How to Get a Cat Used to a New Puppy

Cats and dogs can get along if introduced properly.

Cats and dogs can get along if introduced properly.

You love your new puppy, but your cat may not. First impressions can make or break the future relationship between your existing cat and your new addition. While these two may not become best buds, with a slow, gentle introduction and continued positive reinforcement, they may at least cohabitate peacefully.

Confine the new puppy to a room in your home for the first day or two, allowing your cat to roam freely in the house. The cat was there first and shouldn't be made to feel like the new arrival is in any way disturbing her routine. Doing so could make your kitty view the pup's arrival as a type of punishment. You never want either animal to associate the other with anything negative -- keep all interactions and impressions positive. When taking your pup out to potty, you may want to lure your cat to another room or high perch to keep any initial interactions to a minimum. Keep your pup on a leash.

Lure your cat over to the closed door of the puppy's room with treats and praise. Allow the cat to smell the puppy under the door and vice versa. This gives the animals each other's scents, something that is important to both cats and dogs. To help this process along, rub a towel on your puppy and leave it next to your cat's favorite place to sit so she can inspect and smell it regularly. Do the same with the cat and let the puppy smell the towel with the cat's scent. Continue this stage of getting each animal used to the other, until neither reacts to the scent of the other with signs of aggression, including hissing, lunging, snapping and growling. This process could take a few days or a few weeks. Don't rush, take the process as slowly as possible to prevent upsetting either animal. Barking is not necessarily a sign of aggression on its own, although it may scare your cat. This is just your dog's way of trying to communicate with her, unless it is accompanied with growling and the urge to chase her.

Place a baby gate in front of the door to the dog's room and open the door to the room. Let the cat and pup see and smell each other through the gate. Hand treats to each animal to positively reinforce the experience. This way, each animal will begin to associate the other with the presence of yummy treats and to look forward to potential interaction. While either may show signs of aggression, such as hissing or growling, ignore this behavior. Reward calm interaction, curiosity or indifference. Don't try to discourage aggressive behaviors by yelling at either animal because they won't understand and will simply associate yelling -- something bad -- with the presence of the other animal. Continue to separate the animals with the baby gate until no signs of aggression persist. Again, this can take a few days or a couple of weeks.

Teach your pup some basic obedience commands like "sit," "stay" and "leave it." These commands allow you to control your dog during his interactions with your cat. Basic commands like these are easy for most puppies to learn. Teach the "sit" command by saying the command to your dog and holding a treat above your dog's nose until he sits. Reward and treat him, repeating the procedure until he obeys. The "stay" command is an extension of the "sit" command; tell your dog to sit, then say "stay" and move away from your dog. Reward and treat him if he stays put and increase the distance between you and your dog for each repetition. The "leave it" command involves placing a treat or favorite toy in front of your dog after having him "sit" and then "stay" -- if he ignores the treat for a period of time, he gets a treat and reward. A leash can be helpful in teaching this command to keep him from accessing the treat or toy.

Clip your cat's nails to prevent her from scratching your puppy out of fear, which can hurt your little pup and mar the relationship between the two. Work with a human nail clipper or one specific for pets, and distract your cat with treats while you clip off the very tips of the nails. Avoid the pink quick, which contains blood vessels and can cause pain if cut into. If you don't feel comfortable clipping your cat's nails, take your cat to a veterinarian or groomer, who can do it for you.

Exercise your pup with a fun round of games and outdoor exercise to tire him out. Bring your dog inside and keep him on his leash. Sit with your pup calmly and let your cat come to you. Let the little furballs observe each other and reward positive or indifferent interactions with plenty of treats and praise for everyone. Allow your cat to have an escape route during this initial introduction -- a path that she can run from the dog and jump up to a higher surface that the pup can't get to. If you notice that your pup is acting aggressively by trying to grab or nip the cat, command him to "leave it" and gently bring him away on the leash.

Allow the two animals to meet without using a leash on your pup if interactions show no signs of aggression. Supervise the meetings closely and continue to praise and treat the animals. Continue to supervise interactions for the first month or so, the American Humane Association recommends. When you are not home to watch your furbabies, place the animals into different portions of the home, either in separate rooms or with a baby gate to separate the upstairs from the downstairs.

Maintain a positive attitude when with your cat and puppy; animals can pick up any nervousness or tension you have, and it may affect the relationship between them. Continue to treat and praise both your cat and your dog occasionally as they become used to each other's presence, and behave calmly. In time, you may even find the little guys snuggled together, but don't have unrealistic expectations -- if they merely tolerate each other with indifferent interactions, that's OK too.

Items you will need

  • Leash
  • Towels
  • Baby gate
  • Cat treats
  • Dog treats

Tips

  • Ask the shelter, rescue or breeder if the puppy has been raised around cats; pups that have previous experience with cats tend to behave better around them than those that don’t.
  • Provide your cat with at least two litter boxes in locations that are easy for her to access without being bothered by the puppy, otherwise you may end up with a cat who eliminates in undesired locations in your home.
  • Exercise your puppy daily, especially as he heads into adulthood. This burns off extra energy, keeps him healthy and prevents behavioral problems when he interacts with your cat.
  • Provide a high surface for your cat to have as an escape, such as a series of cat perches along the wall. Your pup, even as an adult, won't be able to reach these and your cat can have a "safe" spot all her own.

Warnings

  • Certain dogs have a high prey drive, meaning that they enjoy chasing moving objects, including cat. Dogs can injure or even kill them, depending on how large they become in adulthood. Inquire with the shelter or breeder about the pup's personality, and disclose that you have a cat at home already to see if the pup has a tendency toward a higher prey drive.
  • While most dogs and cats can exist peacefully together, especially if they are younger when introduced, sometimes the relationship just isn't meant to be. In cases where you see your dog acting aggressively toward the cat with no abatement over time, you may want to think about re-homing one of the little guys.
 

About the Author

Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, crafts, television, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared in "The Southern California Anthology" and on Epinions. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.

Photo Credits

  • The puppy chihuahua and cat in studio on a neutral background image by Ulf from Fotolia.com