Mixing Cultures and Dogs & Cats

Many of you already know that our home is a mix of two cultures: Irish Catholic and Eastern European Jew. This month two of our favorite holidays combined into one glorious weekend: Saint Patrick’s and Purim. It’s a wonderful thing when different things can be joined together in fun – and in this case copious amounts of alcohol!

At Pet Camp we’re often asked about mixing cultures that some would consider incompatible: dogs and cats! Now we’re not talking about mixing dog lovers and cat lovers – frankly we’re not sure we could take on the task, we’re talking about simple dog and cat co-habitation. Come on, if James Carville and Mary Matalin can pull it off why not dogs and cats? Probably like Republicans and Democrats, it’s how you approach the situation.

So what’s the best way to introduce dogs and cats into the same household? SLOWLY! Plan on at least two weeks to complete this process. The key is to minimize the feeling of displacement for the current pet and to prevent any negative actions or associations because those are really hard to undo.

It’s probably a bit easier when you are bringing a new cat into a house with a dog already established since you’ve already trained your dog and he knows very useful commands like “leave it”. We suggest setting up the cat in a safe contained environment, like a bathroom. Put everything the cat needs in the bathroom and let the dog and the cat get used to the knowing the other one is there with the door shut. After a few days if that’s going well, use a babygate or some other screen so the can see and smell each other but not make contact. Do not allow the dog to jump, bark or otherwise terrorize the cat. Assuming that goes peacefully, allow the cat out of the bathroom and give the cat an opportunity to explore the house with your dog on a very short leash. Again, your dog should not be barking at or pulling to get at the cat. This is generally a two-human job since you’ll need someone to put the cat back in the bathroom while the other person holds the dog. From there it’s a loose leash. Before you graduate to both of the cat and dog freely roaming your home, have a few sessions with the cat on your lap or some other safe space with the dog on leash and allow the two to sniff each other and make contact in a safe way. Do not restrain the cat or you’ll end up in a fight or flight situation which does not end well for anyone. The key is SLOWLY and remembering that it’s sometimes one step forward and two steps back. Rushing the situation can lead to serious behavioral and safety issues.

If you’re introducing a dog to a cat household the procedure is generally reversed. First make sure your cat’s food and water bowls are off the ground, beyond the reach of your future dog. If possible, change this set up well before you acquire the dog. Then think about your cat’s activity in the house. If there are certain routines or special places your cat prefers keep them dog-free zones during the introductory period. As part of the housebreaking routine with any new dog you should be crate-training or keeping the dog on a leash at all times so they don’t eliminate in your house. Use this to your advantage in keeping your dog and cat apart and letting your cat set the pace on the level of interaction. As you work on basic commands with your new dog (name, watch, sit, down, leave it, stay) this will also allow you greater control over your dog’s interaction with your cat. Again, remember to let your cat to set the pace and do not restrain the cat.

If at all possible feed your pets at the same time and within sight of each other. Make sure you give lavish praise and treats when they see each other so they form the mental association, “Wow, here comes that cat (dog) — treats will start coming soon!”

We’ve done these introductions many times with great success. Tell us your fun pet introduction stories!

Thanks for reading.