Cats and dogs can actually get along fine - contrary to what many might think! But it does take careful planning to make sure that everyone lives in harmony.
A happy outcome does depend on the individual pets and your household situation, so preparations should reflect your particular circumstances.
However, here are some general tips to help their introduction go smoothly if you have a dog at home and are thinking of bringing home a new cat.
Planning ahead is key
Before choosing to bring a new pet home, it's always important to plan ahead.
Think about what dog you currently have and their temperament and personality - how might they respond to a cat? If they show signs of predatory aggression, then bringing a cat home may not be a good idea.
You can ask your vet for advice or, if you're thinking of getting a cat from the RSPCA, ask the shelter staff. Many of the cats in our care have lived with dogs before.
Before bringing your cat home
Some cats will integrate into a family with existing pets better than others. Older cats are likely to be less energetic than young kittens, so if you already have older pets, you might consider a calmer, dog-friendly adult cat.
Before you bring your new cat home, spend some time preparing your house and your existing pets for their arrival.
Make sure there are plenty of high resting and hiding places for your new cat, so they can safely and easily retreat from your dog if they want to.
It's also important to make sure your new cat has a private, secure, dog-free area with everything they need (food, water, litter, bed, hiding place, elevated platforms).
Letting them get comfortable
When you first bring your new cat home, allow some time for the cat to settle into their new environment and become comfortable, without your dog present.
Once the cat is comfortable enough to start exploring the house, secure your dog in their favourite room (with bed, water, food and some favourite toys), and allow the cat to explore the house at their own pace and become familiar with your dog's scent.
Repeat over the next few days, allowing each animal to have access to the whole house without ever confronting one another. In the meantime, work on reinforcing your dog's reward-based training.
Making the introduction
When you're ready to introduce the two, do so when your dog is at their calmest. Perhaps take them for a long walk beforehand.
For the first introduction, use a room in which your new cat is easily able to escape to a safe place; a high platform is perfect.
Ideally, your dog should be crate trained. If your dog is in a crate, you can give them a distracting toy and then bring the cat into the room.
Never force any interaction, but just give your cat lots of attention and positive experiences such as playing and treats.
Once both animals seem relaxed, you can move onto having your dog on a leash out of the crate.
If you're unable to have your dog in a crate, then start with this step.
Keep your dog on a leash next to you while the cat is in the room and give them both praise and treats to reward calm behaviour. If your dog gets too excited, remove them from the room.
Do this several times a day, keeping the meetings short.
This may be a stressful time for both animals and it's important that you are patient and prepared for the introduction to take perhaps a few weeks.
Keep a close eye on both animals and never punish either of them for aggressive behaviour.
Don't leave them alone until you're absolutely certain they're okay together, and always make sure your cat has escape routes to places the dog cannot follow.
Remember, even if your dog and cat might never be best friends hopefully they can learn to at least co-exist in relative peace.
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