Introducing a Dog to a Cat

That excitable young puppy or goofy older dog might be the best thing that ever happened to the household as far as you’re concerned, but for your pet cat it can seem like the end of the world!


Dog and cat best of friends lying together outdoors
This is what you're aiming for - your dog and cat chilling together

Cats are animals that take pride in a clean coat, personal space and nine-hour naps in a favorite spot. So, make first introductions short and sweet, and don’t drag the cat away from her sleep just to meet the dog. Make those first introductions on neutral territory rather than the cat’s favorite room, otherwise she’ll feel her personal space has been violated, and might well end the meeting by swiping her claws around the pup’s face.

There are a few steps you can take when introducing your dog to your cat, to pave the way as smoothly as possible.

Does Your Dog Understand Basic Commands?

If your dog or puppy knows the commands for sit and stay – and actually obeys them – then you should be all set. This is important as it means your dog will listen to these commands and know that it isn’t playtime when your new cat is being introduced.

If your dog doesn’t know any commands just yet don’t worry, just make sure that before you begin with any introductions you tire your dog out with a high-energy walk. A dog with lots of energy is bound to get on the nerves of a lazy cat, so make sure he’s calm first.


Mixed breed puppies with kittens
Mixed breed puppies and kittens - too young to know that they're not friends!

Timing Is Key

When bringing home a new dog or a new cat don’t rush into any introductions. Your house is a new and possibly scary environment for your new pet so give him/her time to get used to the new smells and surroundings. This may take anything from a couple of days to a week or more. Taking these steps will help your new pet settle and avoid unnecessary stress.

Tip: One way you can help your pets get used to each other’s smell is by swapping their bedding before they meet. You never know, they might even start sleeping together after a few introductions!


A dog lying down with its ginger cat friend
It's great when your pets become pals

The Right Setting

When you decide that your pets are ready to meet ensure the house is quiet and avoid having unfamiliar guests or small children around. This will keep the meeting as calm as possible. As mentioned above, giving your dog a long walk to get rid of any excess energy is the best thing you can do before introducing a new pet.

On The Lead

For the very first meetings, put your dog on a lead and have him/her sit and stay before introducing the cat to the room. This will help the dog understand that the cat does not equal playtime.

Escape Route

Give your cat an escape route (this can be a shelf or other high-up furniture, a window, a cat flap etc.). This is just so that if the cat does feel worried or threatened it can leave the situation without feeling trapped. Forcing the animals to get along will only make the situation worse, as in reality you can’t force these things.

Positive Reinforcement

Have dog treats on hand to reward your dog for good behavior and obedience. Never punish your dog otherwise he might start to associate the cat with negative outcomes. For bad behavior simply give a firm "no", and then go back to the "sit" or "stay" commands.

Repeat

For some cats and dogs the introductions will go very smoothly and it may only take a couple of introductions before you and they feel happy, but for others it may take multiple introductions per day over several weeks. Once you’ve reached the stage where your dog remains calm on the lead, the next step is to allow the two animals to interact off the lead, still ensuring that there’s always an escape route for the cat. The most important thing here is not to rush through the introductions. Some dogs need far longer before they can be trusted with a cat.

Things To Expect

Play: Some dogs will want to play with the cat as if it were another dog. This is not ideal - it will most likely be interpreted by the cat as an attack, and responded to with claws and hisses. There is a danger that one of the animals might be harmed. The fact is, they don’t share the same body language, so at the very best the play session will end in confusion.


Dog chasing cat German Shepherd alsatian and Ginger tomcat
The hunt-and-chase instinct is strong, and it takes a lot of training to stop dogs pursuing cats

Prey: Some breeds of dog have strong predator/prey instincts and will act aggressively, stalking the cat or staring at it, or simply diving in for the chase. This is where “repeat” and “positive reinforcement” are really important in order to break this behavior. Sometimes the instinct will be very difficult to break and you may never be able to leave your pets together unsupervised. Again, this is only usually the case with hunting breeds, or mixed/crossbreeds with the wolfish foxhound instincts to the forefront.

Avoidance: Sometimes your pets will simply base their relationship on avoiding each other. Although not a bad thing, this may mean that if forced to stay in the same room (overnight for example) one of your pets may become distressed. It also make unexpected meetings on staircases, etc., a bit fraught.


A dog and a cat rolling around on the grass
All the hard work has payed off - this pair are now the best of friends

A Warning For Kittens: This is a grim subject, but an important one. A dog can very easily kill a cat if he catches it in his jaws, and this is even more true for kittens. It may be best to wait until your kitten has grown up before making any introductions. This is especially important if your dog is quite lively and playful.

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