In a perfect world, cats and dogs would get along famously and money would grow in trees! But unfortunately, that’s not the case. Figuring out how to introduce cats to dogs can feel a little bit like figuring out how to add fire to water – a somewhat impossible task. However, there are ways to do it with which you could minimize the stress to both cat and dog. It requires a good understanding of your cat or dog’s behavior, how they feel about other animals in general, and plenty of patience on your part. You can’t just put them together in a room and expect them to be friends. Here’s our guide on how to introduce a cat to a dog in the same household.
Where Do I Start?
There’s a couple of things you will need to do before you even think of bringing the dog to meet your cat (or vice versa). Even puppies and kittens can be difficult to introduce to one another if you go in all guns blazing. So follow these key pieces of advice before forging ahead.
Lower Your Expectations
Don’t assume they will be okay just because their personalities seem similar. Cats and dogs are not like humans, and cannot be so easily charmed by one another. They are two very different creatures with entirely separate coping mechanisms for stress, anxiety, and responding to others. Even two cats or two dogs can be difficult to bring together if they don’t like the smell of one another. A shy cat may feel the urge to run and hide, in which case you’d have a hard time retrieving them. A cat that exhibits otherwise calm behavior might have a strong instinct to fight when they feel threatened. Expect the worst and hope for the best is the best way to move forward.
Know Your Limits
There are a few instances in which introducing a dog and cat is highly unlikely to end the way you want it to:
- If the cat is elderly, handicapped, or declawed: A new dog can be a bit boisterous. Older cats are much less likely to adapt to the new canine presence and may be overwhelmed by their spritely behavior. Additionally, handicapped or declawed cats may feel too threatened by the new resident dog to want to come near it. Leading to them potentially spending their life in hiding.
- If your new dog is naturally predatory: Breeds such as huskies, hunting hounds, terriers, chow chows, spaniels, and wolfhounds, among others, had naturally high prey drives. As a result, their instinct to go after small creatures can be quite strong. As a result, they may view your resident cat as something to chase as opposed to befriend. The stress of this can result in your cat running away, or potentially being killed if they get on the wrong side of their new canine sibling.
- If the dog is a rescue: Though not all rescues are problematic, most of the time their full story isn’t known. Often shelters can only tell you how they were found. Not knowing a dog’s history can be detrimental to this introductory period as they can be unpredictable, and potentially dangerous. Rescue dogs should have your full undivided attention and are not generally suitable for houses with any other pet.
Prepare For A Busy Couple of Months
Once you start introducing kitten to dog, things will rapidly start to get interesting. This means you will need to directly supervise every single one of their interactions until you feel they have reached a plateau. Should you find yourself struggling to mitigate their interactions and ease them into the new living situation, you may need to seek professional help, such as a trainer. Additionally, calming agents may help to make the process run a little bit smoother. These can be purchased as collars, plugins, or treats.
Initial Preparations For The Dog’s Arrival
Once you’ve established the major factors for each animal, you can start to plan ahead. This means preparing your house and pets for the imminent event of a face-to-face introduction. Though there are several things that still need to happen before you need to worry about that.
Get To Know Your Pets
Before putting either of them through the rigmarole of moving and being introduced to one another, make sure you understand them. It can be difficult to fully gauge a new pet’s body language and personality if you haven’t had much time with them. But this is where you try your best to visit your new dog as often as possible, in order to form a bond and get to know them better. Developing a level of trust between you and your soon-to-be new pet can help to settle their nerves more easily when they finally move in.
Equally, you should be able to read when your kitty is becoming uncomfortable or afraid, and when they might start to look as though they’re thinking of lashing out. Cats are highly sensitive creatures that are not naturally inclined to befriend their mortal enemies, and so your stance as a mitigator during those initial stages is vital.
Create a Safe Space For Both Pets
A big part of figuring out how to introduce dogs to cats is being aware that it is going to be equally stressful for both parties. Though dogs may not show their anxieties on their sleeve as cats do, pups do still get anxious when meeting new animals or when in unfamiliar environments. It’s just that a dog’s nervous energy can look a lot like excitement, whereas a cat may appear standoffish or frightened.
With this in mind, it’s worth planning out safe spaces for each of them – somewhere they can hide away and not feel threatened or as though they will be pursued. It’s best to put these safe spaces at opposite ends of the house where possible. This will give them the biggest distance in order to gain the proper respite from one another. Baby gates would also be a worthwhile investment, to keep your dog separate from your cat, should your kitty want to get away.
In the early days, you’ll need an entire room to keep your kitty in, complete with a litter box and cat tree, in order for them to keep your cat separated from their new doggie sibling. However, as they become more comfortable with one another you should be able to transition to a cat house, which can provide them with shelter should they feel like they need it. Tunnels and other hiding places throughout the house would also be a good idea so that they can jump out of reach at a moment’s notice.
For your puppy, it would be best to provide them with a crate space, with a blanket draped over it to help them feel more sheltered. This space should include their bed and a couple of dog toys and should NEVER be used for punishment. Using a safe space for punishment completely negates the reason for having one in the first place. For more options, check out our detailed review of the best puppy crates.
The Introduction Process
Now it’s finally time to look at introducing them. But this may not be as simple as you might think. It’s not just a matter of walking into the house with your new dog and hoping against hope that your cat doesn’t hate it. This is where that patience comes in.
Keep Them Separate
When you first bring your dog home, keep the family cat in a separate room for a few days. Make sure that room has a litter box, cat food, a cat tree, a bed, toys, and anything else they might need to be comfortable. It may even be worth getting a plug-in calming agent if they’re a particularly anxious breed. Initially introducing your cat and dog separately helps them to adapt to the idea of each other’s presence without the stress of a face-to-face confrontation.
Your new dog will also be able to take in the scents of their new kitty sibling, which will be all over the house, and have a chance to settle down a bit. Moving to a new home is an anxious time for a dog and they need to be given the space to adapt to their new surroundings, to begin with. Any calm behavior should be rewarded with positive reinforcement – treats are great for this. During this time your cat can familiarise itself with the sound of the dog, and pick up any scents they may give off. The same reinforcement should also be used with your cat when they appear unbothered by the arrival of the new family member.
Work on Basic Commands
Whilst your two pets are being kept separate, you will need to teach your dog some self-control. This means basic training such as stay, sit, and come. Stay will be especially helpful when it comes to meeting the cat. Many dogs instinctually want to stiff anyone they meet. However, dogs and cats are not exactly naturally inclined to be best friends and most cats will feel the need to defend themselves or back away when confronted with another unfamiliar animal. Proper training for your dog means more self-control around their new cat sibling and less chance of an incident.
Feed Them on Either Side of The Door
Before bringing your cat out of the room, it would be a good idea to feed both pets on opposite sides of the door. By doing this they have a chance to pick up each other’s scents whilst they eat. All the while rewarding your cat or dog for good behavior. You’re wanting to encourage a certain amount of disinterest between them. That way their first meeting will be much less eventful.
The idea of feeding them either side of the same door is to encourage them to eat calmly when around the scents and sounds of one another. Don’t move on to the next step until you are sure they are able to eat comfortably like this, without reacting to each other’s movements or scents. You don’t want them to feel skittish at mealtimes.
Swap Their Scents
When it comes to cats, introducing dogs into their life does not sit high up their list of enjoyable activities. However, there are ways to lessen the stress before the meeting. And as with most animals, being familiar with another creature’s scent before seeing them can give them a sense of familiarity and take the edge off. A good way to go about this would be to switch the blankets they sleep on. Something they have spent a lot of time on and would therefore have the strongest scent.
Do this for a day or so, or until they appear comfortable with the new addition to their space. Your dog may already be used to the scent of your cat owing to the fact that they’ve had free reign of the house. However, this exercise will be especially good for your cat, who has been in isolation for this time and hasn’t had to chance to fully take in the new dog’s scent.
Have Them Meet on Neutral Ground
Exercise your dog to begin with, in order to shake off any nervous energy before the first introduction. Additionally, it would be best to keep them on the leash in order to maintain control during the meeting. Remember, positive reinforcement is key for both pets. Before letting your cat out of their room you may even want to consider a baby gate for the doorway. That way your cat can get back into it’s safe space easily if it feels overwhelmed, without becoming completely shut off.
When you introduce your dog and cat to one another for the first time, be sure to let them take it at their own pace. They can be in the same room, but it is imperative that the room you choose is as neutral as possible. Don’t just let your dog go charging in your cat’s safe space – that’s a good way to get them scratched or give your cat a heart attack. Keep your dog on its leash and your cat out of its reach if possible. Your dog needs to have a chance to take in your cat’s presence and calm down before getting too close and vice versa.
A cat wouldn’t do well in a cat carrier as they would feel trapped, and so they should be allowed to roam free, but make sure you’re watching them closely at the same time. Any signs of stress or aggression in the way your cat moves should be taken as an indicator to back off.
Eat, Sleep, Repeat
Repeat this process as often as you feel comfortable doing. The first introduction is always the hardest. From there is simply a matter of repetition and patience. They will begin to adjust eventually. Try to keep them as short visits, to begin with, and provide each pet with a treat to reinforce bravery and calmness. It is always a good indicator when your cat starts to show interest in approaching the dog. Though a bold moment doesn’t constitute the end of the introductory period. Keep bringing them together in a controlled environment until their anxiety appears to have dissipated.
Proceed With Caution
Once your cat seems calm around the dog you can consider removing the leash. Though should you decide to do so you need to be confident that your dog will listen to you when you call its name or tell it to stay. That way you can exercise some control over the free roam introduction. The likelihood is that your kitty will run away to begin with, now that that know the new dog is able to reach them easily. This is where a baby gate can help in order to limit your dog’s access to the cat without limiting your cat’s view of them.
Eventually, they will adapt. It may be that from now on your cat prefers high places to rest, rather than sitting low down. Or it may be that they become especially clingy to you in response to the rivalry of another animal stealing your affections.
The Difference When Introducing Puppies And Kittens
Adult cats and dogs are quite radically different from babies in the way they respond to change. They become set in their ways and unwilling to bend to allow another person in. Though generally speaking dogs are more adaptable than cats. However, whilst they’re young and still learning about the world they’re much more flexible. If you introduce a kitten to a puppy they will likely view it in a more friendly light.
Additionally, you often find that young animals will develop a sibling-like relationship. This includes playing together, sleeping together, and becoming somewhat inseparable. The same goes with figuring out how to introduce a kitten to a dog. Kittens are more interested in playing and exploring than they are in defending themselves. So, so long as your dog is taught to be gentle around them, you’re not likely to have any problems. Overall we’d always suggest trying to start young if you can, to reduce anxiety and create a more harmonious environment. But if you’re starting with older pets, just remember to take your time and empathize with them. Given some time they will settle down.