How to Introduce a New Dog to Your Cranky Cat

By Jolene Miklas, Director of Communications

I never thought my cat would let me have a dog.

My cat, Firefly, is 14 years old, suffers from irritable bowel, and hates everyone
but me.

Firefly: trying to flip you the bird.

And I love that cat so flippin’ much. She showed up as a stray kitten when I was in college. Firefly was by my side (or in my lap) though my first threadbare apartment, some of life’s traumas, and she outlasted several (shut up!) boyfriends. And in a way, the fact that she hates everyone but me makes our bond all the more sweet. She is my ever-loyal, doting little darling.

Firefly: “Let’s get this over with.”      

Even though I dreamed of bringing home a dog, I never wanted to upset Firefly’s delicate routine. Some of my friends at Animal Friends assured me that Firefly would “get over it” if I adopted a dog, but I adored my cat too much to subject her to the bother.

Then I met Porter.

That was Porter the day I discovered him in his kennel. He had lived with another dog who, a week earlier, was senselessly beaten to death with a metal rod. You can see how frightened and sick Porter was when this picture was taken, but you can’t see that his tail, which he was sitting on, was attempting a forlorn wag.

It turns out that Porter tested positive for heartworm, a serious and potentially fatal disease. He had several weeks of intense treatment ahead of him and he needed a safe place to recover.

My heart broke for him. I offered to foster Porter in my home.

Initially, I agreed to take in Porter for one month. I did not expect Firefly to adjust well to having a dog. In fact, I thought she might present a dealbreaker, and I’d have to sheepishly end my foster period at the adamant behest of my cat.

But to my surprise, having a foster dog made my feisty cat friendlier! In fact, after one month with a foster Beagle, Firefly became more confident and is friendlier with strangers. Now, I’m basking in the joys of having a multi-species household. I couldn’t be happier. And Porter is now a “foster failure”—a permanent member of our little family.

Here are some of the steps that can help a cranky cat adapt to a new dog.

Pick the Right Dog
Not every dog will be able to safely live with cats. So, go to a shelter like Animal Friends that will cat-test a dog before you take him home. They might even be able to introduce you to a dog who has experience living with cats!

Choose a dog who’s calm, doesn’t have a strong reaction to cats, and who responds well to correction.

When I met Porter, I introduced him to both a shelter cat and a rabbit while he was securely leashed and under my control. Both times, he acknowledged them, backed off slightly, and calmly resumed minding his own business. What a good boy! While that didn’t mean I should let him loose in my house, I felt comfortable that I could introduce him to Firefly without putting her in danger.

Always introduce a dog and cat slowly, while your dog is firmly under your control, and where your cat has access to an escape route if needed. 

Establish Separate Spaces
Your cat is going to feel very vulnerable at first, so make sure she has a dog-free zone. Firefly spends most of her time in my bedroom, so from Day 1, I taught Porter that my bedroom is off-limits to him. Firefly can always go there to get away from him.

Have a dedicated place to put your dog. Porter has his very own bedroom in my house. If you don’t have an extra room, consider crate training. Porter gets shut in his room with something to keep him occupied (a compressed rawhide) when Firefly eats or wants to cuddle with me.

See: Happy, relaxed dog and compressed rawhide.

Always crate or confine your dog when you’re not home, so the dog and cat are never together unsupervised. This way, they can’t get into any scuffles.

Establish a Pecking Order That Favors the Weaker Pet
Lots of pet owners report that their cat is the boss of their dog. This is okay, because a pushy dog could seriously hurt a cat.

Firefly established herself as the queen of the household, and I reinforced that hierarchy. I never scolded her for hissing at the dog. Instead, I taught Porter to leave Firefly alone when she hissed at him. It’s okay for your dog to be intimated by your cat; otherwise he could accidentally hurt her.

Share Your Affection
Spread the love! When Porter moved in, I was tempted to dote on him endlessly. I wanted to spend all my time adoring him.

But Firefly definitely appreciates it when I carve out alone time for us girls. As I type this, Porter is freshly fed and walked and sleeping happily in his bedroom. Firefly is curled up in my lap, purring. For a Pet Person like me, this is Heaven.

Be Cautious, but Project Calm Confidence
Dogs and cats respond to our signals. So, even though I was constantly policing their behavior, my household mantra was “You’re okay.”

Don’t act like you need to rescue your cat from your dog, or she’ll perceive that she’s in danger. In fact, don’t act like anything out of the ordinary is going on. Tell an anxious dog or cat “You’re okay!” and let them see that they’re overreacting for nothing.

Celebrate Small Successes
Don’t expect your dog and cat to become best friends—and don’t push it! They may start to cuddle and play together, or they may remain stoic roommates for life. This is fine.

Call it a success when your cat greets you and your dog at the door, instead of bolting at the sight of your dog. Celebrate the day that your cat climbs onto the couch with you while your dog naps at your feet.

Firefly: “Tell me I’m still your favorite. Say it!!”

Your cranky cat may even do what mine did. Firefly surprised the heck out of me when she started coming out and greeting guests in my home. She used to cower and hide when my friends came over, but now, it seems like Firefly will actually compete with Porter for attention. For the first time in all her 14 years, she’s joining parties and mingling! I’m so happy for her.

As millions of pet owners know, a multi-species household can bring so much love and laughter into your life. And just imagine how many animals could be spared senseless euthanasia if more families would just adopt another pet.

It may take time, but Animal Friends can help you add another animal to your home. Just go slowly, and good luck!

This entry was posted in behavior, by jolene miklas, cat tips, cats, dogs, foster, multi-species, new dogs, new pets, pet tips, safety tips. Bookmark the permalink.