Max and the puppy

Dear Max,

When we bought our first home, we lived in a rural area with a nice yard and a young family. It was time for a puppy!

If we’d taken a vote, I’m pretty sure you would have said ‘no’. Your only previous experience with a dog in the house didn’t work out very well.

This time, the pup came from the Humane Society, and he was a Pointer-type dog. He was quick and he loved to play chase. He also loved to eat anything that fit into his mouth, including cat food, cat toys and cat litter.

We didn’t plan ahead to bring a puppy into the home, but you very quickly showed us the gaps in our preparations. First order of business was to cut a cat port into the basement door, so that your food (on a shelf by the basement stairs) and your litter boxes (moved downstairs) were out of reach of puppy.

Cat toys had to be monitored carefully and picked up before Charlie came out of his crate, especially toys that were small enough to be picked up by a curious pup. We also made sure there were always toys and a scratching post available in the quiet basement area, so you could choose to be away from the dog.

We did make a good decision to crate him, so you had run of the house at night and when we were away. I think that made the transition bearable for you, just barely. And we also allowed you to set some firm boundaries with young Charlie when he was still in his socialization period. He learned early that cats are loud and sharp if you get too close too quickly, and since he was about six times your size when fully grown, that was a valuable lesson for us all.

We also took him to puppy classes (old photo above), and he actually graduated! Although he was ‘special’ in some ways, he did learn to accept our commands and he also learned to listen to you. You were brave enough from your exposure to a toddler that you didn’t immediately run and stimulate that hunting dog brain to give chase.

I think, once he learned to be respectful of your space, you didn’t mind living with a dog too much. You never became good buddies, but your coexistence was relatively peaceful. And for that, I thank you, my patient cat.

What did I learn when Max met the dog?

  • Adding a puppy, instead of a more mature dog, made the transition easier for the cats because the pup in his socialization period adapted to a household ruled by cats.
  • It was a good idea to make sure the cats had their own space and could eat and use the litter box without worrying about a canine ambush.
  • Allowing the smaller creatures to set boundaries before the pup reached full size ended up being safer for all involved.

Max meets a dog

Dear Max,

You were happy being an only cat. You moved with us in and out of several apartments and rooms, without issue. We moved around like students do as we transitioned from our first university to Guelph and my time at OVC.

Veterinary school!

You were an excellent study cat. You would do your best to cover all of the papers on my desk, and especially the one I needed to see right at that moment. You enjoyed your food and probably got a little bit chubby. And you were perfectly happy living in our little one bedroom second storey apartment in student housing.

As our schooling progressed, we started to work with real live animals. Some of them were teaching animals, living at the school for varying times before they found homes. At one point, we were ready to perform spay and neuter surgeries for a local rescue. That’s when I met a dog named Lucky.

If you spend much time talking to folks in my line of work, you’ll know that we don’t recommend calling any pet ‘Lucky’. Be that as it may, Lucky and I seemed to bond right away. He would come to me and follow my commands and I knew he needed a home. I talked to the coordinator at the school and arranged for Lucky to come home with me for a trial period.

If Lucky and I were living alone together, it would have worked out fine. He came to bed with me, snuggled up between the pillows and acted like my best friend and protector. My husband probably would have worked out a way to sneak into bed without activating Lucky’s protective instincts. Well, maybe. Let’s just say it was obvious what Lucky thought of him.

But, dear Max, you were more than put out. After the first few days, when Lucky decided he no longer needed to be on his best behaviour, you were simply terrorized. You’d had no experience with dogs and this was a Jack Russell Terrier who seemed to be well-versed in the fine details of cat chasing.

You were our first pet, we’d made a commitment to you. It was obvious Lucky had to go back. We couldn’t risk what might happen if he did catch up to you, and you were stressed out by his presence in your normally peaceful bed.

The coordinator at the school understood immediately and I returned Lucky the next day. I hope he found a lovely cat-free home. I know you were pleased with your newly terrier-free home.

What did I learn?

  • Some pets just can’t live together, especially in a small space.
  • Sometimes it’s just not a good day to adopt a new pet, no matter how strongly you feel.
  • You must consider the quality of life of animals you’ve already made a commitment to. Even when it’s not what you wish for.

People food, not always the best option

We talked about Aunt Vivian and her scary voice yesterday. But what if your pets love her because she sneaks them food under the table?

Just be sure that Aunt Viv knows what foods should NOT be given to pets.

There are some great online resources for this:

Veterinary Partner has an article.

ASPCA Animal Poison Control also has a list, and an 800 number that you can call over the holidays if your pet has eaten something that concerns you.


If you have guests staying over who may be on medications, please ensure that those medications are kept out of the reach of pets as well.

Have a safe and happy holiday from all of us at Richmond Veterinary Clinic.

Nervous pets? Give them space.

There’s a great blog about what happens if your pet bites one of your holiday visitors. Rabies quarantines are not fun for anyone.

How could this happen? It might look like a completely unexpected turn of events.

The holidays are exciting for us, but look at it from your pet’s point of view:

  • things change in the house (honestly, who doesn’t move furniture and deep clean before holiday visitors)
  • their beloved people have a different routine, which might include less exercise and playtime with the pets
  • strangers come into the home, they may not know how to read the subtle signs of stress or know how to respect the space of a nervous pet

Any one of these changes could be enough to put even the most well-behaved pet on edge, but put all three together and when Aunt Vivian leans over your nervous pup with her squeaky voice and trembling hands, you have a recipe for disaster.

Some pets are happier in a quiet room with a favorite toy than they would be in the middle of all the hubbub of a holiday gathering.

Most of the time, cats will voluntarily leave the areas where they feel uncomfortable. How many of us have cats who’ve never been seen by a visitor? Imagine if you tried to haul kitty out of hiding and force them to sit on someone’s lap. We’d never imagine doing that.

But with dogs, they are often used to being in the living areas when we are there. Sometimes they just don’t think to leave. Sometimes they think they should keep an eye on the intruders. You can train dogs to accept and even enjoy visitors, but probably not in 3 days.

Be aware of the body language your dog is showing you, and help them find a quiet place to rest if they seem to be getting stressed during holiday celebrations: