Integration Insanity

Me: “What should I write about today? How vet care is expensive or integrating animals?”
Turtle: “Write about integrating animals! And how it’s not that different from integrating family!”
Me: “Uh, yeah, except I think they generally frown on locking your family in one room for a week.”

Good morning, folks! Raise your hand if you have more than one pet at home.  And by raise your hand, I mean leave me a comment, preferably linking to an adorable picture of your animals.  Thanks.

"Pssst, wake up! I think she's going to talk about us!"

Today’s topic, which I am an expert on, is integrating your animals.  The reason I am an expert is 1. I work at an animal hospital, and I have worked in veterinary medicine for over 10 years now, so I know what I’m talking about, and 2. I have a household of animals, and we all live quietly, and peacefully.  You can often find the cats cuddling together on the bed while the dog and kitten sleep peacefully at our feet.

It is, of course, always this calm and peaceful in the Bird-Turtle household. Obviously.

I just made myself laugh out loud.  That last part is completely untrue.

Here’s the thing about integrating animals: some people are lucky and bring together two cats that end up loving each other; many people are not lucky.  What I want to tell you about is less, “Here’s absolutely how you should do it and it will definitely turn out well,” and more, “Here are some tips so that you all retain at least a portion of your sanity, neurotic cat probably included.”  Most of these are thoughts I have on mixing dogs and cats; I think if you’re blending a two-dog family it’s all a little different.

First, introductions: introductions should happen slowly and over at least a week or so.  Give a new cat one room that she can stay in, and where she has everything she needs (food, litter, bed).  The bathroom is NOT big enough to serve this purpose; usually a bedroom works well.  Every so often during the week, swap your animals, so that Newbie gets the run of the house while EstablishedAnimal (EA) hangs out in the room, and they can get used to each other’s smells.  Sometimes it helps to feed them in the other area so that something good is happening and associated with the scent of the other animal.

The bathroom is acceptable if you have a TEENY WEENY kitten who needs to live in the tub until he's big enough to walk.

The next step here is sort of personal preference: one of our clients had really good luck putting a screen door up in her bedroom so her cats could meet through the screen door.  Generally, our family is not equipped for that, so we just throw them together and trust the cats to put everyone else in their place.  Cats should always be in charge.

Foster kitten Ida and Finnegan meet/play through Ida's crate.

Second, give each pet their own space. They need to know that there is a place that they are safe from the other pets.  Right now, we have a crate for Truman (the kitten) where he stays for a portion of the day; that’s the time of the day when Piper can come out of hiding.  We also don’t let Daphne in half the house, so the cats know that they can be in the other half of the house.  It was actually the easiest thing we ever taught Daphne – we just walk toward her while saying “Get out!” and stop walking when she crossed the door threshold.  Now that she learns it, she will sit right at the threshold waiting for us.  Smart pup.

Special space for everyone: Jake owns the top of the crate, Daphne owns the inside of the crate and often allows for visitors.

Oh, and remember that sentence up there where I talked about our cats cuddling and dog and kitten sleeping at our feet?  Well, the real story is more like, “And then our cats were swatting at each other while the dog chased the kitten around the room and then the kitten jumped on Piper who screamed like she was being murdered and then the dog barked and Jake ran up and hit her on the head.”  Far from peaceful, but usually entertaining, if a little nutty.  And the moral of that story? Third, keep your fingers crossed and your camera handy.

evidence that the cats existed in the same room and no one died.

Finally, remember that cats and dogs speak opposite languages.  Example: a dog lifting its paw is trying to play; a cat lifting its paw is trying to claw your eyes out.  Example 2: a dog wagging its tail is happy and wants to play; a cat wagging its tail is plotting your demise.

And because I took lots of videos of our cats and dog, I bring you an integration montage:

If you have more than one animal, how did your introductions go?  Are you one of the families whose pets are definitely not best friends, or did they take to each other immediately?

Addendum: as I write this, the dog is wrestling with the kitten on my feet, and then the kitten is taking a break to chase the cats around the house, and the cats are running while hissing, which makes for pretty good entertainment.  Folks, it often is a good idea to put a kitten down for a nap.  Not only does he need it, we all need it.

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12 Comments

Filed under Menagerie

12 responses to “Integration Insanity

  1. Raffe

    We desperately want another cat! But our pretty lady Scout tends to go batsh*t insane when she so much as sees another cat across the yard out the back window, so we have more or less decided to wait until she dies to get another cat. She is declawed in the front (we didn’t do it! I swear!), so if we did get another cat, she probably wouldn’t physically be able to kill him/her, but I’m sure that would not stop her from trying.

    Sad for me and my dreams of lying in bed with 3 or so cats all cuddled next to me whilst I read a book.

    • Haha, three cats cuddling is like being pinned down. Turtle was gone for a night a few weeks ago, and I was so excited to have the giant bed all to myself! But it was cold so I had a cat plastered to either side of me, and I wasn’t able to move ALL NIGHT.

  2. Svannah

    I have two lab/retriever/chow puppies. 6 months old. They are from the same litter so introductions weren’t necessary. Trying to get them from dominating each other is what I have to deal with. If it gets too rough, I try giving the instigator (spelling? lol) a time out in his kennel.

    Love my pups though!

  3. Kristine

    I could write a whole blog, not just a post, but a whole blog on the topic of integrating my dog and cat. Come to think of it, I could have called my blog “Integration Insanity” just as easily as my current title.

    Did their first introduction go well? Ummm:
    We bring the dog in.
    The cat happens to be at the top of the landing as the door opens.
    The dog rushes past us, twisting my wrist, to get at the cat.
    The cat attempts to devour the dog whole.
    We take the dog out.

    Things are better now, better than I thought they would ever be, but considering where we started this isn’t saying a whole lot. After the first few weeks we installed a baby gate between the floors of the house to give the cat the entire lower level to himself. The cat now uses it as a way to torment the dog.

    But I agree with everything you say. We are actually thinking of adopting another cat because we like to torture ourselves. Your advice will be very useful, I think. I hope. Thanks!

    • hahaha! Your blog was my title inspiration today – thanks 🙂 If you do adopt another cat, I would recommend getting a kitten. Seeing the dog play with kittens is pretty much the cutest thing ever. With all the fostering we’ve done, Daph has had about 3 or 4 kittens, and it’s gone well with everyone; they’re young enough that they’re pretty unafraid and really enjoy playing with her.

  4. Sue B

    Two Golden retriever puppies came into a house with two cats. After a number of years (yes years), and after the death of one cat (completely unrelated to integration. I swear – just old age) my teeny tiny white fluff-ball is completely the boss of my giant golden beasts.
    The best moment ever? When Sugar (the cat) walked up to a sleeping Sam (the more rambunctious of the dogs) and proceeded to clean her entire face. Sam just lay there and allowed Sugar to clean every inch – her eyes, her mouth, her ears. The whole thing lasted about ten minutes. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a picture. I was sitting on the toilet when it started and if I had moved to get a camera I would have interupted this most extraordinary and beautiful moment!

  5. We have lots of fur-babies too. (My partner also works at a vet’s office, and pet-sits as well, so animals are a big part of her life!) I posted about the latest integration when we brought home a kitten last spring.
    http://gumballgirl.wordpress.com/2010/05/26/our-menagerie-welcomes-toby/
    Since then, Toby has gotten bigger and bolder, and Jackson has become somewhat more tolerant. “Somewhat” being the key word! Most days, life in our menagerie is peaceful. Fortunately, it is NEVER boring!

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