Introducing Cats and Dogs

Cats and dogs don’t have to fight like… well, cats and dogs. They can live peacefully together and even develop close bonds. But first they need to be safely introduced.

Before You Start

Considerations for New Roommates

While many cats and dogs can live happily together, not all are suited for it. Consider some of these factors when deciding how to introduce a cat and dog, how careful to be, and whether it is even fair to try:

Cat and dog sharing space
Photo Credit: StockSnap/Pixabay.com
  • Size: Large dogs can obviously injure a cat more quickly. Large, strong dogs may also be able to destroy doors or jump over barriers more quickly to reach a cat. While many large dogs can and do live safely with cats, if you are introducing a large dog and a cat, proceed more cautiously.
  • History of Chasing: A dog with a history of chasing cats or other small animals will likely try to do so with a new cat in the home. Some dogs only chase cats outdoors but live peacefully with them indoors but if your dog has a history of chasing small animals, prepare for a slower, more careful introduction.
  • Fear/Running Away: A cat that is fearful or has a history of running from dogs or other frightening things may make the introduction more challenging. Most dogs will chase something that runs even if they have peacefully lived with cats in the past. Confident cats are less of a target for a dog’s attention and chase instincts.

Safety First 

When introducing a dog and cat for the first time, safety for both animals should be the priority.  Even small dogs can seriously injure or kill cats. And cats can cause eye injuries and lacerations to even large dogs.

  • Supervise and Separate: The animals should be set up in their own areas of the home until they have been fully introduced. The whole family should discuss how to prevent accidental meetings while the animals are getting to know each other. Consider keeping at least two layers of separation (ex. Dog in a crate as well as a closed door between the animals), especially if you have any concerns based on the considerations above.
  • Leash Up: The dog should be on a leash around the cat until both animals are fully comfortable and under control around each other.

Training

Teach your dog some basic manners so you can let them know what is expected of them around the cat. If you want to be able to call your dog away from the cat, take some time to teach them “come”. “Leave it”, “stay”, and “go to place/crate/bed” may also come in handy. You don’t want the dog to associate these cues and/or the cat with punishment or fear as that can lead to aggression so always use positive-reinforcement based training techniques. Learn more about finding a dog trainer here

Making New Friends

To help your dog and cat become safe and happy friends (or at least polite roommates), focus on two big ideas:

Prevent Negative Interactions

  • Don’t give your dog a chance to chase, ever! Supervise the two anytime they are together while they are getting to know each other. Keep the dog on leash and have amazing.
  • Watch for unwelcome approaching or investigating, even if it’s friendly. If anyone is tense, encourage whichever pet is getting too nosy to move along.
  • Provide appropriate exercise and play so that nobody annoys or frightens the other with their energy or requests for play (this goes for both dogs and cats!).

All Good Things

Provide all good things when the animals are together (as long as it’s safe). Feeding time, treat time, and cuddles can all be shared in the same room. Quiet play is good too; just be careful to keep the energy level under control as trouble can start when excitement gets too high. Start with plenty of distance so that everyone is calm and relaxed. Continue to give each animal space and dedicated interaction as they need it but the more positive experiences that they have in one another’s presence, the more good associations they will have with one another. 

Keep Up The Good Work

Happily Ever After?

Cat and puppy napping together
Photo Credit: JacLou/Pixabay.com

Building a relationship between different species can take time and energy but having happy pets and a peaceful household is worth the work. The consequences of a bad introduction can be devastating so don’t rush things. If your hard work seems to be paying off, keep things on track by:

  • Maintaining the routine of shared positive experiences like feeding and treat time.
  • Making sure everyone is getting enough exercise and has appropriate outlets for play.
  • Building time together slowly. It’s best not to jump from one good hour together to a whole day left alone.

If You’re Struggling

For some cats and some dogs, friendship may not be in the cards. You may always need to do some type of separation and supervision with your pets. Whether or not you feel they can live safely and happily in the same home will depend on many factors so involve a professional if you have any concerns.

If your cat has a behavior problem that you need help solving, consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.