Introducing a New Puppy to Your Senior Cat in 3 Easy Steps
Bringing a new puppy home can be stressful in and of itself. Then, when you add the worry of introducing them to another pet – particularly an old, set in their ways cat – things only get more complicated. You’ll wonder: Will they get along? Will this impact the cat’s personality and traits? And what happens if they don’t hit it off?
The key to success is a gradual introduction that gives both pets time to adjust. Introductions need to start early before your puppy and senior cat meet face to face. This stage focuses on starting an association through smell alone. From there, brief and controlled face-to-face greetings can begin. Finally, you’ll increase the frequency and length of interactions, using a reward system. Together, these steps can help solidify a peaceful, calm, and positive relationship.
Let’s take a look at each of these steps in more detail.
1. Meeting From Afar
Smell is a powerful sense, and dogs and cats rely on it to gather information. Your cat probably takes one sniff of you when you’ve been somewhere else that has an animal and gets into a bad mood! It’s to be expected that the same thing will happen when they catch wind of new puppy smells. That’s why it’s important to begin the introduction through scent alone.
The first few days after your puppy comes home, care for both animals completely separately. This means the two should be in separate areas of the house where they can’t see each other.
Every couple of hours you’ll want to switch the spaces that both your cat and pup are occupying. This will allow your puppy to get acquainted with their new surroundings while also allowing both animals to begin their introduction. By switching spaces, it enables each pet to become familiar with the scent of the other throughout the home, allowing them to learn to accept it.
At this stage, if left home alone, your puppy and cat should both have their own secure areas (such as a crate, room, or other space). If you want to crate train your puppy, this is the time to start.
A crate will provide your pup with a quiet and safe place while your cat can continue to roam the house. Just be sure that the crate is still in a room or space that your cat can’t access to avoid any unsupervised mischief. Throughout this phase, make sure both animals have plenty of quality time with you and access to adequate amounts of food, water, and toys.
Both your cat and the new puppy will gather one another’s scents through independent explorations of the shared spaces, but they can also gain this sense of familiarity through physical objects. Swapping toys or pieces of bedding is a good way to share the scent of their new companion. This can even be done before your puppy comes home if you’re able to exchange these items.
2. Initial Meetings
After a few days of exchanging scents, you should notice a calmer reaction from your cat about the new smell in the house. This is a good sign that they’re ready for their first face-to-face introduction. Start with brief and controlled encounters, increasing the length and decreasing control gradually as success is achieved.
Location, Location, Location
First introductions should be done in a neutral space in the home. A living room is a good location as it’s large enough to allow both animals to feel they have sufficient space. Larger spaces are also ideal as introductions can begin from opposite sides of the room, and the pets can gradually come closer as they feel more comfortable.
Keeping Calm, Cool, and Collected
Having your puppy on a leash is the preferred starting point because your cat is then able to enter the room and set the pace of the interaction. Interactions will be best when your puppy has had time to play and exercise, as they’re likely to be less rambunctious. Another way to make sharing the space a positive experience is by having your puppy’s favorite toys around to maintain their interest while your cat roams.
Your puppy should stay leashed during these first few meetings, as an excited puppy can easily intimidate and possibly injure an older cat. Begin with short, controlled meetings, gradually increasing the length and lessening the control, so long as interactions end on a positive note each time. Over several meetings, you should notice your cat growing more confident and calmer around the puppy. Your puppy should also begin to lose interest in the cat.
3. Keep a Good Pace
If you follow the first two steps closely, you’ll likely see results quickly. But maintaining this momentum is critical. Praise and reinforcement work a lot better at creating long-lasting habits and behaviors than punishment. There are also ways to be purposeful with your planning of space to support both animals in establishing and maintaining a peaceful home.
Praise, Don’t Punish
It’s much more beneficial and long-lasting to reinforce your puppy’s positive behaviors than to punish their negative behaviors. Reward your puppy for being calm and obedient around your cat, or even for ignoring them. If your puppy begins to fixate on your cat, offer distractions to keep them occupied in place of the undesired behavior and reward them as soon as they engage with the distraction. Distractions can include treats, praise, toys, or other rewards that motivate your puppy.
Watch for signs of aggressive or unwanted behaviors. If you notice your puppy is overly focused on your cat and won’t accept your distractions, or your cat is growling, hissing, or swatting, it’s important to separate them immediately. Likewise, avoid leaving them unsupervised together, at least until they’re completely accustomed to each other. Despite becoming more comfortable with one another, each animal should continue to have a space of their own.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking to introduce your new puppy to your senior cat, the introductions must be done in a way that’s positive and non-threatening for both animals. The three simple steps we’ve outlined above should help get you started on the right path. Keep an eye out for signs of aggression or unwanted behaviors from either animal – if they happen, separate them immediately and don’t leave them unsupervised together until they’ve completely adjusted to one another. Good luck!