Dear Ms. Kitty,
I have always been a dog person. My current companion is a wonderfully trained, 5-year-old, Border Collie named Jake. Recently a friend told me about some Maine Coon kittens her neighbor has up for adoption. I’m thinking about giving one a home, but I have no experience with cats and I don’t know how Jake would react. Can you help?
Considering a Kitten
Thanks so much for thinking about adopting a kitten. I honestly believe if you spend some time educating yourself, preparing your home and getting Jake ready for his new feline companion that the the result will be a success.
Let’s focus on you and your home first and then on how to help Jake adjust to having a kitten in his ‘pack’. Bringing home a kitten is certainly exciting, but she will require special care, especially during her first weeks getting used to the new surroundings.
The best time to bring kitty home will be when you have a couple of days to spend making sure she feels secure and bonds with you. Choose a name that she will learn easily and use it often. [If the kitten already has a name she or he knows, simply pair the old name with the new one for a few days, then drop the old one.] If you need some suggestions try the Cattime Cewsletter.
Kitty will need one room of her own for the first 2-3 weeks with all of her things around her. Your bedroom would be a good choice – unless Jake is used to spending time in there. In that case a guest room or bathroom will do.
Kitty will need a blanket that smells like her former home placed inside a carrier that will become her cubby space. Getting her used to being in a carrier now will go a long way in making things easier when it’s time to go for a vet visit in a month or two. Also place something in the room that smells like you (a t-shirt) and something that smells like Jake (a plush dog toy).
She’ll also need her litterbox, kitten food and water bowl, scratcher post, toys, treats and a comb. [Please see our Safe Scratching page for more info on how to find the best scratcher for your cat.] Grooming is another routine that you’ll want to start early, especially with a long-haired breed. Bathing is possible, if learned gradually, and it will be important to groom regularly to reduce the chance of matting and hairballs.
After the first few weeks it will be time to introduce the kitten to the rest of the house and most importantly to Jake. I can’t emphasize enough to TAKE IT SLOWLY and stay calm. She and Jake will already know each other through smell so meeting ‘for real’ is just the next step.
Bring someone in who Jake trusts to help. First day, keep the kitten in her carrier and open the door to the room she’s in. Do NOT open the carrier door. Keep Jake on his leash and in a down/stay position near the door. Let them smell each other and that will be enough for the first meeting.
The next day have the kitten in her carrier on the sofa next to you. Have your friend hold Jake on his leash and let them smell each other again. The next day have the kitten out on your lap and Jake nearby on his leash and invite sniffing again. Let the kitten run back to her safe room if she feels afraid. Do NOT let Jake chase her. Praise him and give them both a treat. Soon Jake will associate the kitten with praise and treats from you – his pack leader.
According to Melissa Shandley, local cat behaviorist (www.playandtreatpetservice.com), you must be mindful to supervise both your dog and kitten and read their body language until you are confident that they are comfortable with each other. If there are signs of serious aggression simply separate the two – don’t punish them. Until they can be relaxed with each other, you need to maintain control with Jake on a leash and/or the kitten in her carrier. She also suggests encouraging Jake to hold a plush toy in his mouth later while playing around with the kitten.
Here are two links to articles with more guidance – one written by the infamous Jackson Galaxy
http://jacksongalaxy.com/2010/10/01/introducing-dogs-and-cats/ and the other by the American Humane Association — http://www.americanhumane.org/animals/adoption-pet-care/dog-behavior/introducing-dogs-to-cats.html. [You can also see our articles: Introducing Your New Cat and Can I Get a Cat for My Dog.]
Keep in mind that some dogs and kittens may adapt more quickly than others. But still make the commitment to take the time for a successful introduction. If you’re patient, there’s nothing so rewarding as having a happy ‘pack’ in your home.
— Ms. Kitty