New Puppy + Old Cats = ???
May 21, 2007 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Will getting a puppy ruin my cats' lives?

My husband and I are finally leaving the apartment world and moving into our first actual HOUSE next week. OMFG yay! This brings us a lot of opportunities, including the space and ability to adopt a puppy.

We both grew up with both dogs & cats and do want to adopt a dog in the next year or so. However, our 4 year old cats are our babies, and I am afraid of how they will react to getting a dog. I don't want them to decide to live under the bed or be perpetually freaked out. I think they might be because they have never seen a dog before, and the one time they saw another cat (who was in a carrier in my apartment for all of 20 minutes), they both hid under the bed for 3 days. Oh, the other cat was a 10-week old kitten, btw. Either of my full-grown cats could have eaten him in 2 bites.

My cats are currently 4 years old and in good health, though one of them is afraid of his own shadow. The other one is high strung, but I think she could handle a dog. They are littermates and since we adopted them they are the only animals each other have seen up close.

So, I would like to hear from people who have introduced a puppy to adult cats. Is this possible that it might work out well? Is it likely my cats will just be pissed off forever? Should I wait until we have kids and the kids ask for a dog so I can put this decision off another ~10 years?

One thought I had was maybe to see if we could borrow my brother-in-law's dog or my sister's dog for a week or two to see if my cats can tolerate that. I know at the very least they will have to bring the dogs when they come visit. Should I wait to see how that goes? I just think that a weekend is not a good sample since the initial freakout would probably last a few days.

Would it be a better idea to just get a third cat and pretend it's a dog?
posted by tastybrains to Pets & Animals (31 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My personal experience (I've done this twice) is that eventually they all settle down and get used to each other. Especially if you introduce a puppy to adult cats, the cats will show the new pup who's boss after a while. The puppy will learn that the cats have claws (watch the eyes, natch) and very quickly learn some respect.

If you'd had the kitten around for more than 20 mins, I think that the cats would eventually have got over their fear (though it's true that some cats never accept other cats in their territory. We had two who had spats for something like ten years!!) My two cents' worth is that your kitties will be fine. After a little while, that is.
posted by different at 2:07 PM on May 21, 2007

I've never had a puppy, but I did bring two dogs (retired racing greyhounds) into my three-cat household and everyone gets along fine.

One of the cats I've had for 10 years and I was particularly worried about disrupting her life. She's a one-person cat (and I am that person): she sleeps on me, sits in my lap, etc, and I was afraid that our relationship would be ruined with dogs around. What happened was, she hid under the bed for 2-3 days, and then she came out. :)

The other two cats pretty much keep to themselves and they pretty much kept to themselves after the dogs arrived.

There was definitely a transition period, but all of these animals can now be spotted sleeping in my bed with me at the same time. (Except the one dog who just doesn't do furniture, bless her little dog-heart.)

I was asking myself pretty much the same questions you were asking, tastybrains, and your results may vary, but I now live happily in a dog-and-cat household!
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:10 PM on May 21, 2007

The kind of puppy it is matters, more than anything. If your puppy will eventually turn into, say, an enthusiastic boxer, or something big and loud, yes, it will annoy the cats.

I knew two cats who went from being happy and content to spending their entire lives four feet off of the ground, hiding in one inaccessible area after another, with big patches of their fur falling out from stress, due to the "cute widdle puppy" becoming a dog. If I saw them at all, during visits, it was to watch them dart from one island of relative cover to another, or for frantic trips to their off-ground food bowl (as the dog would invariably attempt to suck up all of their food).

Once the owners got rid of the dog, for other reasons, the cats' fur returned, although they were never quite at ease again.
posted by adipocere at 2:13 PM on May 21, 2007

We are planning to get a lab or retriever mix, preferably one on the smaller side of the lab/retriever spectrum. But it will be bigger than a chihuahua, yes. Still bad?

My #1 priority is that my kitties still love me & feel happy.
posted by tastybrains at 2:15 PM on May 21, 2007

We brought my old dog (RIP) into our house as a puppy with two adult cats already. The dog's breeder also had cats, and so he was raised around them and constantly wanted to play with the cats, which they were not interested in, at all. Basically he terrorized them into hiding under furniture most of the time (these were not social, friendly cats to begin with, so it wasn't much of a change).

Years later, after the original cats had both died, we got two new cats (one entered the house as an adult, one as a tiny kitten). Both cats were pretty indifferent to the dog's presence--he left the adult one alone, and tried to play with the kitten sometimes. But they stayed out of each other's way mostly.

Based on these experiences, I'd say it really depends on the cats involved. Definitely see how they react to a borrowed dog and go from there.
posted by cosmic osmo at 2:15 PM on May 21, 2007

Most cats are reasonably tolerant toward juveniles of any domestic species (save, of course, the ones they normally eat, and sometimes even then). Once they get over the initial shock, they should get along well enough. This is assuming you don't allow the dog to torture them (or vice-versa) once it's grown, of course.
posted by vorfeed at 2:18 PM on May 21, 2007

Oh and I should say that my dog used to eat the cats' food, constantly. If you do get a dog, keep the cat food off the ground.
posted by cosmic osmo at 2:18 PM on May 21, 2007

Oh! This reminds me of another question I had that's related. Do you think I should wait awhile after we move in to get the puppy (if we decide to do that), or should we just get it right away and let the cats get over 2 confusing & scary things at the same time?
posted by tastybrains at 2:20 PM on May 21, 2007

I had 3 adult cats when I introduced my dog (as a puppy) into our household. We had some interesting moments (I second watching the eyes; our first day at home was spent at the doggy ER due to a scratched eyeball) but my puppy didn't hold a grudge and everyone eventually mellowed. Sadly, all my kitties have passed away but I still have my very cat-like dog. Good luck!
posted by kelzabel at 2:21 PM on May 21, 2007

Dogs will also want to eat the eventual by-product of cat food as well. Ew.

We're a two cat/two dog household. The dogs are both terriers and sometimes the instinct takes over and they chase. If I could do it all over again, I'd look at what the breed was designed to do, and not pick ones that are designed to chase things. But for the most part, it's pretty much just a respectful co-existence. The boy cat and girl dog occasionally play with or lick each other.
posted by ferociouskitty at 2:27 PM on May 21, 2007

I actually wonder whether a large, very calm dog might be good with the cats; if they freaked out over a tiny kitten, maybe something larger would seem less "weird" to them. Also, if you adopted an adult dog, you could know its temperament and how it reacted to other cats. Maybe you could adopt a dog who previously lived well with cats, or which is being fostered with cats.
posted by amtho at 2:50 PM on May 21, 2007

Amtho, that's a really interesting idea. I prefer adopting older animals since I know it can be harder to find them homes (I adopted my cats as kittens because they were in imminent danger of death due to negligence). I guess I was restricting my thoughts to puppies because I thought they might be less threatening.

My BIL's lab is super good with cats - he lives with three and cuddles with two of them and knows when to back off. I think he would be the best "test" dog since my sister's dog is a hyperactive mastiff 1-year old.
posted by tastybrains at 2:55 PM on May 21, 2007

Why take the risk?
posted by A189Nut at 3:08 PM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Large calm dogs are good; think a particularly calm Great Dane (biggest couch potatoes in the world) or a herding-class dog of some type.

I would definitely avoid dominant dogs with a high prey drive (i.e. Boxer, Ridgeback, Labrador, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Husky, anything Hound or Terrier including Pitbulls) and definitely avoid adopting a one or two year old dog. Look three or older. You definitely wouldn't want my Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, who while she was taught to respect cats and their claws from a young age, loves stalking and pouncing on anything small, furry, and fast-running.
posted by SpecialK at 3:13 PM on May 21, 2007

In one household I know of, I've seen an elderly and fairly solitary cat driven into self-imposed exile into a blocked-off spare bedroom from which it seldom emerged because it could not abide a completely rambunctious Dobie that was brought into the fold.

In my own house, my former pseudo-tenant had an extremely sedate beagle/basset mix that was perhaps not even alive, it was so laidback. She had no interest at all in my cats and it's not even clear she recognized their existence. And the cats, after a couple of days of huffiness, become similarly blandly indifferent to her in return.

Of course, when a pit bull pup lived with us for a few months, two out of the three cats, notorious for their scaredy-catness, were plunged into a terrible hell of suffering and slinking about and hiding and running away, since the newbie wanted to play with them at all times. The third cat, aloof about everything, just stared the pup down and periodically counted coup on its head as it ambled past.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 3:13 PM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

A good friend of mine got a Giant Schnauzer puppy, and she already had a four-year old cat. The dog grew up and made the cat's life a living hell. Daily near-rapes, maulings, et cetera. No actual long-term physical harm, but the cat was obviously depressed. He spent most of his days in an undisclosed location.

YMMV, of course, but I don't see why you'd want to risk doing this to your cats.
posted by mullingitover at 3:18 PM on May 21, 2007

A couple I used to know brought a pug into their two kitty home. One kitty moved permanently under a bed, and the other, angrier kitty started pooping in their shoes. They ended up having to dose the kitties with kitty Prozac, and all was well.
posted by Sara Anne at 3:19 PM on May 21, 2007

We had two adult cats, littermates, and introduced a housemate's Kelpie puppy to them. The more independent, adventurous cat would swipe the puppy when he got too close and eager, but grew to be almost affectionate towards him once he'd realised that cats don't like to be played with; she got to the stage where she and the dog would touch noses, and then she'd butt her head up to his nose to be rubbed :)

The other cat, who was spoiled and grumpy, tolerated the pup but never liked him. She'd sit on top of a chair and wait for him to run past so she could take a swipe at him with her claws :)

In both cases, it didn't affect our relationship with the cats in any way. The pup learned pretty quickly to treat cats with awe - I think helped by the fact that he was smaller than them to begin with. And importantly, because he was introduced to the cats when he was so small and young, he grew up recognising them as other pets and equals, not as prey or interesting things to chase. Even now that he's a huge full-grown dog, if he sees a cat, he'll freeze, and move towards the cat very slowly, step by step, nose extended in sniffy friendship and curiousity :)
posted by andraste at 3:28 PM on May 21, 2007

My mom tried to introduce a golden/lab mix to a household with three cats. The puppy treated the cats like living toys. It would chase them whenever they ventured out of hiding and wouldn't leave them alone until they hid somewhere that was unaccessible. She had to give the puppy away because it just would not leave the cats alone. I second SpecialK's suggestion: no hunting or retrieving dogs.
posted by blueskiesinside at 3:56 PM on May 21, 2007

I can be very helpful to have a baby gate to create some safe spaces in your house for the cats that hte dog can't get to. They even make dog gates with little cat doors in them (once your puppy gets a little bigger) so the cats can back and forth but the dog can't follow.
posted by metahawk at 4:02 PM on May 21, 2007

Dozens of cats and several dog combinations at my house (the most was 4 cats/2 dogs at a time), all adopted at various ages, with a wide spectrum of personalities. Everyone ends up getting along, eventually, across a spectrum of sharing beds on one end to haughty tolerance on the other.

What's worked for us:

Initially confining the dog to one area of the house and allowing the cats free roam everywhere. All but one of my cats were actually quite interested in the dog(s) but they all wanted to observe the newcomer under their own terms. We initially keep the new puppy/dog confined to the kitchen/dining room using wire-mesh baby gates and having the pup on a lead when in the rest of the house for the first few months. We do the same thing when introducing a new cat: give the cat free roam, keep the dog at our side.

Train the dog to "leave it" when s/he pays any attention to a cat. There's absolutely no reason to allow your dog to chase after another resident in your house. Starting the pup on a lead indoors allows you to teach the dog how to behave around the cats. (Obviously when you're not at home or are asleep, you don't have the lead on the dog because he's in his crate). Our cats eventually learned the dog(s) were not going to chase them and soon even the most timid were walking right under the dog's nose.

Stringent flea control--while cats are often kept as indoor-only, few dogs are and it only takes a few minutes sniffing around on the lawn to bring in enough fleas to share with everyone.

No free feeding. Aside from the weight gain issues, everyone gets a lot less upset if their food bowl remains just theirs and theirs alone.

What hasn't worked for us:

Open litter boxes. Cat poop breath is really the worst and *all* of our dogs simply could not/cannot resist the lure of Stinky Almond Roca. One dog (a very wiley and otherwise very trainable aussie) was so persistent and inventive in his quest for cat poo that we ended up having to hide the litter boxes inside a locked bathroom that had a tiny cat flap installed for access.

The longest adjustment time for us has been 4 months, getting my 18 mo old Lab and an 8 month old brother and sister cat pair comfortable with each other. The biggest issue there has been a) our Lab is trained as a duck retriever and has a very high prey drive in addition to being a bit bone-headed and rambunctious, b) the cats are former ferals, uber-wary, and reactive. We are currently at the stage where everyone has free roam of the house and the cats largely ignore the dog, but the Lab is occasionally too pushy about intruding into the cats' personal space (i.e. ramming his nose into their butts) and needs more reminders than other dogs I've owned in the past. But no one is hissing, anymore.
posted by jamaro at 4:11 PM on May 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

I just adopted a 12-week-old female "raggle" puppy (a cross between a rat terrier and a beagle), and brought her home on Saturday to a house that includes two adults cats and one kitten... I am amazed at how smoothly the introduction went. My oldest cat immediately established that she is the boss by hissing and growling, and the puppy reacted to her by making submissive gestures (exposing her belly, lowering her head, etc.), and now they are getting along fine, with no more antagonistic gestures from the cat. My middle cat is skittish around the puppy and doesn't want to be in the same room with him yet, but this cat is very easy-going, so I know she'll get used to the puppy eventually. The kitten reacted very favorably and has been playing and "wrestling" with the puppy almost from the minute she arrived... So, I most definitely agree with the posters who've said that you will NOT ruin your cats' lives by introducing a puppy into the family.
posted by amyms at 4:22 PM on May 21, 2007

I'm glad to hear both good & bad. I mean, I'm not happy to hear about the bad, but I'm glad that you shared your stories.

I am wondering if my reluctance is telling me something I should listen to. Anyway if anyone has more experience, good or bad, I'm still happy to hear it.

Is introducing a new cat/kitten less traumatizing?
posted by tastybrains at 4:22 PM on May 21, 2007

I got my retired racing greyhound when my cat was about 4. There wasn't much of any reaction from her. The dog was tested by the adoption group to be "cat-safe" and she has proven reliably so.

They ignored each other when I first brought the dog home, and the interactions since then have been mostly pleasant. Even 4 years later the most that the two interact is a sniff and lick or a meow now and then. I think because the dog is so much bigger than the cat (and doesn't pester it, obviously) it's like they exist on different planes or something.

The biggest problem is the poor dog still hasn't figured out how moody the cat is, and can't read the cat's body language as it turns from "come over here and lick me" to "get the hell away Right Now". So the dog gets a swat now and then, but all is quickly forgotten.

I would second the recommendation that you consider an adult dog whose temperment with regards to cats is known. (Tested cat-safe) greyhounds are a great choice, too!
posted by misskaz at 4:33 PM on May 21, 2007

Maybe you could adopt a dog who previously lived well with cats, or which is being fostered with cats.

Definitely your safest route. I'm seeing a lot of people throwing out single anecdotes that have, frankly, nothing to do with either your cats or your potential dog.

While it may be hypocritical, let me offer an anecdote:

A client of mine has two dogs (sheltie mix and lab mix) that both have pretty severe issues. They've both got extreme separation anxiety issues. The sheltie mix is so mental that they have to put her in their garage during moderately heavy rains (thunder and lightning optional) and then the lab mix gets so nervous that she'll poop everywhere because the other dog is missing.

They board their dogs for days around the 4th of July because the destruction to their house is already to the point to where they'll have to make major and expensive repairs if they want to sell it.

One Friday I went over there to walk the pups. In spite of all this, they're genuinely sweet dogs. Like I said, they just have some deep-seeded psychological issues. When I arrived that day, they left me a note that read (more or less) --
S. --

We're adopting a kitty this weekend from the SPCA. She'll be here on Monday when you arrive. We're not entirely sure how this will work out, but please do your best to keep her in the house, as we'd like her to be an indoor-only cat. Thanks!
I practically coughed up a spleen at the thought. Both of these dogs are hyper aggressive to other dogs, cats, squirrels, birds, strong winds, falling leaves, etc. Needless to say, they're not fun to walk (but I still enjoy they remind me how not-as-nuts my nutso dog is).

I stressed about it all weekend and feared either finding a dead cat or a cat that was just waiting for the door to open to bolt and escape from the hell-hole that she had found herself in.

Six months later, they all still get along swimmingly. I've numerous other similiar anectdotes if you'd like to e-mail me.

I'm not a big cat person. I've never owned one (though I've been around *many*), but it sounds to me like your best option is to bring your brother in law's lab over for an extended period (I should think 4 or so days would be sufficient) if you have the capability to take care of it and closely monitor how the cats react. Remember: they don't have to have a big-ass cuddlefest. Just keep an eye on them and ensure it doesn't stress them out too much. Make sure they're still eating and pooping and comfortable hanging out with you.

Then, find you a good foster parent that can assure you that the dog isn't cat-aggressive *inside* the house. A good fosterer will likely want to do a home visit before they adopt out anyhow, and you can probably ask them to bring the dog with them to ensure he/she won't flip their collective shit when they see the cats for the first time.

Most importantly, be patient. It can take time to find the right dog for you period, much less one that will get along with your other animals (be they feline or canine).

Best of luck.
posted by Ufez Jones at 4:37 PM on May 21, 2007

Can I just say that I first read this as "Will eating a puppy ruin my cats lives?"

I think the older, gentle, used-to-cats dog is a great idea. Go talk to folks at your local shelter(s), and ask them to be on the look out for this type of dog, and they will be happy to give you a call when one comes in. Older dogs are harder to adopt out, and they will be grateful.

My in-laws cats have basically had the situation adipocere mentioned. Since getting TWO Border Collie puppies with in a year, their cats have gone from being my in-laws replacement children to being barely tolerated vermin. It is quite sad, and we'd offer to adopt them if we had the room.

Also, thanks jamaro -- Stinky Almond Roca is my next cat name.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:37 PM on May 21, 2007

Most of the "bad" stories I'm hearing here seem to be due to dogs that don't mind. I had a very alpha german shepard/ hound mix who was 100% trustworthy around cats, kittens, domestic rabbits, hens etc. simply because I told her to be. She killed vast numbers of rats and other vermin in her time, so she had a very healthy prey drive. She just had a much healthier respect for me ;)

Teach your puppy or dog to "leave it" and then follow through and make sure they actually do and peace and harmony should reign in no time. (it is impossible to teach cats this so your dog may need to work on it's zen. But zen is a good skill for a dog to have anyways)

The only dogs this simply might not work on are husky's, wolf hybrids and the like. Jack Russells, contrary to popular opinion, CAN be trained to behave.
posted by fshgrl at 6:13 PM on May 21, 2007

We took in a puppy whose mother died during birth. (If you ever want to know if children are for you, bottle raise a puppy from birth. It'll give you three weeks of a similar experience to raising a baby. No joke.) When it was a few weeks old, we baby-gated the hallway off and let her run. One evening the alpha cat jumps over the baby gate and walks up to the pup. Little puppy gets excited, adopts an aggressive stance, and starts barking crazily at the cat. As I said, this was an alpha cat... and he promptly reached back and smacked the puppy so hard that it spun around as she was going backwards. The hit sounded like a movie punch. That was over seven years ago, and that was the last time she ever got uppity with a cat.
(Beagle/spaniel/St. Bernard mix.)

Greyhounds make great pets, but as mentioned, make sure they are tested to be cat safe. A racing greyhound is trained to chase a small, fast moving object, and cats fill that bill nicely.

Training is vital. The "leave it!" command comes in so handy, not just around the cats, but anytime you come across something you don't want the dog to snack on that's laying on the ground. In addition, good training will raise the dog's level of respect for pretty much everyone, not just you, but everyone. Well-trained dogs tend to be pretty mellow.
posted by azpenguin at 8:42 PM on May 21, 2007

I had a 3 year old lab and brought in an older shelter cat. As others suggested, keeping the two apart for a few days helped the transition. When nose to nose time came, the lab was on a leash (very short). The lab was very well trained to the "Off" command. After a few days they were best buddies.

The cat would sit in the front yard and dare any neighborhood dog to even step one paw in his direction, of course he had a 90 pound lab guarding over him.

I added a cairin terrer to the mix. Ginger was a little harder, but between me and the lab, she learned to leave the cat alone.

I second the separate bowls for each animal.

Good Luck!
posted by JujuB at 9:27 PM on May 21, 2007

We got our Rottie/Catahoula mix at 3 months, when our cats were about 4 yrs old. They all get along fine. I think it helped that the dog was smaller than the cats when we got him, so they definitely had no worries about putting him in his place. They were, however, very gentle about it. Now they mostly ignore each other. He will growl at them if they get too near his food but has never even made any movement toward attack. (I don't think Rotties actually have high prey drive, BTW, they are herding dogs. Catahoulas another story.)

The dog does actually love cats, and always wants to be friends with ours and ones he meets on the street. He tries to lick them sometimes (he does that with people too, it's his affectionate side.) When he sees a cat on the street and it hisses at him he always looks up, like "why? why does nobody want to be my friend?"

Anyway, point being that I do think it totally depends on the personality of the dog and the cats.
posted by miss tea at 5:14 AM on May 22, 2007

We introduced an almost one year old retriever into a house with three grown cats. None were what you'd call scaredy, and quickly put him in his place my swiping his nose. He quickly learnt to treat them with respect, and would politely stand to the side if a cat wanted to go past.

Three other kittens were introduced during his life, and they all treated him with complete disinterest. One would occasionally climb on him, or stand under him, which would freak him out completely - he'd freeze and get a panicked look on his face.
posted by kjs4 at 5:50 AM on May 22, 2007

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