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How to introduce your puppy to your cat

Canine and feline. Can they really co-habitate?

Written by Dr. Steph Wenban

May 28, 2019

Cats and dogs. They’re furry, four-legged and make great family pets.

But that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

As far as personality and behaviour go, these two animals couldn’t be more different. Where dogs are usually open to making friends, cats are one of the most selective species on the planet. So it shouldn’t come as any real surprise when your cat shows zero interest in your new puppy.

In some cases, where cats have had no previous experience with dogs, the arrival on a canine in the home can be very unsettling. So unsettling that they may even decide to pack their bags and temporarily head for the hills.

With a little luck and a lot of planning, this hopefully won’t happen to you. By following the steps below, you should *fingers crossed* be able to make this tricky time as smooth as possible for all four-legged folk in your home.

Phase 1: Prepping for the first meet n’ greet

Several weeks out from your puppy’s arrival, start making changes around the home that will help your cat cope better come gameday.

  • Setup a puppy-free zone for your cat

Work out where your puppy will be spending most of their time in your house. Based on this, create a ‘puppy-free zone’ for your cat. This could be a separate room or an upstairs area blocked off by baby gates. Wherever this zone is located, just make sure it’s always accessible to your cat should they feel the need to take themselves off for some downtime.

  • Move your cats feeding bowls and litter

Start encouraging your cat to spend time in their puppy-free zone ahead of your pup’s arrival by placing their food, water and litter there. Getting them in the habit of doing all their daily business in this new location will help reduce the chance of them hunger-striking or running away when their canine counterpart suddenly touches down.

Quick tip: It may be worth setting up a second litter tray and set of food and water bowls elsewhere in the house. That way, if your cat doesn’t fancy using their new puppy-free zone, they still have another secure location they can turn to.

  • Position your puppy’s bed wisely

When deciding where to position your puppy’s sleeping area, be mindful of your cat's route in and around the house. To avoid disrupting their current routine, try not to place your pup’s bed too close to your cat’s catflap or the areas they typically like to roam.

  • Create some high-up space for your cat to roam

Cats love a good vantage point. So in addition to setting up your cat's puppy-free zone, also clear some space above your cupboards and shelving units for them to hang out up high.

Phase 2: Bringing your puppy and cat face to face

The moment of truth! You’ve collected your pup and brought them home. Now it’s time to introduce them to their new housemates… including those of the feline variety. But before rushing into your cat and puppy’s first introduction, take a minute to remember these three essential rules.

  • Let your cat come to your puppy

Hold onto your puppy and allow your cat to approach them in their own time. Just don’t be surprised if your cat shows no interest in your puppy at all. If they do have any reaction, there’s a good chance it’ll be a negative one. (Think hissing, growling, fleeing the scene entirely, etc.)

That said, if your cat has had some experience with dogs before, they may be fine. No matter what happens, always move at your cat’s pace and not force any interactions.

  • Keep pleasantries short and sweet

Meeting your puppy for the first time is going to be an unsettling experience for your cat. So do them a favour and keep the first introduction short. By short, I mean no more than 2 minutes max.

  • Be selective about location

Make sure you hold this all-important meeting in a room where your cat will have a quick, and clear exit route. Chances are, they’ll want to use it.

Phase 3: Following on from the first encounter

With first introductions done and dusted, it’s time to forge ahead into the future… one baby step at a time. Until your cat has shown that they are comfortable being around your puppy, continue to follow the steps below. For some cats, this phase may take weeks, for others it may take months.

  • Keep your puppy on a lead

Over the next 2-4 weeks, keep your puppy on a lead during all interactions with your cat. This will help you maintain greater control over the situation and it will also prevent your pup from lunging at your cat out of excitement.

  • Praise your pup’s best behaviour

Don’t forget to praise your puppy when they behave calmly around your cat. And if you ever sense them getting overexcited, try to distract them with a toy or treat.

  • Don’t force interactions

Forcing interactions between your cat and puppy could cause your cat to become distressed and to lash out aggressively. As a general rule, always let all mingling take place on your cat’s terms. If they ain’t interested, it ain’t happening.

  • Don’t scold or punish your puppy

If your puppy gets a little over-excited and accidentally scares your cat, don’t punish them. Instead, opt for positive reinforcement by rewarding each of their good behaviours.

  • Use a pheromone diffuser

Pheromones diffusers like Feliway are a great way to help calm your feline friend when they’re feeling stressed. These work by mimicking the happy pheromones that cats create by rubbing their faces against objects.

Just bear in mind that these diffusers are not a cure-all for your cat’s stress and shouldn't be relied on too heavily. The underlying cause of your cat’s stress (a.k.a. your puppy), will still need to be addressed properly.

The takeaway

The arrival of a boisterous new puppy in your home is bound to be one of the most trying times in your cat’s life. But it doesn’t have to be the worst. By remaining sensitive to your cats’ needs and by giving them the time and space to adjust to their new four-legged housemate, you should succeed in making this tough transition just that little bit easier for them.

Sources:

International Cat Care https://icatcare.org/advice/how-guides/how-introduce-new-dog-or-puppy-your-resident-cat

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