How to Introduce Dogs and Cats
Adding a new pet to your furry brood? If you’re bringing a cat into your dog home or a dog into your cat home, there are a few things you should know to ensure all the animals get along. We asked animal behavior consultant Sherry Woodard from Best Friends Animal Society to offer a few tips on cultivating a beautiful friendship from day one and beyond. Here’s how to introduce dogs and cats.
Before You Adopt
If you’re adopting, be sure to look for a dog that has previously lived with cats or vice versa. While some canines are happy to cohabitate with cats, others can’t live safely with felines, says Woodard. Though, you should be prepared that even if a dog has experience living with cats, each situation is different and you should always proceed with caution when introducing new pets.
When you’re ready to introduce a cat and dog, enlist another family member or friend to help you. Woodard suggests having one person assigned to the dog, which should be on a loose lead, and one to the cat, so you can each intervene with one animal if necessary. If you have multiple dogs, introduce each one to the new cat separately.
Watch for Body Language Clues
“One person should watch the dog's body language and the other should watch the cat's,” says Woodard. While a cat is rarely aggressive toward dogs, warning signs include raising his back and hissing. If this behavior isn’t present, let the cat move around freely. If your canine is also calm, ask him to sit, stay or lie down while the cat explores and sniffs him, advises Woodard. If your dog ignores the cat, praise him and provide treats.
You’ll know if your dog has a strong prey instinct if she becomes very focused, stiffens, stares and possibly starts barking or whining. These are signs that you should not allow your dog near the cat, and never allow the dog to chase the cat, advises Woodard.
Try, Try Again
If a simple introduction doesn’t work, you’ll need to try a different strategy for introducing the pets. Woodard suggests putting the cat in a room with a tall baby gate closing off the door. Provide food, water, a litter box and so on in the room. Let your dog see the cat briefly through the gate, but then shift his focus to another activity such as playing or practicing cues. Reward him with treats and praise when he does well. Continue the quick cat viewings throughout the day.
“The hope here is that the dog will eventually lose interest in the kitty,” says Woodard. “In some cases, the dog will lose interest in the cat within a couple of hours, but some need days, and others simply will not be able to share a space safely with a cat.” Worried you can’t trust your dog around your cat? Don’t risk it. Keep them apart instead. Dogs can harm or kill cats very quickly and eye injuries from cats to dogs are not uncommon either.
Kittens and Puppies Are Special Cases
As with adult animals, you should always introduce kittens and puppies to your current pets one at a time and cautiously. Be aware that small kittens may not fear dogs and instead try to play. Depending on your dog, this could be fine. But high-energy canines could hurt or kill the kitten simply by trying to play, says Woodard. In fact, a kitten’s quick, playful movements alone could rev up a dog’s prey drive.
Bottom line: kittens and dogs should never be left alone. “Even if your dog is okay with your adult cats, she may become too rough with a kitten and hurt him,” says Woodard. To be safe, always separate your kitten and dogs when you are not able to watch them.
Puppies and adult cats sometimes get along easily. A well-socialized adult cat is capable of standing up to a playful puppy, telling him to respect his personal cat space, says Woodard. But that’s not always the case. You could have an uncontrollable puppy tormenting your calm cat all day. For these situations, create separation with baby gates until the puppy is older and gains self-control and discipline.
Still Not Working?
“Animals with good past experience often adjust well and quickly,” says Woodard. However, if you have a case that’s not going well, don’t give up just yet. Seek help from a professional behaviorist. And don't ever use punishment, cautions Woodard. Chances are it won’t help and it could make matters much worse.