There's no denying your cat is sweet as can be, always purring in your lap, drooped in a furry puddle on your keyboard, or curled up in the sun napping. But don't forget your little ball of housebound love is also a natural-born hunter. Cats are predators, and many enjoy the thrill of the hunt just as much as their wild relatives.
Is there a way to introduce cats to birds and other pets without fear that the relationship will end with a trip to the vet or worse?
While there's no guarantee of safety when you bring a natural predator and her prey together, you can minimize the danger. Here are some tips:
Introduce the Two
Familiarize your cat with her new small roommate. While you want to be careful about interactions between cats and birds or cats and other pets, it's important that the cat has a chance to satisfy her curiosity. Allow your kitty to sniff your feathered or small furry animal friend in a non-threatening manner, while they are in their cage. If she reaches toward it with a paw or exhibits any other aggressive behavior, make sure to use strong commands like 'no' to let her know that that behavior is not acceptable, but never use physical punishments. Also don't allow the cat to lick your bird, because cats carry bacteria in their saliva that can make a bird sick, according to BirdTricks.
Never leave the animals alone unprotected. Even the mellowest of cats might decide to pounce in play or have a momentary lapse of excited judgment when she sees a bird strutting around or a rabbit hopping by. You should always be nearby to make sure your cat remembers this small animal is a friend, not food. To keep your small animal safe, a cage is recommended.
Give Her Plenty of Attention
You want your cat to know your affection for her hasn't been replaced with this new animal. Make time to play with her and give her plenty of opportunities to satisfy her hunting tendencies with toys, treats, and games. Giving her distractions are a good way to ensure she is less interested in trying to get at your smaller pet. Never use toys that might mimic or be easily associated with your other pet. For instance, refrain from letting her play with feathered toys if you have a bird, or a stuffed mouse if you have hamsters. If she thinks that you're okay with her playing with a similar toy, she might think it is okay to play with the other pet when you're not watching.
Make Sure You Have a Safe Cage
If your cat can tip the cage over, then it's not a safe environment for your smaller pet. Or if the caged pet does not have room to back up and escape eager paws reaching through, then you should get a bigger cage. Also, be aware that feeling as if it's under attack can cause stress on your small animal that could result in its death. The heavier the cage the better. Stainless steel, wrought iron, or powder-coated cages are best with spacing of no more than .5 inches between bars.
Be at the Ready
Invest in a squirt bottle. Anytime you see your cat approaching a small animal or the cage with anything other than curiosity on her mind, squirt her. She'll soon learn to stay away. It's also important to ensure any children that might be in the home understand that the two pets shouldn't play together, and that it is very important that they remember to close cages or replace lids after feeding the smaller pets. One lapse in judgment could end up as a snack for a curious kitty.
Don't Let Her Go Fishing
If you have a fish tank at home, your cat will likely be curious about what's swimming in it. While it can be a nice distraction for her to watch your fish swim around the tank for hours, it can become a problem if she can find a way to get into the tank. If the lid of the tank isn't secure, cats are crafty and have a way of getting under it. It can also be dangerous for your cat if she falls in the tank, not to mention the mess that she will likely make. Invest in a tank that she can't knock over or get into. Never invest in fish bowls if you have a cat, it's just too tempting for their curiosity.
Give It Time
Cats are incredibly curious, but if you allow them to see, sniff, and be in the same room as your petite pet, they may eventually lose interest.
Remember that you know your cat best, so use your best judgment. While there's no guarantee that an accident won't happen, you can maximize the chances of a harmonious home with plenty of care, attention, and love for all its residents.
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer in Erie, Pa. with a cat named Olive.