In a perfect world, all puppies and kittens would have plenty of positive playtime with each other from a very young age, like my former foster kittens and puppy in the photo above. The reality is, many pets don’t have the opportunity to be multi-species socialized. This article is about a very specific scenario for when a cat hasn’t had the chance: a home with an adult cat who’s never lived with a dog before, and the cat is scared of a known-to-cat-friendly dog in the home.
If you adopted a new dog and you don’t know how the dog is with cats, read our 6 Steps to Introduce a New Cat To Your Dog. If your new dog is chasing the cat, read Stop Dogs from Play Chasing New Cat.
For these tips, this is key: these are for when your dog (we’ll call him Rover) ignores or acts calm and friendly towards your cat (we’ll call her Kitty). So if Rover calmly watches or occasionally tries to sniff Kitty, and leaves Kitty alone when told to do so, but Kitty is scared — running away and hiding, or getting all puffed up and hissing, growling, or cowering when Rover near, then these tips are for you!
Note: If Rover gets excited near Kitty, perhaps his head held high and wagging his tail really fast, play bowing, pawing, or barking — even you think he’s doing it in a friendly playful way, you should restrain (leash, crate, or other room separate) Rover and train him to “leave it” then advance to “leave it” with “it” being Kitty. Rover needs to be calmly ignoring Kitty for these tips to work. Extra exercise and playtime for Rover helps too!
1. Create a Kitty Safety Zone. Kitty needs to feel safe. You can use a combination of baby gates, closed doors, and dog pens — your Kitty Safety Zone setup depends on your home and your pets. If your dog is small, baby gates are often easiest. If your dog is bigger and crate trained, crates let the pets see each other safely.
2. Set up Escape Routes. Kitty needs to feel safe. Yes, we’re repeating that! Help her feel safe by giving her escape routes in every room and hallways. An escape route can be a chair next to a table (if your dog is small) or bookshelf (larger dogs) or closet door or cabinet door propped open in such a way that only Kitty can slip inside but not Rover. Baby gates with cat openings (or low ones for small non-jumping dogs) placed strategically in key doorways can help too.
3. Praise positive behavior. If Kitty ventures out, give her lots of verbal praise for that and any other non-fearful behavior, including just sitting somewhere in sight of the dog. (You can reinforce Rover’s good behavior ignoring Kitty with praise and treats too!)
4. Let Kitty have the whole house at night. Cats are often nocturnal. Confining Rover to a crate or one room while you and he sleep can let Kitty enjoy free roaming time all night long which will reduce her stress levels overall too.
5. Give Kitty time along with you. Put Rover to bed (in his crate/room) an hour before your bedtime, and encourage Kitty to come out and spend time with you — if she likes to play, play with her! If she likes to snuggle, snuggle. Or maybe she just wants to sit calmly in the same room with you, without Rover. It’s her time with you to do whatever she and you like to do best together.
6. Give Kitty time to adjust. Cats can take weeks to months to get used to even a small change. Living with a dog for the first time is a HUGE change!
We hope these 6 tips help your cat-friendly dog and dog-shy cat live a long and happy life together!