Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
In August, I inherited a 4-year-old female spayed cat. It’s been about six months now, and she is finally beginning to tolerate my 13-year-old dog — but he is absolutely terrified of her. The cat usually sits in doorways staring at the dog, and every time the dog passes by her, she hisses and spits and takes a swipe at him. Do you think she will ever reach the point where my dog won’t live in fear of being attacked by the cat? (I’ve been using Feliway since I brought her home, by the way.)
Siouxsie: I’m sure this situation is frustrating all around, Sally. Although cats and dogs can be best buddies — at least, that’s what Mama tells us about Grammie-kitty Iris and her dog, Ruffle — it can be difficult for some dogs and cats to adopt to living together.
Thomas: Add to that the fact that something must have happened that made it so you had to “inherit” this cat, and you can probably figure that the cat’s stress level is pretty darn high.
Bella: I think I’d be kind of stressed if a dog suddenly showed up in my house!
Siouxsie: Bella, don’t you listen to anything? In this case, it was the dog’s house and the cat just showed up!
Bella: So what?
Siouxsie: So, Sally has a dog that’s used to being the king of his castle and he’s getting bullied by this new cat that showed up.
Thomas: Now, Bella, we all know that cats are wise and perfect creatures, but even we sometimes have difficult moments.
Bella: Really? I’m never difficult!
Thomas: Except for every single time Mama tries to feed us and she has to spend half of her time keeping you out of the way.
Bella: But I’m hungry! And Siouxsie gets to go around poking her nose everywhere!
Thomas: Well, so are we all, and Siouxsie’s not as intrusive as you are.
Siouxsie: Now, can we please get back to answering Sally’s question? First of all, Sally, this cat is almost certainly stressed: her life has been turned upside down because she’s had to leave her home and her person, only to move into a house populated by a dog! If she’s never seen a dog before, this could be quite a shock.
Thomas: The behavior that you describe is guarding: her anxiety seems to be largely related to territorial issues, so she’s standing in doorways staring at the dog in order to “claim” the territory behind those doorways.
Bella: The best way we can think of to reduce both animals’ stress levels is to reintroduce the cat and do what we call territory swapping.
Siouxsie: First, create a safe space for the cat. This should be a room with a door that closes, and it should contain a litter box, a bed, some cat furniture, toys, and food and water dishes. If the cat can spend some time in that room, with a closed door between her and the dog, she’ll have a chance to de-stress.
Thomas: By allowing the cat to be in her room, the dog will be able to feel less stressed about his territorial situation. Once everybody’s calmed down a bit, try the scent swap: rub a sock along the cat’s fur, particularly on the sides of her face, to mark it with her scent. Then rub a different sock on the dog’s fur.
Bella: Then, place the dog sock in the cat’s room and the cat sock in the dog’s area. This way, they can get used to each other’s scents without worrying about dealing with each other’s claws and faces.
Siouxsie: Once the cat starts acting less stressed, it’s time to switch rooms. Let the dog hang out in the cat’s room (after removing the litter box, cat bed and food dishes, of course) with his own bed and dishes, and let the cat have the run of the house. Do this overnight, then switch each critter back to the place where they were before.
Thomas: As they start reacting more neutrally to one another’s scents and presence, you can try bringing them together. If the cat is capable of jumping over a baby gate, install one on the door of the room she’s used as “her” space. This will allow her to have a dog-free zone where she can go to decompress and will help her feel less anxious.
Bella: We’d recommend trying some of Jackson Galaxy’s (yes, that Jackson Galaxy, the star of “My Cat From Hell”) Spirit Essences. These are flower essences designed to help animals in new homes and animals experiencing stress to feel less anxious. When you lower the emotional tone of the relationship, you allow both critters a chance to build their bond.
Siouxsie: You might look into Loss Remedy for the cat, since she’s clearly been through some major losses and may well still be grieving.
Thomas: Peacemaker is a great remedy for smoothing the reintroduction process, particularly since there’s been a lot of discord between the dog and the cat.
Bella: Mama’s used Spirit Essences with us and with other kitties, with very good results. There are even instructions on how to use the essences, so you’ll know what you’re doing if you buy them.
Siouxsie: Best of luck to you — and the cat and dog. Please let us know how things turn out. Purrs!