surprise that dogs like to eat cat food, so you’ll need to keep the cat’s food out of your dog’s reach (in a cupboard or on a high shelf). It’s not uncommon for dogs to eat cat faeces and cat litter as well, and though there are no real health hazards involved, it’s probably distasteful to you and it may upset your cat. Of course, attempts to keep your dog out of the litter box by “booby trapping” it will also keep your cat away as well. Punishment after the fact will not change your dog’s behaviour. The best solution is to place the litter box where your dog can’t access it, for example: behind a baby gate; in a closet with the door propped open just wide enough for your cat; or inside a tall, topless cardboard box with easy access for your cat. A hooded litter tray with a door is the best option.

Kittens and Puppies
Because they’re so much smaller, kittens are in more danger of being injured or killed by a young energetic dog, or by a predatory dog. A kitten will need to be kept separate from an especially energetic dog until she is fully grown, except for periods of supervised interaction to enable the animals to get to know each other.
Even after the cat is fully grown, she may not be able to be safely left alone with the dog. Usually, a well-socialized cat will be able to keep a puppy in his place, but some cats don’t have enough confidence to do this. If you have an especially shy cat, you might need to keep her separated from your puppy until he matures enough to have more self-control.

When to Get Help
If introductions don’t go smoothly, please contact us immediately for advice. Animals can be severely injured in fights, and the longer the problem continues, the harder it can be to resolve. Punishment won’t work, though, and could make things worse. Luckily, most conflicts between pets in the same family can often be resolved with professional guidance.

**Please note we are not veterinarians and the above is for informational purposes only, if you are concerned about your cat please contact your vet immediately