Dear Cathy: We have two cats, and we’re thinking about getting a puppy. The cats are two years old. What suggestions do you have for introducing a new pet into a home with other pets? — Leslie Mallard, Norcross, GA
Dear Leslie: Introducing a puppy to older cats is often simpler than cat-to-cat and dog-to-dog introductions. That’s because puppies arrive without a lot of ingrained behaviors, and older cats often sense the newest arrival is still a “baby” and are initially more patient.
With any pet-to-pet introductions, it’s important never to rush things. For example, don’t hold one animal and walk over to the other animal for nose-to-nose introductions. Your feline could smack your puppy on the nose for getting too close, too quickly. First impressions can create lasting impressions that can impact every aspect of their “sibling” relationship going forward.
Instead, let the puppy and cats discover each other naturally. Older cats will likely keep their distance by getting up on the furniture so they can watch the puppy from a safe vantage point. Your cats may hiss and look stressed, even from this far away. This is a normal behavior to something new in their environment. It could take hours, days or weeks before they want to meet the puppy up close and personal, so be patient.
On the flipside, the puppy will notice the cats up high, but it will likely be more interested in you at first. Your puppy will pay more attention to the cats when they come down to its level to eat or use the litter box. Your cats may bolt because they are nervous, which could trigger your puppy’s prey drive to chase them. Don’t let that happen. Keep your puppy on a leash for a few hours or days, as needed, so you can control its impulses and keep any bad habits from starting.
If your cats are lap cats, don’t suddenly displace them for the puppy either. In fact, give your cats more attention for the first few days, so your puppy learns the cats are part of the family. These small gestures help your new puppy become more respectful of the cats in your home.
Finally, give your cats and puppy spaces of their own. If the cat’s litterbox is in a room or closet, keep the puppy out by putting a baby gate in the doorway a few inches off the ground so the cats can slip under, but the puppy stays out. Or attach a litterbox door latch, available at pet stores, to keep the puppy from slipping through a doorway. Also, consider kennel training your puppy to provide a quiet place for your puppy to rest while giving your cats a chance to watch the puppy without fear of being chased.
When they finally decide to meet face-to-face, your cats may still hiss and whack the puppy on the nose if it oversteps their perceived boundaries. Don’t worry; your cats won’t hurt the puppy. They are simply educating your new arrival and letting him or her know who runs the place. The cats are always in charge.
Dear Cathy: Riya, my cat, has been doing this weird gag/cough/puke thing quite often the past few days. At first, I just thought it was a hairball she was working to get out, but yesterday she threw up a little food. Most of the time she doesn’t throw up, but then again in the middle of the night, she threw up on my bed. She is totally fine otherwise. She is still eating and still follows me around and loves attention. Anything I should be doing for her? — Marlene W., Oshkosh, WI
Dear Marlene: When it comes to cats, any new behavior, whether it’s puking, gagging or meowing when they have always been quiet, should be checked out by a veterinarian. While Riya’s gag/cough/puke could be related to hairballs, it also could be from allergies, gastric upset, or a symptom of another disease.
The fact that she is still eating and behaving normally is a good sign, but if the behavior continues, please have her checked by a veterinarian. Save a sample of the vomit to show your veterinarian and pay attention to when she is vomiting as these provide clues for your vet’s diagnosis.
If it turns out to be hairballs, she may need to receive regular hairball treatment. Some cats hardly ever cough up hairballs, while other cats are hairball producing machines.