Cats and dogs can get along very well but introductions need careful management.
If you already have a cat and are interested in giving a home to one of our dogs, here is some information to help you.
Dogs and cats can, and do, live quite happily together. In fact some develop a very strong bond and can become firm friends. However, this is not always the case. Introducing a new dog to your cat at home must be done slowly and with great care to help prevent any disasters. We must remember that some dogs do have very strong predatory instincts and may never be able to live safely with cats.
Wherever possible, we suggest you choose a dog that has previously lived happily with cats. Select a dog that has 'Good with cats' written on their information sheet or web page. However, this does not guarantee that the dog will be good with your cat, and introductions must still be done carefully. Where it is unknown whether the dog you wish to adopt is well behaved with cats, we suggest you consider the following before continuing:
- How bold or nervous is your cat?
- Is your cat used to living with dogs?
- Is your cat elderly or infirm?
- Will he have the ability to get away if the dog does decide to chase?
- Can you provide the cat with a retreat or 'safe area' where the dog cannot reach him, e.g. upstairs or in a bedroom?
- Does your cat have an access route to the garden without having to pass the dog?
If you suspect that your cat is going to be frightened or unsettled by a dog, we would suggest you consider very carefully why you want a dog and the effect it may have on your cat. If your cat is likely to be miserable or worried, is it really fair to take on a dog? However, if you feel that your cat will be able to live happily with a dog, please ask staff to assess the dog's suitability, with special regard to training and previous experience. Our behavioural staff will be able to advise you how best to introduce a new dog to your existing cat. Whilst staff may assess a dog as being a good prospect to live with cats, we cannot guarantee that the dog will be good with cats or that they will successfully live together. However we are often able to rule out those that are very unsuitable.
Dog and cat introductions must be done slowly and with great care. This is to help ensure the safety of both animals, but especially your cat, who may not take kindly to the introduction of a strange smelling, looking and sounding animal being brought into his territory. It is paramount that you do not force the animals together. Never force them to meet by carrying your cat towards the dog. Not only will this terrify your cat, but you could be bitten or scratched by him as he struggles to get away. Instead we suggest that you let them investigate each other in their own time.
Introductions with cats are best done indoors; the dog should always be on a secure lead whenever the cat is present until you are sure that they are comfortable together and there is no danger of the cat's safety. Whilst the lead prevents the dog from chasing the cat, time must also be spent actively rewarding the dog for not chasing or being overly bold towards your cat. Creative use of food and/or toys are great rewards for not barking or trying to chase the cat. All meetings between the dog and cat should be supervised by you. Never leave them in a room together unattended. We suggest you place a barrier, such as a baby gate, between the area the dog will occupy and the cat's safe area, so that the cat can come and go at will without the dog being able to follow.
The important point to remember is that the cat must set the pace. Cats are control freaks! If your cat decides to hide under a bed upstairs for the first three weeks then you should facilitate this by moving his litter tray and food and water up there until he is ready to come back down in his own time.
A good tip for getting each accustomed to the presence of the other is to use food. Place a bowl of cat food in reach of the cat but out of the dog's reach. At the same time, give the dog a stuffed Kong or chew. Eating is a pleasurable experience and so the association between the other animal and food may help smooth any relationship problems. You can also use an indoor kennel (crate) to help monitor and manage any potential chasing. This gives your cat the opportunity to wander around freely, safely and in the presence of the dog. Please carefully read our Crate Training leaflet to ensure that the dog is happy in the kennel before you start.
Gradually, as the cat becomes more used to the dog, you can allow more interaction. Let the dog approach the cat for a sniff and then call him away. Do this on a lead to prevent any sudden disasters and ensure that you can call the dog away from the cat by giving him a tasty treat every time he looks away from the cat and towards you. Try to ensure that the dog is never allowed to chase your cat. Dogs can find this very exciting and rewarding and it can be difficult to stop once this behaviour has been started. Your aim is to reward the dog for ignoring or turning away from the cat. After a couple of weeks you will have a good idea whether you feel it is safe to let the dog off the lead when your cat is present. If your cat is a very shy or timid cat, it may take longer. Try to be patient and do things slowly and with care. Even the most dog friendly cats can sometimes take time to accept a new dog's arrival.