My girlfriend's moving in... and so is her cat!
April 14, 2012 11:32 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend is moving from an apartment in NYC to my house in Connecticut next week with her cat. I have two dogs. Do we have a future?!

There are really two issues here. 1. The cat vs. the dogs. 2. The cat vs. the outdoors. Kitty and I get along super well (I love being a stepmommy!), kitty and my kid get along super well, etc. Kitty is loved by all and we want her to be happy and safe.

The cat has stayed at my house for up to two weeks in the past, when my girlfriend has been out of town or when she's just come to stay for extended periods.

I have a very large house, and I have adopted the finished attic as my "quarters," with one room as a large bedroom and the other as a living room/workspace. There is a door at the bottom of the stairs. When the cat has stayed here in the past, she stays up here, and we keep this door closed til the dogs are in bed for the nite (behind a closed door in a second floor bedroom); she then gets free run of the house. This isn't sustainable for the long term.

The dogs react like FREAKS when the cat arrives and introductions were attempted. Growling, barking, whimpering. We have tried crating them and bringing the cat-in-carrier close by. Oh, the noise -- from the cat, too. We have tried putting the cat in a towel burrito and holding her up at adult human level, while trying to control the dogs. This resulted in some mean scratch action from the cat. The dogs spend most of their lives trying to breach the attic door to get to the cat upstairs, and if they make it up, they seem to be both scared of finding her (she goes waaay up high and hides) and incredibly interested in it. For her part, the cat spends half her time thinking about going down the stairs and through the door to... do god knows what, but I'm sure it does not involve the dogs.

The dogs are three years old, rescue dogs, medium sized. One's mostly black lab. The other is... well, maybe part lab, at least in behavior. Whippet-like in appearance. Both are very sweet and incredibly well-behaved normally. Very obedient and will go to their crates just by being told. This cat thing makes them lose their MINDS, however.

Any suggestions?

Kitty (not her real name) is an indoor cat whose chief passion in life is trying to get outside. She is an apartment cat right now and has been for her entire life. The few times she's actually escaped the apartment to the great outdoors, she's been quickly captured in the process of stupidly running herself into a corner. She has no sense of direction or purpose.

I have no doubt that she will get outside once she lives here. Our front door and back door are opened and closed frequently and without a lot of care. Kids come in and out. Our back door, which leads to a patio, is actually left wide open to let air in when the weather's nice. I don't think relying on people to look out for the cat is the way to go about... looking out for the cat.

We have about 3/4 acre of land. The house is set pretty far back from the road. We do get some traffic. We're across the street from a river. There are woods. There's some wildlife -- deer, raccoons, skunks. I saw a fox last year. Someone heard a coyote last year. Ducks and geese from the water. Oh, god, I'm babbling, because if something happens to this cat, my girlfriend will be devastated!

So, please talk to me about the cat and the great outdoors? I do see neighborhood cats walking in and out of our yard all the time, but they ostensibly are a lot more suburb-smart than this cat is. Can she adapt? What do we dooo?

Thank you!
posted by houseofdanie to Pets & Animals (15 answers total)
Response by poster: Oh! Our dogs and the outdoors:
We have an electronic perimeter fence and the dogs have collars. We have a dog door that leads into a gated doggie area. When the dogs don't have their collars on, the gate is closed, so they can do their potty business and come back in. If the back door happens to be open, they know better than to saunter on out. The cat? Erm, she'll look you right in the eye, hop up onto the counter, and approach your plate of chicken. So I'm not thinking discipline will be coming into play.
posted by houseofdanie at 11:38 AM on April 14, 2012

Get the cat chipped, if it isn't already.
posted by rtha at 11:39 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

We were terrified to move our dog and cat in together, even though our dog is smaller (chihuahua). For about 3 days, it was like the situation you describe above, and then they chilled out a little bit, but still had a few fights where the cat hissed and scratched and showed the dog who was boss (clip or cap the cat's claws to prevent bloody scratches), and then they mellowed out more and more over time until they could both sleep on the same couch. They still fight sometimes but I think they're having a good time.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:46 AM on April 14, 2012

Your first step is to be sure that any space where the dogs will be around the cat has high, cat-accessible but dog-inaccessible, escape spaces.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:52 AM on April 14, 2012

I'd buy the dogs muzzles and have them wear them while they aren't in their room for at least a month when they're off-lead to see if they settle down. While the dogs can still hurt the cat with muzzles on, they may not be able to seriously hurt it.
posted by winna at 11:59 AM on April 14, 2012

Seconding lots of escape spaces and safe spots (e.g. cat trees) from which Kitty can watch the dogs and learn about them at her own pace. Cats have their own schedules about this sort of thing. They can and will adjust, and the dogs will become mellower about it as the cat does, but it almost always takes time, sometimes on the order of months or even a couple of years depending on the temperament of everyone involved.

We have two large dogs (German Shepherd/Rottweiler mixes) and a fair assortment of cats (5 inside, one almost-tame feral usually outside). Our most recent feline introduction (from a shelter) acclimated in all of two days, but the one before that (a former feral kitten) took her time about it and only became fully integrated into the household after about a year and a half.

We keep a chain lock on the bedroom door so cats can come and go but dogs can't go in there, and we use a Feliway plug-in to reinforce the kitty comfort vibe in that room. Dogs are also restricted from the basement where the litter boxes and cat food are, so that is a second safe space where they also sometimes hang out if they just don't want to deal with dog chaos.

We've never needed muzzles, FWIW.

As for Kitty going outside, I agree that at a minimum you should microchip her. Cats can also become smarter about being indoor/outdoor later in life -- I've had a few like that -- but I'm not sure whether this is something you or your GF would want.
posted by treblemaker at 12:11 PM on April 14, 2012

Time is your friend. Have safe places for the cat, either high, or behind a partly open, secure doors that the dogs can't push open (or use baby gates if the dogs won't knock them over.) You can acclimatize by having everyone in the same room, cat loose, with the dogs on leashes while you sit and read or watch TV. If they lunge, reprimand and make them do a down stay. Do this repeatedly every evening until everyone can be quiet and reasonably mellow. At first, you might only be able to stand it for a couple minutes, but the critters ought to become better at sharing a space after a bit.

What you DON'T want is to have any kind of a setup where the cat can run and the dogs can pursue. If you can keep from triggering the chase instinct in the dogs then hopefully the dogs can learn the cat is part of the 'pack' and will become tolerant, if not protective.

Good luck. I'm going through the exact same thing with my new rescue dog.

As far as the outside, if you can let the cat out to explore for short periods, perhaps it will become accustomed without a problem. No promises, though. Some cats are dumb, and the outdoors is a big and dangerous place for the unwary. That said, we allowed our 'fraidy cat, Steve, who had never been outdoors and was petrified to slowly go out. He went with company and an open door to flee back inside, if needed, and gradually progressed until he's an all-night, lean, mean mouse catcher. Because he was wary to begin with, and continues to be very slinky and cautious, I'm not worried about raccoons, dogs, owls, or coyotes. He has plenty of hidey-holes and out-buildings for cover, though, as well as a cat door access to the garage. We feed tasty yums in the evening as a bribe to touch base now and then.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:15 PM on April 14, 2012

My aunt got a rescue dog, a lurcher. Then later on, a beautiful pale ginger tabby, also from the shelter. When the cat was let out of her box on day 1, it took about 30 seconds for the dog to learn who was boss. Following that, it took about a week for him to learn what the boundaries were. From there on in, everybody lived happily ever after. Both eat in the kitchen, no separation is necessary, and now - about 3 1/2 years later - they even seem to miss each other when my aunt goes on holiday with the dog.

I think treblemaker's first paragraph and BlueHorse's second are superb advice. Your pets may take longer to acclimatize, but from your description I don't think there will be any major problems.

As for outdoors, unless there is a sound reason why she would not be suited (just having lived in doors so far isn't enough, I mean like being deaf or something of that magnitude) she should be fine. Cats are generally very sensible creatures when it comes to survival.
posted by fearnothing at 1:52 PM on April 14, 2012

Coyotes eat cats. This is a fact of life in rural New England, and even suburban New England now. In raccoon v. cat fights, raccoons inflict significant damage 9 times out of 10. I would try to keep the cat indoors, but definitely have it chipped and have it wear a collar with your phone number (and a bell, please, to protect the songbirds).
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:15 PM on April 14, 2012

Get screen doors if possible; they let air in while keeping cats in (and raccoons and possums and squirrels out, not to mention insects).
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:17 PM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Chip the cat, but also try to get a collar and tag on her. I recently had a very sad encounter with a kitty who was hit by a car. Because she wasn't wearing tags and it was the middle of the night, I couldn't contact her people to let them know she was gone. Not that YOUR kitty will get hit by a car! Just that people aren't going to know your kitty belongs in your house if she's only chipped.

Also if you haven't thought of it, it's probably a good idea to get her all set with the shots and flea/tick medicine she'll need if she gets out and if she's going to be interacting with dogs who go out regularly. Then if she gets out, you don't have to worry about her getting sick.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 3:32 PM on April 14, 2012

My parents leashed their kittens in the outdoors for a while, while they were too dumb to figure out... you know, the outdoors overall. Long leashes, with harnesses not collars. They became accustomed to outdoor stuff without being able to roam too much further than up-the-tree they were leashed to. Supervised, of course, so as not to provide the local coyote/raccoon/hawk population a tethered snack.

Unorthodox practice, I'm sure. YMMV. But it seemed to work...
posted by slateyness at 5:01 PM on April 14, 2012

As far as the cat learning to adapt to being an outdoor cat? Only know over time; no one here can tell you because no one knows, each situation different, each cat different. But if that cat is determined to get out and you've got kids in and out, that cat is going to get out, period. So I guess then it's just wait and see. Cars are a huge lesson, other animals another thing to learn.

I had a big white cat -- named White Cat -- and it was him and me. And then I brought in Rusty, The Wonder Dog, a 72 pound red doberman, and five of her puppies. White Cat flipped out, there at the first; happiness did not ensue. Not immediately anyways, though it eased some as the puppies were placed.

But even over the years there was boundary testing, Rusty would be walking by and, out of nowhere, just jab her big face at White Cat, for fun, except it wasn't fun for White Cat of course, and it wasn't even always fun for Rusty, because while The Wonder Dog was fast, White Cat was laser fast, and sometimes he'd nail her in the nose, a claw or two, and she'd yelp as she'd leap back.

I never, ever could leave any of the cat food anywhere other than up high, as Rusty would eat anything, esp anything that there was any sort of taboo around; I even had to build a maze for White Cat to get to the litter box, as Rusty saw it as an hors d'Ĺ“uvre tray.

They ended up being pretty much big buddies, napped wrapped together sometimes, which sure was cool. I never would let the cat out, just too nervous about him, but he didn't really push it anyways. The Wonder Dog *had* to have walks and lots of them, she was nothing but energy, a big bundle of festive energy.

I bet your animals will get on, and I hope they do.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:14 PM on April 14, 2012

1. Cat vs Dogs:
Never restrain a cat when introducing her to new people/animals (that's the accepted wisdom). It's best to bring the dogs to the cat, and give her lots of opportunities to run away safely, as everyone has been saying.

2. Cat vs Outdoors
I would love it if my family's cats were indoor cats, but all three of them seem to prefer getting to roam outdoors. My parents have two acres in a smallish shoreline town in CT, and one acre is mostly woods (though I'm sure they go into the neighbor's woods too). When each of them was young, we accompanied them outside for the first several weeks, and were careful about keeping them close (with food and treats). With the youngest cat, who is the most nuts of the bunch, we got a halter and leash, and went on outdoor "walks".

I recommend the halter-- not a collar for walking, a halter is much safer because if (when) the cat bolts, the pressure isn't all around the poor cat's neck. Since you say the cat is likely to get out no matter what, it's probably best to acclimate her to your outdoors. Walk her on a halter, then progress to being outside, visible, and obviously available when she goes out without the leash. Make sure she comes in by dusk (dinner is a great incentive) and keep an ear out for odd noises when she's outside.

The other cats you see may present a problem--males may be amorous! Depending on how big/confident she is, she may just give them her claws if they bother her. Whoever ever is home will absolutely hear any cat fights- just run, break it up, and check kitty for scratches.

There's no great answer for cats and the outdoors. Most cats I've known love going outside, but there's always that chance that something will happen. If kitty wants to get out, she'll probably get out, so help her get to know the area--that way, when she gets out, she won't get lost.
Good luck!
posted by Baethan at 5:57 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Combination of the two questions--be very careful if your cat escapes into the yard with the dogs. We had a terrible incident some years ago--our cat, who had been indoor-only all her life, pushed out a screen in our greenhouse and escaped into the fenced yard, and our husky killed her. He had lived with her in relative sanity for a good four years, and I firmly believe that he didn't realize who she was when he saw her in the yard, since that had never happened before--his territorial/hunting instincts just kicked in and he moved too fast to think.

If you realize that your kitty gets out into your yard, try to keep your dogs in until you capture her, or else keep her outside the fenced area (the invisible fence may be an issue here; you may want to put a hard fence around the perimeter). You may also want to do some supervised introductions in the yard so they get used to seeing her out there.
posted by dlugoczaj at 5:44 AM on April 16, 2012

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