Introducing an adult dog to an adult cat may be difficult since many dogs, confronted with a disappearing cat, will automatically give chase even if they have no intention of doing harm should they catch it.
If your cat has no experience of dogs this can be a distressing experience and many, given the opportunity, will leave home for a period of time before coming to terms with this drastic change in the household.
The breed of dog chosen will also influence the future relationship. Terriers, greyhounds and other breeds designed to chase small furry objects would ideally be avoided – this is probably just asking for trouble. The breeds that are traditionally considered good with children such as the golden Labrador, retriever or Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are probably sensible choices. If the dog you have chosen, or your cat, have lived with the other species before, this will help the process as they will probably be much less stressed simply by the presence of another creature.
A puppy is easier to work with as they are young and malleable and will soon become used to the presence of another species, treating it as just another member of the family. However, it is probably still best to adhere to the recommendation above of ‘suitable’ breeds.
Initially, the home needs to be prepared for the arrival. Ensure there are plenty of high resting places where your cat can retreat away from the dog or puppy. You may even wish to consider placing a baby gate at the bottom of your stairs, if your home has multiple levels, to give your cat the sanctuary of the first floor. Plan ahead and start to feed your cat in an area away from the location where you intend to keep the dog; this will prevent your cat from going off his food.
When your new dog or puppy comes home, it is advisable to give it a puppy pen (also known as a dog crate) where it can sleep and rest and be safely housed when you are not around. If you are introducing an adult dog then the pen can be used for quiet times and sleeping. Try to place the pen well away from the thoroughfare leading to the cat flap or normal exit route for your cat. If litter trays are provided indoors, ensure they are located discreetly and in areas where your new puppy or dog will not be able to go.
When you first introduce your new puppy to your cat, do so in a room where the cat can easily escape. Hold the puppy and allow your cat to approach, if willing. Your cat may hiss or growl but if you are holding the puppy you can protect it from any aggressive advances. Your cat should be able to approach or escape at will during the introduction period. When your puppy is out of the pen it would be advisable to keep a long lead on its collar to stop it from getting excited and chasing your cat. Do not allow any unsupervised encounters until both parties are relaxed in the other’s presence and the puppy has been trained not to chase.
If you are introducing an adult dog then place it in the dog crate with a distracting toy and bring your cat into the room. Give your cat attention at this time: grooming, play or provide it with a favourite food treat to create positive associations with the experience. When your cat seems relaxed in the same room then you can open the pen (with your dog on a lead) and allow your dog to sit beside you whilst holding the lead to prevent him from chasing. Any calm behaviour at this time should be rewarded with a tasty food treat. Continue to have the dog and cat in the same room (with the dog on a lead) and give food treats to reward calm, relaxed behaviour. After a few weeks, depending on progress, you can try without the lead.