You may be happy about getting a kitten, but that doesn't mean your old and faithful dog will be. When you bring your new furry friend home from the cat adoption center, the last thing you want is for a fight to break out. Fights between unfamiliar pets can be dangerous, or even fatal, for one or both parties. Thankfully, if you follow the 6 steps below, you can make sure your cat's and dog's new lives are a harmonious success.
Step 1: The Sanctuary Any kitten coming home with their owner for the first time is likely to be fearful, but throwing a dog into the mix can make things even more stressful. The best way to start off the process is to set up a "sanctuary" for your cat. This can be any room in the house that you can can keep closed off at all times -- preferably a spare room without frequent visitors. Vacuum and clean the room to remove as much of the dog's scent as possible before moving in your new cat.
Make sure your kitty's sanctuary has all the essentials -- food and water, a litter box, toys, sheltered beds, and a scratch post. Start by putting your cat's carrier in the room and leaving the door of the carrier open. Your cat will venture out of their own accord when they're ready but may still use their carrier as a safe place to sleep. Remember to keep the door of your sanctuary closed at all times for your pet's safety. Try to keep your dog away from the door as much as possible to avoid stress to your cat.
Step 2: The Blind Date Once your cat has had a week or so to settle into their sanctuary, it's time to start the introduction process. The first interaction between your new cat and your resident dog should be "blind" -- don't let them see each other yet, as this will raise tensions. Start by placing your cat and dog's food bowls a few feet away from the door that separates them, on their respective sides. This will allow them to smell and hear each other while eating and associate each other's presence with something positive -- food. Only use a small amount of food each time to avoid prolonged stress. Start off doing this once a day, progressing to several times a day over the course of a week. If your dog scratches or whines at the door, tell them 'no' sternly and move them back. If this behaviour persists, keep your dog on their leash while eating until the behaviour ceases.
Step 3: The Swap-Over By the time you have completed the first two steps over the course of around 2 weeks, it's time to let your cat explore the rest of your house. It's too risky to allow your cat to do this while your dog is around, so they'll need to swap places. While your cat is off exploring, confine your pooch to your kitty's sanctuary. This allows both pets to get used to each other's scents fully. Make sure your dog does not feel left out while they're in the sanctuary, as this can cause them to associate your cat's smell with negativity. Make it a fun experience with treats and toys, and continue the process for a few hours a day over the course of the next week.
Step 4: The First Meeting Now your cat and dog are fully acclimatised to each other's sounds and scents, it's time to introduce another sense -- sight. Before letting your pets see each other for the first time, take your dog out for their daily walks. You won't want your pooch to be full of rambunctious energy around your kitten. The first meeting needs to be sight-only, with no touching. To ensure your pets can't have access to each other, put your cat in a large crate and keep your dog on their leash. Bring your cat into the room first, and then your pup. Use the sit command to keep your dog still, watching your cat from a distance.
If your dog refuses to comply, sternly tell him 'no' and take him for a time out for a few minutes before trying the process again. Increase the distance between your sitting dog and crated cat daily, ensuring your cat doesn't feel uncomfortable or fearful. It can take several meetings over the course of multiple weeks to get both pets in a position where they are not trying to lunge at each other. Once both pets can sit comfortably together for around 30 minutes, it's time to move on to the next step.
Step 5: The Free Roam Your dog needs to stay on his leash for this step, but it's time to let the cat out of the "bag". Your kitty may be reluctant to come out of the crate while your dog is around. If so, take your dog outside for a few minutes until your cat ventures out. Repeat the same methods used in step 4 -- encourage your dog to sit calmly around the cat, and don't let them get uncomfortably close to each other. This is generally the longest step. You'll want to be entirely certain that your cat and dog behave passively around each other before finishing off with the final step.
Step 6: The Happily Ever After Once you're absolutely certain your cat and dog are both fully relaxed around each other, it's time to let your dog off the leash. Remember to keep an eye on them while they're together for another 2 to 4 weeks to ensure maximum safety, so keep them separated when you're not home. If any incidents occur, move back to Step 5 until things calm down again. If all goes well, you should have two furry friends who are bonded for life.