Introducing cats to a dog centric home isn’t easy and well to be honest always possible. If your dog has a really high prey drive (or even a moderate prey drive) you should probably just pass on having them together. It could be dangerous for both animals.
However if you have dogs with reasonable low prey drive and a health dose of obedience around new animals than adding cats is quite possible and can be rewarding for everyone!
I’ve decided to include some tips on introduction and keeping the peace so other families can benefit from living with cats and dogs together and turning that age old phrase “fighting like cats and dogs” on it’s head.
Important Step #1
The most important thing is finding a cat that will have a high chance of success with a dog. Some cats are so terrified of dogs that they will suffer from poor quality of life if forced to live with them. It’s important to choose a cat or kitten that has some exposure in a positive way to dogs.
I opted to adopt two kittens who had been exposed to a number of large dogs since birth in their foster home. This ensured that the kittens wouldn’t be afraid of my dogs and would set both types of animals up for success when integrating. And as a bonus we were excited to offer two kittens in a rescue situation a good home for life. It’s a win win. I would also have considered an adult cat who had been exposed to dogs as well we just happen to have a friend who is a fellow dog trainer who raised this litter so the timing worked out.
Important Step #2
Anything to do with cats needs to happen SLOWLY. And I mean really really SLOWLY. People rush change with themselves, dogs and other pets but with cats it can extremely damaging. I set up a cat only space in our home. It included two litter boxes (1 per kitten), a cat tree with 3 sleeping spots and 2 scratch areas at different heights, a raised feeding and water station, a variety of toys, a hiding cube and an interactive feeding toy.
The kittens had their first few days in their own space and no meetings with dogs only scent exchanges (we brought in items that smelled like dogs to the kittens and vice versa). Once we decided to do dog introductions we started out with our dog that was extremely calm and relaxed around cats. We brought him to a separate room that the kittens had been playing in and they were introduced. The kittens were interested in him right away so that introduction was easy.
After that we went one dog at a time as the other 3 dogs were nervous and fearful (this presented in barking, running away and an abundance of calming signals from the dogs). The kittens were comfortable with all the dogs even with the barking.
We continued short one on one meet and greets for several days. After a week we started supervised time where the kittens explored a new room in the house with the dogs present. We rewarded the dogs for calm behaviour and kept these training sessions short.
After a few weeks these sessions could be longer and longer until we could just have everyone all together all the time (word of caution we still kennel the dogs when we are not around to supervise and will continue to do this for years if not indefinitely).
Important Step #3
The cat only space that they started out in is still a cat only space in our home. We’ve left a baby gate up so the cats can and go but they have a nice quiet space to use their bathrooms and enjoy their meals without dogs. It’s important for cats to have an area where they can relax – especially since I have 2 young dogs who have a lot of energy.
Remember every dog and cat is different and you have concerns about safety (chasing, prey drive, biting, etc) it’s really important to contact a trainer.