By Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB, DACAW, CAWA
San Francisco SPCA
Let’s say you are traveling with your dog to visit some friends and you find out they have a cat. Some first thoughts may include: a wild goose chase around the house, unruly hissing and barking, or out-of-control straining at the leash. Luckily, there are ways to prevent a potential mad house.
Here are some pointers:
Have a “safety room” or rooms as well as high places the cat can access but the dog cannot. Baby-gates, cat doors and clearing high surfaces can accomplish this. It is important that the cat can retreat and relax away from the dog and then venture forward into “dog territory” at her own pace. The cat should have access to food, water and litter in this area so no interactions with the dog are forced.
Never force the cat (or dog) into proximity by holding her, caging her or otherwise restricting her desire to escape. This is stressful and does not help.
For the first introduction, have the dog on leash in case he explodes into chase. If it seems to be going well, take the leash off and supervise closely.
If the dog is behaving in a friendly and/or cautious way, try to not intervene in their interactions, except to praise and reward the dog for his good manners.
Interrupt any intense chasing and try to redirect the dog’s attention to another activity – this is very difficult so you may be forced in the future to manage the dog on-leash around the cat until you have worked out a routine or divided up the house.
Dogs should not have access to the cat litter box – it is too stressful for the cat and the dog may eat cat feces and litter. Most dogs will also eat cat food the cat leaves behind – we suggest feeding cats in the cat’s “safe” room or on a high surface.
All in all, preparation and cautiousness are key. It is a stressful time for both the dog and cat; any steps to ease the process will help all involved.
If you would like to prepare in advance of your trip, the San Francisco SPCA or a humane society near you offers many dog-training classes.