Ask Ms. Kitty: A puppy for my dog, cat?

HowieFrankieSiameseDogFriendDear Miss Kitty,

We’d like a puppy for our two-year old Australian Shepard, Aussie, who seems to need a playmate. 

We also have Jack, our five-year old cat. They aren’t best friends but get along most of the time. Sometimes they even play, but Jack usually stops before Aussie is done.

Is a puppy a good idea? Or will it make things worse for Jack?

Flummoxed in Florence

Dear Flummoxed,

Yes, they can get along! Going slowly with a little thoughtful planning, training, and enrichment will give you a happy pet family.

Planning 

  • Match your puppy’s personality. If she is calm and trainable, active but not hyper, things will go faster and be easier to maintain with Jack.
  • Jack’s routines. Keep them positive and consistent, uninterrupted by Aussie and the puppy. Does Jack sleep with you at night? Can you brush and cuddle before bedtime? Maintaining this will help keep him happy and confident.
  • Jack’s enrichment. This includes individual time and attention from you, interesting toys in his environment, and challenging things to do on his own.
  • Vertical territory. Jack needs ways to get to safe, high spaces so he can go up when he feels the need. Cat trees and shelving should be a part of his environment.
  • Safe Room. Jack also needs a place he can go to when he wants complete separation from the puppy. Then he can really relax, sleep, and stretch out in a sunny spot uninterrupted.

Daily playtime for a cat is just as important as going for a walk for a dog.

Training
This is most important, and includes learning that only gentle play is allowed. She must be trained to stop when Jack is done playing.

Adult dogs can be ten to eighty pounds heavier than an adult cat. This would be like you trying to play with a giant 3 stories tall! A dog can injure or even kill a cat accidently, even during play.

Pet gates will allow Jack to get away from the puppy. Your training plan also needs to include leash-training, as well as the basic commands of “Sit” and “Stay”. You will need to be able to restrain her in the early stages of training to prevent overly aggressive encounters.

If your puppy isn’t learning easily, please seek a professional trainer who uses positive reinforcement, such as clicker training.

Slow Introductions
Anytime you bring in a new pet to a home with a cat, a slow and careful plan should be in place.

Cats need to feel safe and confident in their territory. In the wild, they are predators but also prey. This hardwires them to be suspicious of many animals, and protective against would-be foes.

  • Rotate territory. At first, alternate letting Jack and the puppy out in your home’s open areas. This allows both of them time to safely explore each other’s scents.
  • Use the gate. After a few days, if Jack is acting normally, let him start to view the puppy through the pet gate. This allows him to investigate her on his own terms, as close or far away as he wants.
  • Reward, reward, reward. Be ready with great toys and treats to distract the puppy from getting too excited at seeing Jack. Treats also go a long way in rewarding Jack to watch her in a friendly way.
  • Control the introduction. Once Jack trusts the puppy and there has been sufficient puppy training, you can slowly introduce them without the gate. Put the puppy in a Down Stay if possible and let Jack drive the introduction. Never let her chase him. Make sure you can restrain her to prevent overly rambunctious encounters.

Never leave a new dog and cat alone together until you are absolutely sure the cat is safe!

By planning ahead and paying attention to the reactions of all three pets, your new puppy will be a loved member of the family in no time!

Ask Ms. Kitty is a free helpline offered by Happy Cats Haven and managed by Colorado CATS. If you need help with your cat’s behavior, go to HappyCatsHaven.org/helpline/

Carole Galloway is the owner of Colorado CATS, a luxury cat-only boarding facility in Colorado Springs since 1995. Carole has cared for thousands of cats over the years and has worked as a professional Cat Behavior Consultant for the past 15 years.

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