An interesting thing happened today at the hospital that brought to mind the fact that many people do not understand the complicated relationship between a cat and a dog. While they can be best friends if properly introduced, it can be dangerous to introduce them too quickly or in an inappropriate environment. This scenario has played out twice in the last few weeks at Warren Woods Veterinary Hospital. We have several adult cats that are up for adoption, living at our hospital. One of them has already "bounced back" because proper time and process was not put into introducing family pets.
Dogs have an innate prey drive and cats will fight if cornered, so when trying to introduce them to the same household, time and patients is the key to success. It will often times take months to form a close bond.
Let's assume that we have an adult dog that has never had a cat in it's household and we are trying to bring in a new cat. In this situation it is best to assess the dog's prey drive before any cat is obtained. If your dog chases squirrels or rabbits in the yard and neighborhood cats, it is likely that he will chase a cat that is brought into your home. Some dog's have such strong prey drive that they will kill the animal when they catch it. If you have a dog that has strong prey drive, you must be extremely cautious with your introductions. You will want to muzzle your dog when you are first introducing him to the cat.
The best way to introduce any cat into a new home is by starting with a "safe room" that the cat can have all to himself. His litterbox, food and water should all be there within easy access and quiet places should be provided for him to hide and take shelter. People can visit, but other pets must stay on the other side of the door and pets are allowed to get aquainted only through the door.
Once the cat is acclimated to the new home (at least 2 weeks with most cats), the door to the isolation room can be opened with the dog on a leash and sitting quietly while the cat explores. The dog should not be introduced off leash to the cat until they can co-exhist in the same room with out fear or focus. Focus means that they are too worried about each other to relax. If they get to the point of quiet tollerance, then and only then are they allowed to be loose together. They should be introduced (not forced) in an area where the cat is near the "safe room" so it can get away and hide from the dog, if the dog decides to chase. If you get into a chase situation, you will need to back up and start over with the supervise leashed incounters or more time in the safe room. If there are too many of the chase scenes, you may lose the trust of the cat, forever.
It often takes weeks or months to properly introduce an adult dog and cat, but if you take your time and use your common sense, it can be accomplished safely and create a lasting and loving cat/dog relationship.