Cat, Meet the New Dog: The Right Way to Introduce a Pet Into Your Home

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Q: My Maltese-Poodle mix has spent the last year with my ex while I've worked to find housing that accepts a dog. My daughter wanted a kitten, which my apartment at the time did accept, so we got one. Now we have a home that accepts dogs, but we're worried the kitten will freak. What's the best way to handle this? — Q.K.

A: You didn't mention whether or not your dog has lived with a cat before and gotten along. If that's the case, the transition will likely be a smooth one. The kitten is still young enough to adapt without much fuss, and if the dog pays her no mind, you're home free. The back and forth will take some getting used to, but everyone should be able to adjust as long as you handle pet introductions properly.

Pre-Pooch Prep

Before the dog arrives, prepare the kitten by giving her a "dog-free" zone for her dishes and litterbox. One good way to do this is by choosing a spare bedroom or bathroom and putting a baby gate across the doorway. The kitten will be able to come and go without any effort, but the dog won't be able to get past the barrier.

Comfy Cat Is a Calm Cat

Make sure the kitten is comfortable with the new arrangement before springing the dog on her. The stress of a new dog and a new location for dishes and litterbox could cause her to start choosing her own potty sites.

Release the Hound — and Redirect

Introduce the dog on a leash and watch the reactions. Don't force the issue — let the kitten be hissy and retreat if she wishes. Curiosity is normal from the dog, but don't allow him to chase the cat, even in play. Redirect away from the kitten and give praise and treats for leaving the other animal alone. You may need to leave the leash on for a few days until he gets the "leave the cat alone" rule.

When to Call for Backup

The situation should settle down in a couple of weeks. If it doesn't, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a trainer or behaviorist. Get help sooner if the dog seems intent on hurting the cat. Considering that both animals are similar in size, they could both be hurt pretty badly, which will mean a trip to the vet and a setback in blending the family.

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