Cat is afraid of new dog

by Kristina
(New York)

We have two two-year-old cats. We recently adopted a dog, who became best friends with one cat quickly, but our other cat seemed terrified.

This is strange, because we have dog-sat another dog for a couple of weeks and the cat didn't mind her in the least.

We've had the dog six months, and the cat is coming around. She will approach the dog on her own, but the problem we're having is that every time my husband or I approach her, she poops.

Also, when she can't find somewhere to hide (even when the dog is at the other end of the house), she poops. The dog is kennel trained and when we are not home is confined to the kitchen so the cats have run of the house.

We are at our wit's end and are desperate for help. Any advice?

My thoughts: I'm sorry to hear your cat is having a rough time with the new dog. I assume she's been checked by the vet and is healthy.

It seems clear she's stressed, but what's not clear is exactly why. Allow me to speculate...

It sounds like maybe no matter how slowly you did the introductions, things moved a little too fast for your cat. While your other cat may have been ready to embrace the dog sooner, this cat was not.

Did you try rolling things back and going more slowly? More on that in a second.

In extreme cases, if nothing else works, your vet can prescribe meds. For example, Prozac is sometimes prescribed for anxiety and resulting behavioral issues. I'd rather not go there myself, but you can keep that idea in your back pocket.

All my usual recommendations apply:

(I'm sure you've read about these ad nauseam on the other pages where readers have asked about problems with their cats.)

Show your cat praise, play with her, increase her exercise level, set up high perches and hiding spots down low, etc.

Add Feliway pheromone diffusers to the house. Try Bach's Rescue Remedy as well. The purpose of these products is to help calm your cat and ease the stress.

Let's talk introductions, because with cats, introductions are critical. Introductions set the tone for the relationship a cat has with any other pet in the house.

From the cat's point of view, any new animal that comes into a cat's territory is a potential threat, until proven otherwise. Accepting a stranger
is easier for a relaxed and confident cat.

But, if something goes wrong with the introduction process, or something shakes a cat's confidence for some reason, problems can develop.

Cats and dogs have very different body language and things can get misinterpreted, causing the cat to be fearful of the dog. For these reasons and more, slow and controlled introductions are key.

In case you haven't read it, go ahead and read about how to introduce two cats. Then come back here.

I would approach introducing a dog to a house with cats in a similar way to introducing a cat to other cats. Confining the new animal to a room and working through the introduction process allows the cat to approach the relationship from a position of confidence.

Sometimes, the introduction is too quick, and problems occur. In these cases, it's best to immediately roll back the clock and send everyone to their respective corners, so to speak.

In other words, if there is a setback during the getting to know you phase, it's clear that more work needs to be done before the two can regularly share space. The dog goes back into the designated confinement room, and the cat gets the run of the house without fear of the dog intruding.

I don't like to assign human qualities to cats too much, because even though cats are emotional beings, we don't believe they process emotions in the same way humans do, but...

I think it would be helpful to ask yourself if it's possible that your cat is afraid to poop, afraid to be that vulnerable, because of the presence of the dog.

Then, when she sees one of you, she feels safer and relaxes. She becomes comfortable enough and feels safe enough to be vulnerable, and that poop she's been holding in comes right out, on the spot.

This has the benefit of letting you know something is wrong in her world, and she needs your help to fix it. Again, I don't want to read too much into this, but when I think of it that way, I feel I can better understand her (if my assumptions are correct).

If she were my cat, I would attempt to start the introduction process all over again. Confine the dog to a room, effectively roll back the clock, and take things slowly.

I hope that helps and please keep us updated on her progress.

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