The Purrfect Pair: A Step-by-Step Guide to Introducing a Cat to a Dog
Discover the secrets to a successful introduction between cats and dogs with our comprehensive guide. Learn expert tips, step-by-step strategies, and proven techniques to create harmony and foster a loving bond between your feline and canine companions.
Cats have long been typecast as the nemesis of dogs — but is this common stereotype actually true? Not always! Some cats and dogs can become inseparable, building a genuinely loyal and loving friendship.
While it may not always be the case because, of course, every animal is different, there are some things you can do to help foster a healthy — even friendly — relationship between your cat and dog.
Before you bring them home…
Introducing a new furry member to the family requires proper planning before even making the introduction.
You want to ensure that the resident animal at home is as best prepared as possible for meeting their new furry sibling.
Share the scent
Before you bring a cat home to meet its sibling(s), introduce their scent to the resident pets at home and vice versa. This is a great way to help your pets (both new and old) familiarize themselves with the new animal entering their environment without physical interaction.
Take an old towel, t-shirt, or pillowcase (anything fabric that will hold the scent well) and leave it on a spot your pet frequents most (like their bed or favorite couch cushion) so that their scent transfers to the fabric. Consider associating introducing the new pet's scent with happy things — like giving your pet a treat, taking your pet for a walk, or just relaxing on the couch.
Bringing a new cat into your home can make your resident pup susceptible to health issues. Be sure that both pets are up to date on all vaccines and have visited the vet to get a clean bill of health before the meeting!
Create a sanctuary
It is essential to give your cat and dog a safe space to go when they need to get away and have some peace and alone time. Whether you create a gated-off area or a separate room is entirely up to you. Be sure to set up this area before you introduce your pets so that safe space is readily available when it's needed.
The Animal Humane Society has some tips for creating a cat sanctuary in your home or apartment:
- Make sure the cat has access to a dog-free sanctuary at all times.
- Sanctuary rooms can be any size but must have a secure door and ceiling.
- The space should include a litter box, scratching post, water, food bowl, and toys.
- Make sure to cat-proof the space by removing any poisonous plants, medicines, fragile knick knacks, and hiding or tying up cords.
- You might also set up some hiding places or tunnels to help the cat feel safer.
Time for an introduction
Ready to bring your fur babies together?! Remember, forging new relationships takes time — if you're lucky, your pets will be fast friends but don't get discouraged if it doesn't happen as quickly as you'd hoped.
Now that they know one another's scent thanks to the "scent sharing" tactic, bringing the new pet into the home will, hopefully, trigger a recognition response. Rather than letting your pets meet nose-to-nose immediately, you will want to start slow and keep them far apart in the beginning stages of coexisting.
Acknowledge age differences
If you're introducing a hyper kitten into a home with an older dog or cat, you will want to take even slower steps to ensure no aggression from your senior toward your new baby. That high energy can disrupt the environment that your older pet is used to, so be ready to make some necessary adjustments to manage and control the transition as much as possible and avoid any aggressive behaviors.
The meeting moment
The most important thing for everybody — including humans involved — is safety. Ideally, you want to create a meeting situation where neither pet feels scared and both are protected from one another.
Entering the same space, but keeping it safe, can be accomplished by using pet gates. This allows the pets to see, hear, and smell one another while maintaining a controlled environment with a safe separation.
Family Pet Veterinary Center notes, "Carefully observe how they interact through the gate, reinforcing positive behavior with treats. Keep this separation until the pets exhibit signs they are interacting in a consistently friendly manner and are eager to play together."
Shameless Pets treats can make a great asset to your pet's introduction — we've got tasty, healthy treats for cats and dogs, so you can be sure you're rewarding them with a genuinely high-value treat.
Food can be tricky in shared spaces — even if your pet has never shown any signs of food aggression. Lucky Dog Animal Rescue notes, "Keep the resident dog's areas for sleeping and eating separate so he doesn't feel his territory is being threatened."
Staying on opposite sides of the gate at this time is ideal, as food can trigger aggressive behavior. Let each pet have its designated safe space for meals so they don't need to be protective or territorial of its food.
Watch for cues
You know your resident pet well, of course, so it may be easier to watch them for signs of upset, but keep a close eye on your new pet, too. Lowered tails, pinned back ears, crying, shaking, etc. indicate discomfort, anxiety, or fear.
Best Friends has some helpful insight on what body language cues to take note of as well, sharing that "If your dog has a strong prey drive (the inclination to seek out, chase, and potentially capture animals seen as prey), they might become very focused on the cat. The dog will stiffen, stare, and possibly bark or whine.
If you see these signs, do not let your dog near the cat. Ideally, the dog's body language will be loose and relaxed around the cat. It's OK if your dog pays attention to the cat, but you don't want to see a dog fixated on a cat."
Are you planning on having an indoor-outdoor cat? Pay attention to their behavior when your pets share space outside, too! Best Friends makes a strong point, "Just because your dog is comfortable with the cat inside the house, that doesn't mean the dog will exhibit that same behavior outdoors. They might fixate on the cat and start stalking or chasing the cat when they are outside together. So be aware of your dog's body language around the cat in each new situation until you know how they're going to respond."
Respecting your pets' boundaries and paying attention to the cues they are communicating is essential to keeping them happy and safe. Forcing a situation on them that they're not comfortable with is a recipe for disaster. Instead, follow their lead when necessary, and separate your pets when it's in their best interest.
After some time with the gate up and monitoring behavioral cues from both pets, you can begin to remove barriers between them and start to share space.
The key? Monitoring your pets at all times! It's essential to watch their interactions until you are confident that your two pets get along well in each other's space and have the knowledge and willingness to relocate when they need their separate space.
If you're ready to bring your pets closer, consider sharing the couch while watching TV. Keep treats close by for your cat and dog so you can constantly reward good behavior and create positive associations for time spent together in a shared environment.
The bottom line...
Cats and dogs are not enemies! These two sweet pets can coexist peacefully and happily; it might just take extra time and effort on your part.
As long as you create safe spaces for each of them at home, monitor their interactions, and reward their good behavior, it's very possible that you can enjoy a life with a cat and a dog under one roof.