While Odin might look horrified in this pic with a d-o-g, you never know. Some cats love having a dog around. Introducing cats to is dogs our Vet 101 subject this week with our vet, Dr. Rich Goldstein who happens to have both a cat and a dog. This is his personal and heart-warming story.
Q: Could you please give some advice about adopting a dog? I have two young, easy-going tabby sisters but I’ve been looking at my shelter’s online photos of dogs and I’m tempted. I’d love to adopt a small one but have never had a dog of my own. Where do I begin? I’d prefer a small mixed breed dog. Does gender matter with my girls? How do I introduce him to the cats?
A:Gather around kids, for a short retelling of “The Story of Weezle and Sophie”.
In 2001, shortly after 9-11, a small black and white kitten was brought into the hospital I was working at by a good Samaritan. The kitten fit in the palm of my hand. She had sustained some kind of horrible trauma, and was found lying in the streets of Manhattan. There was a huge hole in her abdomen, exposing her organs, and she had lost a lot of blood. She was in shock and in pain, yet she still had lots of spunk in her purr. That look in her eyes told me we had to try.
We quickly stabilized her and rushed her into surgery. The damage was extensive, yet her vitals remained strong throughout surgery. People in the waiting room were very understanding, knowing that a true emergency was occupying my attention, and no one minded that it was a stray cat. In fact, a list was started for people wanting to adopt the cat if she made it through the surgery.
Three hours later, the cat was in recovery, with all vital organs back in their correct places. It was now after-hours. She was too critical to leave alone overnight, so I packed her up in a cozy carrier, and boarded my Metro North train to take her home for observation. I slept with her in a big dog carrier in my living room that night. My dog, Sophie, a 70lb Golden Retriever, refused to leave me alone. In fact, Sophie nudged me out of the way to pull the covers over the cat. The cat settled into the crook between Sophie’s front and back legs, nuzzled up against her warm belly. At around 3am, I was awakened by a faint meow. Sophie nudged me until I paid attention. The little cat was starting to stir. I went to the cupboard and took out a little cat food and put it in the palm of my hand. The little cat jumped into my hand and ate ravenously. “You’re a little weasel!” I said affectionately. The name stuck (although, with a little variation on the spelling.). Sophie stayed with Weezle the entire night. She cleaned her and made sure she stayed warm.
Weezle and Sophie bonded that night, and Weezle became a permanent addition to our family. They became best buddies and would chase each other around the house, and even slept together. When Sophie passed away 5 years later, Weezle went through a mourning period. She had lost her best friend who had nursed her back to health in her time of need.
Who says cats and dogs can’t be friends?
Just like with humans, however, we can never predict who’s going to get along, and who’s not. When visiting your local shelter to adopt a new dog, it’s important to ask the staff if the dog has been evaluated with cats. Some dogs may have already been in cat households. Also evaluate the temperament of the dog you are considering: a rambunctious lab puppy may not be the best fit for a house with older, sedentary cats. A quiet, older, smaller breed dog might be a more appropriate choice. When you find the dog you’re interested in, ask to bring him home for a trial period.
Once the dog is home, keep him in a confined area of the house until you see how everyone is adapting. It’s a good idea to also set up a “safe zone” for the cats to retreat to, if needed. Short, controlled visits with the dog on a leash, will allow everyone to get acquainted. Let the cats decide when and if they want to approach the dog. The last thing you want to do is let the dog loose in the cats’ house (because it is, afterall, the cats’ house), and have the cats run away, hissing and spitting, to spend a week under the bed. Sometimes, using a pheromone, like Feliway, will help reduce the stress on the cats when the new addition arrives.
In some instances, like mine, you’ll get lucky and there will be instant love. In some cases, everyone will keep their distance from each other and learn to live a peaceful coexistence. And in some cases, the personalities will clash and it won’t work out. But you never know unless you try. The key is to consult with the experts at your shelter, and make the introductions slowly so as to minimize the stress on everyone. Hopefully over time, you can trust that everyone will get along.
And kudos to you for considering adoption!!!
If you have a Vet 101 question for Dr. G. please, sent it to Layla with vet 101 in the subject line. Please note: Dr. G. cannot diagnose an illness online.