- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Congratulations! You’re bringing home a new kitten. First, let’s bust an old myth: Cats and dogs can totally get along. Whether your dog has lived with cats before or not, whether your dog is a puppy or a senior, here are some expert tips for introducing your dog to a new kitten and helping the move-in go smoothly.
Schedule a vet visit for your new kitten as soon as possible. Your kitten can bring fleas into your home, which adds a level of stress to what will already be an adjustment period for everyone. My vet’s main concern for our new kitten Reina was ear mites, which are transferable from cats to dogs. Thankfully, she had no ear mites, but on her recommendation, we started Reina on a flea medication. Our dogs go in and out of the backyard and on hikes, and we didn’t want our new kitten to get any fleas. Fleas love kittens!
It’s important that both your new kitten and your dog have their own space. When we brought home Reina, our new kitten, we put our dogs in our den and shut the door, which allowed them to have their own space when they felt uncomfortable or overwhelmed with Reina.
For Reina, we set up her litter box, her food, water, and toys in a spare room with a door that shuts, which helped her feel safe and protected. Your dog might be really excited by her presence and want to figure out if they can play with your kitten or chase, which can be scary and exhausting. When you’re not around to supervise, a kitten-only room allows her to rest. Kittens, you’ll find, need a lot of uninterrupted sleep.
Setting up a baby gate between the kitten-only room and the rest of the house allows your dog to interact safely with your kitten when you are not directly supervising. Make sure the baby gate doesn’t have any spaces that your kitten can slip through.
Keep your dogs and kitten separate whenever you can’t directly supervise their interaction. Direct supervision looks like holding your kitten and interacting with your dog. Or having your dog on a leash and allowing the kitten to wander in an enclosed area. You’ll be able to assess your dog’s comfort level best. Each dog will accept a new kitten differently.
We sat on the couch with Reina, and allowed our dogs, one-by-one to come up to her in our hands. Reina made us laugh, because our tiny, eight-week-old kitten hissed at our 80-lb German shepherd. He and our other older dog gave her some side-eye and were more interested in staying away from her. But our younger dog would nose our new kitten too much, so we had to command him to sit and stay.
You don’t need to be an expert dog trainer, or a referee, to raise your new kitten and your dog together. As your new kitten grows, so does their curiosity, agility, and their abilities. This growth will change their interactions with your dog. Prepare to adjust routines and boundaries as needed.
Our kitten, for example, began provoking our three dogs to play. She swipes at them, plays with their tails, and surprises them from under furniture or from above. Although our dogs don’t react defensively each time, their patience runs thin, and we need to stay mindful.
Playing extensively with your kitten prevents her from provoking your dog for play – especially if your dog is wary of her.
The truth is, your dog could nip or bite your kitten, especially if they are roughhousing or your dog is uncomfortable. If this happens, immediately assess the severity and escalate to your vet if needed.
If it’s your kitten that scratches your dog (or you!), clean the area as soon as possible. But the best solution is prevention.
They can sleep together, but giving both of them options is best. Often, cats like high places, which makes it easy to keep the dogs and cats sleeping separately.
Our kitten kind of forces her companionship on our dogs, and slowly, they’ve adjusted to her wanting to sleep near them. But our kitten’s favorite cat bed is at the top of our couch or with us.
The integration of smells, toys, and time together, helps to generalize the presence of your kitten with your dog. Our dogs love her small toys and walk away with them whenever they get a chance. We do keep her food bowl and litter box behind a baby gate. You never know what weird things your dog wants to eat. We try to save them from that embarrassment.
When we leave our house for any length of time, we continue to keep our dogs and growing kitten separated.
If your dog doesn’t respond to your growing kitten positively, then keeping them separate will aid their stress levels. I recommend consulting specialists in your vet and a dog trainer for advice and additional resources if needed. A happy dog and cat home is possible.