Managing successful cat and dog integrations

By Frania Shelley-Grielen. All rights reserved.

How do you introduce a new cat to your dog or a new dog to your cat. How long does it take? How difficult is it? Does it matter if the dog has cat experience or the cat, has dog experience? What about what kind of breed the dog is? Or how old they are? Or you may have heard that it’s easier with a puppy or is it a kitten?

The answer to managing successful cat and dog introductions can be found in paying careful attention to a number of key elements: individual differences, the right environment for each species, behavior monitoring, behavior modification and time. Here’s a closer look on what to consider and some helpful strategies: .

Individual differences: not all cats and dogs are the same and not all past relationships equal new relationships. Each pet, cat or dog, has a different personality, level of socialization and history. While it is definitely helpful to know if a cat has lived successfully with a dog in the past it is also necessary to realize that this was a unique relationship where that particular cat lived with that particular dog. You still want to help broker the best possible way to integrate a cat and dog that are new to each other. It is also worth noting that cats and dogs that have had positive experiences with each other in the past are more likely to anticipate positive experiences. And being aware of a history of negative experiences or no experience means a new situation can be stressful. Either way, factor in personality and history always, keeping in mind the canine and feline perspective.

The right environment:
the physical space has to be set up so that it is enriched appropriately for both cats and dogs, allows for comfortable and safe interactions, exit routes and refuges. For dogs this means dog beds or places on the people furniture to be used as resting places. It also means enough toys, including puzzle toys and chew toys to interact with independently and with people. When a dog does not interact with a toy or respond to play, ask first what other toys or play might the dog like using natural behavior to inform your choices and try them out, giving enough time and enough dog meaningful playtime to see results. For instance, the oral expression of chewing with dogs leads to prolonged interactions with objects to chew on which engage the dog in natural behavior and give it a much needed something to do. Stuffed puzzle feeders such as "Kongs" are almost a must have for every dog to chew breakfast or dinner from. The more a dog has to do, the less bored, the less behavior issues and the less entertaining the cat, as a distraction will be.

In their natural environment cats are arboreal and use trees and other raised areas to survey their environment, detect prey and to escape from predators which translates to a necessary refuge from unwanted canine attention or simply feline "alone" time. A well placed cat tower, against a wall and ideally, next to a window, is a great way to add raised vertical spaces. A cat bed on top of a dresser is another nice solution. Think cat, in thinking how easily a cat can access a raised resting space. Exit paths and access routes should be effortless for the cat the figure out and obtain. Cats also need cat beds with at least three raised sides to curl up in and a cat bed nested on a cat tower’s enclosed plane is a welcome addition for any cat. Think against walls and under chairs for beds placed on the floor, always keeping in mind the cat wants the hide as a safe refuge and not a place to be trapped in. The best cat beds can come in the mail, cardboard boxes turned on their side can work too and the raised sides often give kitty a feeling of security, sometimes, even away from a wall. Seeing what your cat uses, taking in preferred cat locations and giving a few days to acclimate to a new object, will tell you what they like.

Puzzle feeders for cats allow for natural behaviors and are huge in preventing boredom. In the initial stages of integration, when cats are dog are separated, a rolling puzzle feeder is a good choice. When cats and dogs are sharing the same spaces, use a puzzle feeder that only the cat can access by placing it on a raised surface the dog cannot access, like a counter top.

The right kind of music is a definite plus for an enriched environment for both cats and dogs and can definitely assist in a successful integration process. A number of studies have shown positive effects of classical music on a number of species and are especially effective in shelter environments and group housing situations. Classical radio stations are a nice choice to leave on when you are not home (and even when you are). In addition to the relaxing tones of the music, the announcer’s voices are calming which adds to the comfort. Some good stations to try are 105.9 FM in NYC or 90.3FM in Westchester, and for online choices Pandora’s “Classical Music for Studying.”

Both cats and dogs need daily interactive play time with their people. This is even more important during an integration process. Play is a definite stress reducer, releases beneficial hormones associated with pleasure, is just plain fun and boosts relationships across the human animal bond and creates positive associations with the change in the environment. (Continue Reading Below)