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Introducing Pets to a New Cat

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:

Confinement

Confine your new cat to one small or medium-sized room with her litter box, food, water, and a bed.

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.

The Old Switcheroo

Swap the sleeping blankets or beds used by the cats 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.

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.

Cat-to-Dog Introductions

You'll need to be even more careful when introducing a dog and a cat to one another. 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. In addition:

 

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 tidbit.

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 behavior.

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 behavior. 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.

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.

Precautions

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 closet or on a high shelf). It's not uncommon for dogs to eat cat feces as well, and though there are no real health hazards involved, it's probably distasteful to you and it may upset your cat.

 

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, seek professional advice immediately from a veterinarian or animal behaviorist. 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.

The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to replace the advice of a trained professional. Always consult a trained professional regarding any behavioral problems with your pets.