ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Q: We have a 15-year-old cat who is well, happy and calm. In September, we will receive a goldendoodle puppy from a family member. How can we introduce a good sized, bouncy puppy to our lovable old girl?
Dr. Nichol: This could be a tall order – unless your feline senior had the right childhood friends. Appropriate socialization of kittens sets their fuzzy little brains up to permanently accept species they friended early in life. The “sensitive period” is a fixed window from 2 to 7 weeks age. If your cat shared her kittenhood with a good dog she may do just fine with your new wild and crazy doodle.
Socialization is a largely misunderstood concept. It’s kid stuff that doesn’t work after the brain is mature. When the sensitive period ends, the ship has sailed. If your cat missed out the result could be a meltdown as the new puppy makes his entrance. Your girl would be stricken by an adrenalin-driven fight or flight response. She may turn aggressive or she could hide out, taking permanent refuge under a bed.
I would love to tell you that you can gradually teach an under-socialized adult cat that a playful puppy means no harm. Your best hope may be to adopt one who was raised with cats during his canine sensitive period of 3 to 12 weeks age. If your puppy has a history of ignoring kitties, regardless of their hissing, growling, or running for the hills, your feline senior could gradually learn to relax and avoid her alien housemate while accepting her new lot in life.
Do not allow anyone to hold your cat for the puppy to meet and sniff. Unable to escape, frightened cats panic, leading to severe scratches and bites to the person who is desperately trying to restrain them. Cats who have been subjected to this mistake become highly unlikely to ever come near or trust a dog.
If you go slow, and still find no middle ground, you may need to provide secure barriers in your house to prevent a mixing of species. Your empathy for pets will guide you to provide a peaceful life for your lovable old girl.
Dr. Jeff Nichol provides pet behavior consultations in-person and virtually by telephone and Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post pet questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, N.M., 87109.