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Introducing cats to a home with dogs

Updated: Oct 23, 2022

This is a new venture for us and we are really excited to be able to bring you a whole host of good stuff to keep you informed, and hopefully sometimes entertained. We have a lot of interesting articles in the pipe-line, including heart warming stories from our adopters, as well as guest blogs written by pet experts covering a whole host of issues to help you achieve the best possible relationship with your dog or cat. We are always looking for new submissions to- so if you have a story or an idea you would like to share with us, we would love to hear from you, just get in touch here.

If you didn't already know, here at Balkan Underdogs we also rescue cats! And so for our first post we would like to give a little nod to our feline friends, and talk about bringing home a new cat into an already established household.

Dog and cat introductions are really important. Even If you have dogs used to cats, or cats used to dogs. A new arrival is not going to integrate instantly. Like all of us they are individuals and things don't happen overnight. It takes time, understanding and patience.

Tracy Gillingwater is one of our Trustees here at Balkan Underdogs, and runs the Spay and Neuter project in the Balkans. Tracy also directs our Cat Rescue, and has recently adopted  Poppy, Tom & Jerry, who all have FIV. Tracy has dogs, and has written this blog of of how she introduced Tom and Jerry to an already established home. Tracy provided us with a description of both the ups and downs, to give you a realistic idea of what to expect! We also have Top Tips for introducing a cat to a house with a dog at the end of the page.

DAY 1: Nine years ago I had four cats....all different personalities and ages. Then came the arrival of our first dog,  and then our second...and it took 6 months for them all to integrate and accept each other.  Sadly I lost the last of my cats early this year, but in September my new BU arrivals Tom, Jerry, and Poppy came home. They were not used to dogs,  and my dogs don't know them. The cats were living in a pension for 2 years and had just travelled 1000's of miles to get to the UK.

Firstly it's important to prepare for their arrival. This ensures that you give the cats and dogs space to adjust. I created a safe room for them with high levels to jump on, water, beds, and litter tray. I didn't expect to see them when they arrived (new cats can hide), but they seemed remarkably relaxed with only one showing nerves. I gave them limited space and time out on the first night, and opened up the conservatory for them (not allowing access to the garden) in the morning to allow exploring. The dogs love this room, so lots of their smells in here for the cats to explore. When they settled back in their safe beds and room again, I shut the conservatory door, and let the dogs into the conservatory. This was also to gauge the dogs and cats reaction behind glass. On the same day, we also ensured the cat flap was shut off, and prepped the pet gate- adding height with cardboard as one of the cats Jerry is a climber!! They won't be ready to meet through this yet, but I put leads on the dogs and we sat with each dog and treats very near the pet gate. The treats help to provide a distraction for the dogs, and the cats stopped hissing when they realised the dogs couldn't get to them.

This was enough for one day, but slowly is always a good start to positive results!

DAY 2:  

Nothing ever goes to plan and last night and today I was reminded how clever and instant cats can be! We were sat watching TV and a flash of tabby appeared...Poppy scurried back (luckily the dogs didn't chase), it seems she can squeeze through the pet gate railings with some effort!!! This morning Jerry had also levered an indoor window ajar and was wandering around the kitchen-and Poppy the little one had managed to disappear! This was a sharp reminder to ensure windows and doors are secure!

We eventually found Poppy who had just got frightened and hid behind a bookcase she could not get back out from (Jerry's climbing and knocking things over had scared her). All three cats had started to relax, play and purr, and they started to explore. The dogs and cats were now viewing each other- with a few distractions- without confrontation behind glass and the pet gate was no longer a growl and hiss zone.

DAYS 3 to 6:

through glass, this weekend I took the dogs into one of the rooms the cats had mainly been in, but is separated by glass doors. There was curiosity but no launching at doors or any growling and spitting, with the glass doors shut this time. I got my mum and Chris to sit with dogs next to them with lose leads and just opened the glass doors, once the dogs had settled. Nothing forced... I then let the cats chose to wander in, or not. Poppy chose to stay in her bed, which is fine. Tom & Jerry both wandered in slowly, and the pictures and videos show the results. Excuse the constant "good boys", but it was just reaffirming good behaviour which is very important. The dogs acted differently...Potter was not bothered (till Jerry sniffed his feet). Bosko whined throughout and at one point, as the cats hadn't bothered, I let him start to get down, but as Jerry came towards him he backed back up... Bosko remembered him and was very wary. We did this just for an hour and then I took each dog and walked them through the main room the cats sleep in-we got hissing and back arching but nothing unexpected! So good progress, the cardboard is now off the pet gate.... all positive steps and I am very proud of them all!"

Top Tips for introducing new cats to a house with a dog:

- Prepare a warm safe space in advance of your cat’s arrival. Limit them to one or two rooms to start and don’t overwhelm them. Things to add include a litter tray, a bed, something high (as predators, cats feel safe up high) such as a tall cat post, beds on a table top or ledges. Don't forget water and a place for feeding (and some toys!)

- Check windows and doors are sealed, and that the area is safe. Leave at least one door shut between outside and the new arrival. Check open chimneys and fire places as well (provide coverings or guards to start with). You need bonding time with new cats, if they escape fear can set in and you could well lose them

- Add height if needed, to any baby gates or barriers (cardboard is useful), cats are climbers.

-Allow time for them to detox from their journey and settle in their new environment, and get to know you prior to any introductions to any resident animals.

- Introduce cats and dogs by switching rooms and bedding first. So, they are aware of each other and start to recognise each other’s smells and sight without direct contact. It's probably too early to meet each other at this stage, but allow them to explore each other’s smells

-First introductions viewing through glass and pet gates, but at a distance can give good feedback to initial reactions. Only move to the next stage when extreme reactions are replaced more by interest.

-Always keep your dog on a lead to start, and allow your new cat to spend some time exploring the dog areas, and the dogs to explore the cat area at their own pace. Limit the first introductions to short spells to start with.

-Be patient, and work within both the cat and dogs comfort zone. Never force an introduction as negative experiences can have a lasting effect. Always be prepared to take it back to basics at any point.

-Provide lots of praise to both the dog and the cat, to reinforce the positive behaviours. If either becomes nervous or upset, end the meet gently. Both cats and dogs will take their cue from you, so remember to stay calm, slow and gentle.

-Let them see you pet each other, and reward both for calm and gentle behaviour. - Never leave unsupervised together until good relationships have been established.

-After initial introductions settle, allow boundaries to be established between them, but try to diffuse or distract from clashes.

-Always be comfortable that relationships are settled inside the home the garden is a different challenge!!

-The above works for a new dog arrival as well but with slight adaptations.

-Remember even if your cat/dog is cat/dog friendly it still needs time and safe and positive introductions

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