How to Introduce a Kitten to a Resident Dog
Introducing a kitten to a dog is a process that should not be treated lightly. Since kittens are particularly small and vulnerable, an unsupervised meeting with a dog could be very dangerous and even deadly for them—and a kitten could also injure a dog as well. Below are some tips from pet owners and other organizations to help you smoothly introduce a kitten to a dog household:
Step 1: Picking Up the Kitten
A lot of owners suggest starting the acclimation process as early as when you pick up your new kitten. Bring your dog with you in the car, ideally in a crate, so that the animals can start getting used to each other’s scents in a confined space while still safely separated.
Some pet owners want to start this process even before bringing a kitten home to a dog by taking their dog to a shelter for a test interaction with cats. But the American Humane Association generally recommends against this because it can be a frightening experience for the shelter cats and not necessarily indicative of how the dog will behave at home. If you really want to test out your dog around cats, try asking a shelter, breeder, friend or relative if they have a particularly dog-friendly cat you can expose your dog to, and make sure to supervise the interaction carefully.
Step 2: Early Separation
Even if your dog and the new kitten seem calm in the car, it is absolutely necessary to create separate spaces for them when you get home. This could be either separate rooms or crates in different parts of the house with food, water, etc. Some owners recommend keeping the new kitten completely separate from the dog for as much as a few days, but if your dog seems to be reacting well, you can begin letting each animal roam free while the other is confined over the next few days. This allows the pets to get further acquainted with each other’s scents without direct interaction. Make sure to alternate between the animals, with the dog sometimes being put out of sight so that the kitty can get used to the smell of the dog around the house. The animals should remain completely separated anytime you are not home.
Another way to make the most of this separation time is by putting the animals in rooms next to each other and feeding both at the same time. The dog and the kitten will start to associate the enjoyable process of eating with each other’s scents, and you can gradually move their food bowls closer to the door that separates them so they get comfortable eating closer to each other. During this time you can also speed up the scent familiarization by swapping a blanket or towel from each animal’s space. You can also open the door between rooms so that the pets can get used to seeing each other, but while still safely separated.
Step 3: Controlled Introductions
Once the dog starts to get used to the cat—no longer obsessing over it, and instead treating the kitty with curiosity and not aggression—it is time to begin carefully supervised introductions. For these introductions, the dog should be leashed so that you can quickly control any undesirable behavior. Continue letting the animals be in the same room together and play with careful supervision until the dog and the kitten seem calm and happy around each other. Some pet owners suggest that kittens actually acclimate fairly quickly to dogs compared to older cats.
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Step 4: Unleashed and Unsupervised Introductions
When you are confident that your dog is no longer a threat to the kitten, usually after a month or so, you can let them play together without restraining the dog and begin to experiment with leaving them together unsupervised.
Note: with kittens, it might not be possible to leave the two pets together until the kitten is fully-grown and less at risk of being injured by the dog. However, many pet owners have success stories of bonding a dog and kitten, sometimes even resulting in a great protective relationship.
A Few Final Tips
In order to successfully introduce a kitten to a dog home, there are a few general tips to keep in mind:
- Avoid traumatizing situations. If there is any risk of the dog harming or scaring the kitten, do not begin the process of letting them interact. One bad experience early on could really damage the relationship between the two pets in the long term.
- Be mindful of the pack hierarchy. Remember that part of this is training your dog to understand that there is a new member of the “pack,” and aggression towards this new member is unacceptable. Be mindful of small frustrating signals you might be sending the dog, like feeding the kitten first or excessively scolding the dog, which can contribute to the feeling that the dog needs to defend its position in the pack.
- Give equal attention to each. Make sure that you are not neglecting your dog as you work on settling in a new kitten. Reward him or her for good behavior and show that you still care very much about the dog to avoid triggering a sense of jealousy.
The key to introducing a kitten to a dog is to take things slowly and pay close attention to the signals that your two pets are sending, but with time and patience it is definitely possible to foster a tolerant or even loving relationship between your new kitten and resident dog.
What other tips do you have for introducing a kitten to your dog? How did your dog react to the new kitten during each stage of the process? How did the kitten react to the dog? Share your stories below!