12 January 2015 | Life with your best friend

Spot Meet Fluffy, Fluffy Meet Spot

Introducing your new feline friend to your resident pooch, and vice versa

Your cat has ruled the roost for years and suddenly a noisy, busy, larger-than-life creature enters the picture – it’s understandable your cat isn’t going to react too kindly. Likewise if your pooch has protected your home and been the sole attention receiver for decades and you decide to bring a feline friend (or foe) into her territory – things could get messy. It doesn’t have to be though. As with most things that involve your pets, all you need is some planning and a lot of patience.

Before the grand arrival Before you bring your new pet home (be it cat or dog), a bit of planning is essential.

  • You know your current pet’s personality – how will they react to the new arrival? If you have a particularly aggressive cat or a dog that chases anything on four legs, it’s probably best to keep the status quo. However, if you feel they’ll take kindly to a new arrival, consider the following points;
  • Dedicate a room in the house (with a door that can be closed) to your new pet. This will become their home initially until the two pets have proven they can get along.
  • It’s a good idea to buy a pet-friendly gate to close the room off initially.
  • If you are bringing a cat home, ensure your dog’s basic training skills are up to scratch, and that he comes to you when called, no matter how excitable or stressful the situation is.
  • Make any changes well before the new pet arrives. For example, if you are bringing a dog home and you need to move the cat’s food bowl onto a higher surface.
  • Stock up on pet-friendly treats to act as rewards for good behaviour.

  The introduction

  • For the first while (this could be weeks), keep the two separated behind closed doors, so that they can smell each other, but not see each other. If your dog displays aggressive behaviour to what’s behind the door (barking, scratching etc), distract him, and as soon as he can walk past the door without too much interest, reward with a treat.
  • When you (or more importantly, the animals) are ready, open the door but install a gate, so they can see each other, but can’t get at each other.
  • Again, when you feel they are ready, put your dog on a leash and do a closer introduction. Make sure there are higher spots for the cat to jump up on or retreat to.  Remain calm, yet assertive. Keep these meetings short.  Rather have numerous short meetings, than a few longer ones.
  • As soon as both animals display ambivalent behaviour to the other, you can remove the leash but keep him close to you.
  • Continue until both animals seem relaxed and happy to be around each other.
  • Unsupervised interactions should only occur after you are confident they won’t harm each other – which could take several months.

  When to get professional help

  • If your dog shows aggressive behaviour to a calm cat.
  • If even after all your efforts your dog still insists on chasing the cat every time he sees it.
  • If the cat hisses or growls continuously despite your best efforts, it’s unlikely your cat will get along with any dog- but seek professional help first.
  • If your cat stops eating and drinking, or displays any other symptoms of stress, get a pet behaviourist to assess the situation.  It might require you rethinking your two-pet harmony.

If you can plan it as such, getting a kitten or puppy will provide the easiest outcome, where for the most part, ignorance is bliss – for pet and owner alike. In most cases, a cat-dog union is not difficult to achieve and can provide many years of happy living. Just remember the two p’s and a c; planning, patience and common sense!  

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