Carol Byrnes is a dog trainer who owns and runs a dog training school in Spokane, Washington. Until recently, the family of animals in Carol’s home consisted of a dog: Ellie, a 10-year-old spayed female Jack Russell terrier, adopted as an adult from Airway Heights Prison’s dog training program, and a cat: Nemo. , a 16 year old dog. A spayed over a year old Cornish Rex cat who was declawed before being adopted as an adult by the Spokane Humane Society.
Then . . . Arbee, Carol’s new puppy, has arrived!
Nemo the cat had no previous experience with dogs years ago when he joined Carol’s family of three resident dogs and one cat. Nemo lived in Carol’s office behind a baby gate for many weeks. He has bred many dogs over the years since then.
Arbee the pup, 11 weeks old, is a mini Australian Cattledog/Jack Russell terrier mix.
Comparative size of puppy vs. cat now?
Puppy is still smaller than the cat, but grows quickly.
Photo by Carol Byrnes
I asked Carol some basic questions about introducing a new puppy to a resident cat.
What can future parents of puppies expect from cats that are already members of the family?
How easy or difficult it will be depends entirely on the cats in question and their personalities and experience with dogs. Expect even the calmest cat and dog expert to be mortified at first. He will be growling and hissing. This is how they set limits. The younger the puppy, the easier it will be. In her time with us, Nemo has lived with many dogs, but she growls and hisses and has been pretty sure for the first few weeks with the pup that life as she knows it is ruined. (She is a drama queen). Because she is an expert with dogs, Nemo knows that she shouldn’t run away from the puppy, and she has very clear rules and constantly enforces them. As the days go by, Nemo allows the cub a little closer to her, as she is ready. Nemo takes pride in sitting in doorways and not letting the pup through.
What if the cat has no experience with puppies?
Again, the younger the puppy and cat, generally, the easier it will be. At a few weeks of age, the pups can follow them, but are less likely to chase them; they still can’t get on the sofa or bed, which gives the cat more “puppy-free zones” where he can safely observe out of reach. If the pup is older, larger, and more agile, he may be much less respectful of the cat’s personal space. Attach a drag leash and you can step on it as needed so the cat doesn’t get accosted by his new best friend. In an emergency, he grabs the dog, not the cat. You don’t want to wrap your arms around a cat that is in defensive mode unless you have a lot of Band-Aids.® practical!
Any “training” for the cat that you suggest needs to be done long before the puppy arrives?
If possible, bring home a blanket or towel that the puppy has slept on and leave it where the cat usually hangs out, so the cat can get acquainted with the scent of its new family member before meeting the puppy . It may not be possible to provide the actual puppy scent, but if the cat is not used to dogs, you may be able to “borrow” the scent of a friend’s dog. I also recommend Feliway® spray or diffuser to reduce kitten stress. Trim kitten’s nails to minimize damage if/when puppy gets hit in the face.
Any “training” for the puppy before it leaves its first home, if the breeder or foster has cats?
At its best, the pup has encountered calm, dog-savvy cats from a very young age and has already made it clear that cats are family. You can expect those cats to have been good kitty ambassadors and puppy trainers. Crate training is important for all puppies. A crate-trained puppy can be safely investigated by the cat from outside the crate.
Photo by Carol Byrnes
Your suggestions for the best physical setup in the home? What can be prepared before the puppy arrives (giving the cat a chance to get acquainted with it first)? Baby gates, exercise pens, cat safe space inaccessible to dogs? Where will all the animals eat? Where will they sleep? What about “securing” the litter box? What cat toys will not be safe for a puppy? Etc.!
The most important recommendation is that the cat’s daily routine be disturbed as little as possible. Routines and schedules must be respected. If any changes need to be made, they should be done prior to the puppy’s arrival, especially if it means relocating feeders or litter boxes. Puppies require diligent supervision and careful confinement when you can’t supervise them. A playpen and/or crate allows the cat regular freedom from the house when the puppy is confined. Limit the puppy’s access with baby gates that the cat can fit through, but the puppy can’t. In this way, the puppy cannot follow the cat to every room in the house and the cat can have a lot of privacy to do its things. (It will also make potty training the puppy easier.) Make sure the cat has a quiet passageway to get to food, water, the litter box, and her favorite nap spots. If the puppy is a problem for the cat to get to the bathroom, the cat may choose a different place to go. Your cat may be reluctant to play, as it could make the pup want to join in. Cat toys may be too small for most puppies and could pose a choking hazard. Even if the toys are safe, your cat probably doesn’t want the dog to spit the toys out on him. (On the other hand, if a puppy gets covered in catnip, the cat may think he’s a much more tolerable puppy!)
Photo by Carol Byrnes
What has been your plan all along for your new puppy with your resident cat?
Since our cat is so used to sharing our home with our dogs and having regular visits from family and friends’ dogs, it was more or less the status quo for Nemo, apart from the exercise pen that opened a few days before the puppy arrival. We don’t interfere much, other than chatting cheerfully about how cool the new housemate is and occasionally redirecting the pup to chase a toy when he’s too interested in the cat. We pet them both and let them smell our hands so they can get a good sniff at each other without getting too close. We praised Nemo when he sneakily sniffed while the pup was napping, but this was only when it was Nemo’s idea to come up on his own. Nemo’s normal life involves dogs, so nothing has been different, other than it’s apparent to her that this “visitor” isn’t going home.
What do you imagine could have happened already if you hadn’t had a plan?
No matter how much planning you do, there will always be adjustments to be made. It’s much easier to think ahead and be prepared than to find cat poop in your laundry basket and a cat that won’t use its litter box, and you’ll have to undo long-term damage that could have been prevented!
What doesn’t work?
Don’t try to “help” them be friends. Having them sit next to each other or holding the cat for the dog to sniff is a bad idea. There are no short cuts. It will take as long as the cat adapts. It’s best to let the cat stay away and time for it to acclimate to the sights and sounds of the new dog. If the pup gets into the cat’s space and the cat has a cow, he ignores the cat and congratulates the pup for leaving the scene. The sooner the little pup learns to move carefully around the cat, the better off he’ll be when he’s bigger than the cat in a few weeks. DO rescue the puppy if the cat is the aggressor.
When people say, “Let them figure it out for themselves,” what can happen?
The question is always, “What do you want your pets to learn?” That cats are prey? That dogs are dangerous? Separate them during the puppy’s Zoomie moments! Setting the stage to hang out quietly, day after day, is the best way for them to learn that the other animal is “no big deal.” That said, you can protect them too much. There is a certain amount of mutual “education” that can be productive. The pups learn that cats are smart and should never bounce on sleeping kitties! Cats learn that a little hiss is enough to deter and it’s a waste of energy to put your panties in a heap for every little thing. But unnecessary stress is counterproductive, especially if the dog or cat is a sensitive type. Don’t set them to fail.
What are your immediate goals for the puppy and cat together? How about long term?
Things are going very well right now. The cat has taught the puppy which beds are cat beds and not to stick his nose in the bowl when the cat is eating. They have shared my lap on the sofa! When the pup is mature enough that they don’t have to be confined when we’re not home, I hope they’ll be calm and comfortable housemates and I’ll never have to worry about them being alone together.
Any surprises so far?
Only it goes so well, so fast!
Photo by Carol Byrnes