How to handle new pet siblings and scardey-cats

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Catherine’s two cats who… don’t exactly love each other
This harmonious moment between rescue dog and scared-y cat took YEARS to achieve. Hence the photographic proof. What’s your trick to achieving this interspecies friendship?
My husband and I just bought a house and rescued a dog! Right now, Snoopy (our new beagle) is living with my husband’s aunt and uncle because we can’t have dogs in our apartment. Snoopy is living with several other cats and dogs and gets along with them well. The issue is our cats, Truffle and Cheesecake.

They are sisters and have been together since birth. We actually adopted them both because they were so close! But we’ve been spoiling them for a year and they are anti-social. Cheese gets scared when there are loud noises and will not tolerate company. I am worried if we move in, they will shun Snoopy or be constantly terrified. I am hoping that if we move Snoopy in first and let him calm down and then move the kitties in they will think he just came with their new home.

Do Homies have any advice for new pet siblings and scarde-y cats? -Gretchen

Oh man, we went through the rescued dog-meets-scardey cat thing in our home. It was NOT an easy task. It took YEARS of trying to get our cat and dog to get along. Two words to sum up the level of cat dramaz: projectile poop.

Homies, I sure hope you have had easier times getting scared-y cats and dogs to fall in love. Please let us in on your pet-friendly magic?

Comments on How to handle new pet siblings and scardey-cats

  1. I think the key is to take it slow. Keep them separated for a while, like at least a week or two. Give them opportunities to sniff each other though, like switching their spaces or letting them smell each other through the door. When they do eventually meet, keep it brief and make sure the cats can easily get away (maybe keep the pup on a leash at first.) You might also consider getting one of those Feliway pheromone diffusers as well, just to keep everyone as calm as possible.
    Good luck and just keep an eye out for signs of stress, like inappropriate peeing/pooping or changes in personalities or relationships (not just with the dog, but with the two cats and how they interact with each other.)

    • Feliway makes our really grumpy, cranky cat bearable to be around when change happens. We bought a house and adopted a dog earlier in the year, and they’re still not friends but Feliway kept Nacho’s stress down just enough. I also think that letting the cats be top dog is a good strategy, at least for us, since we had Nacho first, and Tika (the dog) is much much bigger. As long as she knows she’s at the bottom of the pack, she doesn’t mess with Nacho much.

  2. I second the keeping them separate at first idea.

    Additionally, designate a “dog space” and a “cat space”.

    We had two VERY rambunctious dogs when we rescued our cat. We designated the upstairs bathroom as “the cat’s room” his food, litter box, and bed were in there. When we brought him home we lined his bed with a blanket from one of the dogs bed so the dog smell was just another new smell in a new place. At first we left him in only that room. Then the next day I brought our calmer dog in to meet him for 5 minutes. Over the next 2 weeks I increased time with the calm dog and introduced the hyper dog. Then the next 2 weeks I slowly started letting the cat explore more house territory and interact with the dogs in a less controlled environment.

    Fast forward a year and the cat gets along really well with the dogs and even wrestles with them. If the dogs get to be too much he feels like he can retreat to his room and chill out there. The dogs have been taught they aren’t supposed to go in there which works two fold, less stressed out kitty and less cat poop nomming. I use a baby gate to allow cat access and keep the dogs out of there when we aren’t home.

    In your situation I would start with the dog sequestered and give the cats the free reign. Have a definite dog space where you have his kennel food toys etc. Laundry room or garage would be ideal. Have a cat space too and teach the dog that he isn’t supposed to go in there.

    After years of working with rescues I feel like slow, controlled introductions are key. If you have room, safe dog/cat free zones are nice too but not always practical.

  3. We were able to divide our house into two areas for the first week and the dog was (and still is) crated during the day. The first contact was having the dog held in a large room with several hidey spots for the cat, then carrying the cat into the room nearby and petting her with lots of praise all around. Second contact was bringing the dog (carefully, with lots of hugs for restraint and praise) into a room the cat had gone into. There were more supervised visits over the first week then both animals had full range of our house. They’re still not BFFs but the cat definitely knows when the dog has been to the dog park and is exhausted. We’ve also praised the cat every time she takes a swipe at the dog – I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen her do that, so she obviously needs to be encouraged to establish her own personal space.

    tldr; take it slow, make sure the dog is tired (as it is both bigger and non-scaredy), give the cats a safe space to retreat to, and of course praise and treats all around.

  4. When my fiance and I moved in together, he had two cats who HATED dogs and I had a dog who LOVED to chase cats. It was really, really hard. One of the cats is deaf, partially blind, and declawed (she came that way), so she had no way to defend herself. It took us months just to get them in the same room without me having to hold onto the dog with all my arms and legs.
    I don’t have any great tips, all I can say is to be patient and don’t give up. I was despondent about the fact that we always had to lock one set of animals in the bedroom when we went out. My best friend promised me it wouldn’t always be like that. And she was right. Three years later, their relationship continues to grow, but they all join us on the bed now!

  5. Short version: Regular, short, supervised visits between the dog and cat(s) to get them used to one another.

    Long version: We have a cat (Quinn) who gets along fine with our dog (I think once he realized “Damnit, they’re not taking this stupid drooly, galumpy fool creature away!” he got used to her) but has a deep fascination/antagonism/hate thing with our neighbor’s dog Rascal. Quinn’s not a scaredy cat; he will stand his ground and f*ck a dog up he cares to, which is part of the problem. Since we have an open-door policy between ours houses (the dogs all come and go as they please) it was important to get them to a point where Rascal wouldn’t chase/obsess over Quinn and Quinn wouldn’t bait/swipe at/lunge and sink his teeth into Rascal when Rascal visits our house.

    Short, regular, supervised visits have been the key. Getting Rascal used to the cat so he doesn’t obsess has been a slow process, but he’s making progress. Rascal’s people bring him over when they visit and we drink a beer and remind the animals “Rascal, leave the cat!” “Kitty, be nice!” Quinn’s happy to leave Rascal alone if Rascal gives him some space.

  6. We have 5 cats of varying ages and temperaments, and one pretty mellow dog. The dog was added to the family after all but two of the cats had been living together for years. I was worried about the cats when we first brought him home, but honestly it wasn’t a big deal. Maybe we just got lucky, but they seemed to work it out just fine amongst themselves. There was some spitting and hissing at first, and the dog was curious about the cats but never aggressive to them. The cats can get to places he can’t reach, so whenever they were scared they could just climb up high somewhere and stare at him. We’ve had the dog for a year now, and he and the cats are pretty chill with each other. The two kittens that we rescued this summer are buddies with the dog, they play together and sometimes sleep together. I never did anything special when introducing new animals to the household, other than make sure that everyone was up to date on shots and healthy so there wasn’t any spreading of germs back and forth. I figure, they’re animals, they’ll work it out.

    I will say, though, that we have one major “fraidy cat” in the house. She’s been that way since she was a kitten, and is even scared of her own brothers and sometimes of me. She hides from everyone and everything, the dog, other cats, the garbage truck, kids playing outside. It’s just how she is I guess. It is possible, if your cats are seriously fraidy, that they will never be buddy buddy with your new dog.

  7. I’d move the cats in first and the dogs in second. Cats hate change and going to a new place that has a dog in it will break their little kitty souls. Let them move in for about a week so they can adjust to their new space and find good hiding spots.

    Then I’d follow all of the above advice (Feliway, separation, extended introduction) with one major addition: Don’t freak out. Your cats will know if you are nervous or scared or stressed and it will negatively impact how well this goes and how long it takes. Be relaxed, comfortable and happy as much as you can during this process, especially when you are letting them interact.

    It’s very likely that the best you will get will be a sort of mutual truce–the dog doesn’t bother the cats and the cats pretend that the dog doesn’t exist. It takes a very chill (and usually male) cat to develop a friendship with a dog or cat that they encountered in adulthood.

  8. We adopted Henry our ultra-mellow cat, then a few months later adopted his pal Hector, a very active and nosy dog. The cat spent a week or so pouting and being extremely miffed at us for daring to bring a dog into his home, but six months later he’s constantly following Hector around and trying to test the limits of the dog’s personal space. Here are a few things I tried that helped them learn to live with each other (even if tbey’re both still a little suspicious, haha!

    – The cat was here first, so he got free run of the whole place, while the pooch spent his evenings and weekdays while we were at work in the bedroom with his bed, food and toys. I think the cat’s main issue was having a stinky dog horning in on his territory, so we tried to make him feel like he was still the king!

    – Both of them LOVE to be groomed, so they come running at the sight of the brush. Henry the cat will follow you anywhere if you’ve got a brush in your hand, so I’d bring him closer and closer to Hector each time, alternating between the two of them. Any activity that all your critters like will help them to bond, or at least put up with each other if they know it’ll be enjoyable.

    – Being a sneaky bastard, I’ve slowly moved their beds closer to one another by a few inches every day for the past couple weeks. Now they’re side by side and don’t seem to mind each others’ snoring.

    So basically, take it slow, make sure all pets feel comfortable and chilled-out, and bring them together with things that they all enjoy. Kind of like getting strangers to mingle at a party.

  9. It would be awesome if you could find an animal expert as a contributor to this site, since the occasional pet question pops up. I say this because I see so many people in the Internet universe spreading such incredibly WRONG information. The Internet, combined with certain reality television programs (I won’t Whisper, er, mention any names) seems to make everyone think they’re dog experts. Sadly, the techniques shown on tv and some websites are so terribly wrong, many of them are both dangerous and plain abusive.

    An expert who follows scientifically proven techniques based on learning theory would be a great addition to this site. Think Pavlov, BF Skinner, Thorndike, etc. Science is where it’s at!
    I like to refer people to an absolutely amazing website called DogStarDaily. At this site, you will find articles and blog posts from the best trainers, behaviourists, teachers, etc from around the world. You’ll also find a free book download from Dr. Ian Dunbar, the sites creator, called “Before and After Getting Your Puppy”. This book is essential for all dog owners! I refer to it myself often and also refer others to it often. Having 3 dogs, 2 adopted from rescue as strays and having Behaviour issues, this book has helped me to teach my dogs with compassion, change their emotional response to fear inducing things, and help them ease into a wonderful life at home.

    It seems that people often forget that in bringing pets into our homes, that it is our responsibility to protect them from being fearful or stressed as much as possible. Forcing dogs or cats to confront what they fear does not work. If you’re afraid of snakes, it wouldn’t help you to be locked in a room with a hundred snakes and expect you to get over it. Same idea goes for pets. Slow, gentle introductions to new pets/people/places are where it’s at! The idea is to create a positive association with the new (and scary) thing!

    I hope that you check out DogStarDaily if you can. I have no affiliation with this site. It’s just a wonderful resource for all dog owners and its helped me!

    Good luck!

    • I say this because I see so many people in the Internet universe spreading such incredibly WRONG information.

      Yep, be sure to check the disclaimer at the top of this post (and all other advice posts on Offbeat Home and Offbeat Families).

  10. the only thing i would add to what everyone else has said is vertical space for the kitties! get your cats a nice big cat tree where the dog cant get them, give them a shelf on a bookcase, get them those awesome wall shelf things where they can jump “up” the wall and onto a window- but giving them safe spaces away from the dog will be good for them. that is good for all kitties, actually. they love being up high!

  11. I really like the suggestion of giving the kitties a blanket that dog has slept on inorder to get use to the scent of the dog.

    Honestly I think if you let the dog have a quick romp in the house before kitties get there just to scent up a few things, it might help the kitties understand the new smells of the house. Then from there either send Snoopy back to Aunt’s for a week and bring the kitties home and set up their dog free space with the dog smelling blanket. Give them a day in their kitty specific space that the dog will never be allowed in. Then let the kitties roam the house.

    Then when Snoopy comes up set up a crate and dog specific space for just him as well. When no one is home, do not let Snoopy interact with the cats for every animal’s safety, but mostly for kitty comfort. It can help keep their stress levels lower and also not drive Snoopy nuts if say he is in a crate and the cats are zipping around in his room while he watches from the crate can cause anxeity for Snoopy possibly causing him to chase to crap out of them once he is loose. An anxious dog might do things that normally they wouldn’t. And even once everything is settled I am sure Snoopy would still love his own space. I am know if I still had crates always set up, I’d find my pit bull less on my bed and in her crate willingly as it’s her space when scared.

    And like Tooks I am going to suggest a nice book on dogs too. It’s a British woman that developed her style after a horse trainer that is similar to the bullying of the unmentioned guy with a TV show, but it is actually done in a kind way and honestly much more natural. I just like it for its insight to dog psychology without bullying them. It’s called the Dog Listener….yea ironic isn’t it that there were 2 people developing a semi-similar method in 2 countries around the same time?

    Now I have another dog book to check out care of Tooks as I am trying to become very knowledgable about all things dogs.

  12. We’ve got 2 cats and a dog. The oldest cat, now 6, loathes the dog. She only comes out into the common areas when he is up. She is now loads braver but it has taken 3 years to get to this point.

    Be prepared that they may never get along. Dax (the dog) doesn’t bother Cinna (the younger cat) at all but will occasionally chase Sophie because she runs.

    We have a baby gate in one bedroom door and a dog gate (difference is that the dog gate has an internal gate within it so you can get in/out of the room without taking the whole gate down ~$80 at pet stores) leading to the kitchen. This gives Sophie the back 1/3 of the house as ‘hers’ during the day and also serves to keep the stinky dog out of the bedroom and out of the cat box.

  13. Something that worked for me is brushing my old cat and new kittens with the same brush. We ended up resorting to that because my older cat was being stubborn.

    By doing this it gets them used to the others scents whether they like it or not. We felt a little bad about it, but we were worried because the kittens were so small and my old cat is 17 pounds.

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