BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

How to Introduce a Cat to a Dog: Reaching Perfect Harmony

Image showing a woman introducing a cat to a dog
Anna Smith
Written by Anna Smith

Living with both a dog and a cat in perfect harmony seems like a lot of fun, doesn’t it? Indeed, it is possible as you may have seen from the many pictures posted online by proud owners of dogs and cats that love to snuggle together in sleep. Unfortunately, it is not as easy as it may seem, especially in the cases where you already own a resident dog and wish to bring a cat into the house.

We all have grown up hearing about the traditional animosity between a cat and a dog. Keeping that in view, if you want the introduction to go smoothly, you’ll first need to know how to introduce a cat to a dog.

Image showing a dog pupy sitting next to a little cat

While your dog may normally be very obedient, simply telling him not to attack the cat won’t cut it. Because it is his instinct that’s prompting him to reject the unknown creature that has suddenly found its way into his domain, you’ll have to play to those very instincts to get this to work. Our comprehensive step by step plan will not only allow you to introduce the cat in a way that will make your dog simply can’t resist wanting to be friends with them, but will also allow you to understand your pets on a deeper level.

So the introduction will turn out to be a huge success rather than a disaster, here we have enlisted various safe and easy ways to acclimate a new cat to the resident dog. We have also shared some additional info to let you understand the whole situation in a better way.

Factors to Consider

The first thing you need to be sure of is that cats and dogs are not natural born nemesis. They can get along normally (or even like buddies), but it depends on different things like:

  • Breed: Terrier and greyhounds tend to be more aggressive, although this is not the norm.
  • Age: Puppies/kittens tend to be more welcoming than adults.
  • Their personalities: Calmer dogs tend to get along better with cats than energetic, boisterous dogs.
  • Previous circumstances: If your dog has shared his space with other pets in before, it will be easier to make him accept the cat.
  • Your control over them: If you don’t have proper control over their behavior, be prepared for some (or a lot of) agitation and aggression. Expect him to bark, growl, or even continuously lunge at the cat. Although, most surprising of all, sometimes the dog might be the one getting intimidated by the cat.

As explained above, the level of control you can exercise on your dog as the pack leader plays a big role when you plan to introduce a cat to him. That’s why, before you bring the kitty to your house, make sure that your dog is trained enough to listen to you. His obedience to simple commands like ‘stop,’ ‘stay,’ ‘sit’ or ‘no,’ is going to help a lot during the actual encounter.

Image showing a dog rolling around with cat

Secondly, make sure you can keep your dog on a leash if worse comes to worst and he doesn’t listen to your commands at all. If your condition fulfills these requirements, you are ready for the introduction plan.

Step by Step Guide for Safe Introduction of a New Cat to a Dog

If you have taken all the factors we mentioned above into consideration, you should have a rough estimation of how hard it is going to be to introduce a new cat to your dog. Regardless, if you follow these steps carefully without rushing things and make adjustments when needed, even the most stubborn dogs will cave.

Step No. 1: Slow and Steady!

Most of the time, pet owners want to get things settled in the very first meeting. You can’t bring the new cat face-to-face with a resident dog so early. It could lead to severe outcomes such as a terrible fight. It may end up with the cat’s death if your dog manages to sink his teeth into the cat’s neck.

Image showing a labrador and a cat sitting in front of each other

As a pet owner, you need to understand that each pet is different and you must act according to their nature or individuality. If your dog is socially active, you might be successful in introducing them without a hitch, but even then it is better to take things slowly, step by step. Let them get used to each other’s presence first without allowing direct contact. Scroll down to know how.

Step No. 2: Introduce the Scent First!

Helping them exchange their scents can make things a lot easier for you. Familiarity with the smell would help in early acceptance of each other.

Image showing a dog smelling grass

Scents can be swapped in a number of ways like:

  • Exchanging their bedding (blankets or bed).
  • Petting or stroking one pet and then the other, without washing your hands.
  • Rubbing a cloth or a towel on one’s body then allowing the other to sniff it.
  • Putting one’s feeding bowl on the floor in the other’s vicinity.

Step No. 3: Isolate the Cat!

The moment you bring the cat into the house, immediately sequester him in an isolated room for a few days or weeks. Seclusion helps him get used to the strange surroundings.

Image showing a little cat laying on the floor

All his essentials like the bed, food, water, and above all the litter box should be placed in that particular room. Don’t forget to spend some time with the kitty in that room on a daily basis. Then, move the cat to another room so you can let your dog loose in the previous room. Let him sniff around and feel the cat’s presence.

Step No. 4: Feed them at the Same Time

The dog and the cat should be fed together but on the opposite sides of a closed door. While the new cat is inside the isolated room, the dog should be kept outside, on the leash. The purpose of doing it is to associate their mutual presence with their favorite thing, i.e., food. Don’t forget to bring their bowls closer to the door with each feeding session.

Image showing a dog and a cat eating together

Sensing the presence of a cat and food so close to him might make your dog react by barking or whining. If that happens, reprimand him and make him sit and eat quietly. Keep on feeding them this way till both sides show no more signs of anxiety while eating right next to each other.

Step No.5: Preparation for the Face-to-Face Introduction

This is the most critical step of all. You have to be well prepared before moving on to the face to face introduction. The points you need to pay attention to are:

Prep #1: Find a Neutral Ground

The first meeting should be done in some different corner of the house, preferably the living area, and not any of your pet’s territory. Whether it is the dog or the cat’s territory, they will be more aggressive if you let the meeting proceed somewhere they have claimed as theirs.

A dog and a cat meeting for the first time sniffing each other

Make sure the neutral ground is rather spacious. Any aggressive move by the dog might leave the cat anxious to hide somewhere. Make sure that the meeting area has some secure place (preferably a high one) where the cat can easily escape to or hide in.

Prep #2: Work Off Your Dog’s Energy

Taking your dog for a run right before the first meeting is highly recommended. A dog with a lower energy level would be less aggressive towards this new family member. But still, keep your dog on a leash in the first few meetings just in case. While your dog is on a leash, make sure that cat has enough space to move around in, or he could get agitated, especially if he’s not used to being on a leash.

Prep #3: Protect the Cat

Some people suggest placing the cat in crates or cages in the early days of introduction (for safety). But there is another school of thought that prefers giving a wider space for the cat, preferably one bordered with baby gates.

Image showing a cat in a man's hands

Cats don’t like to be confined, so this option is great for allowing him to relax while protecting him at the same time.

Prep #3: Keep Some Rewards Handy

If your dog behaves calmly, reward him with his favorite snacks. Same rule goes with the cat. The snacks can also come in handy if things turn hairy.

Image showing a woman giving her dog a reward

If your dog barks or shows aggression, distract him using his favorite snacks. Although, don’t give it to him because you don’t want him to think that barking at the cat is a commendable thing to do.

Step No. 6: Let them Loose Together

Once you’re done with the prep, it’s time to let the dog (and the cat) out. Here are some tips and tricks to make this first meeting a success:

What You Should Pay Attention to With the Cat

Maintain proper distance between the both of them. Distance should only be reduced with time. Try to bring them closer with each meeting session.

Image showing a cat walking around a dog

However, while confronting the dog, some more outgoing cats might try to sniff or observe the dog in surprise. Let him decide whether he wants to approach the dog or not. Always be ready to interfere. If the cat gets disturbed and wants to leave the room, don’t use force to stop him.

What You Should Pay Attention to With the Dog

Do not worry if your dog stares at the new arrival for a short time. Contrary to that, if the dog stares at the cat continuously, distract him immediately. This is a sign that something fishy is cooking up in his mind.

Do not let your dog chase the cat at any cost. If you do not snub him initially, he will develop a permanent habit of chasing the cat. If you sense danger from any side (particularly from dog’s side) separate them immediately.

dog-and-kitten sitting together

The first few meetings shouldn’t drag on for too long. 5 to 10 minutes should be enough. Multiple short meetings for introduction are far better than a few long ones. Longer meetings may cause irritation and uncomfortableness for both of them.

Repeat the same procedure about three times a day for a week or until things become purrfect. Don’t forget to build up the time gradually (from 10 minutes to half an hour). These short and regular meetings on a daily basis would not just help the cat in gaining confidence but the dog would also show less excitement and will be less prone to pouncing on this new family member.

Always stay around to keep a watch on them. If you can’t do it all the time, assign this duty to some other house member. Always keep them separate when there is no one to supervise.

Step. No. 7: Let Them Run Free

Up until now, you have kept the dog leashed and the cat sequestered in an isolated room except during meetings. Now, observe both pets. If the dog is no longer bothered by the presence of the kitty and the cat too feels safe and free in the dog’s company, know that it is time to let them run free.

kitten-running-from-dog

Dog behaviorists usually recommend about two weeks before you take them off the leash, but this time estimation may vary in each case.

Some Other Points to Remember!

As a pet owner, your job never ends. Even if things seem settled, there are some things you must keep in mind:

  • Make sure you are treating both pets equally. Giving more attention to one and less to the other often leads to hostility and rivalry among pets living under the same roof.
  • Be gentle while reprimanding your dog. Always punishing your dog in front of the cat might cause him to develop some rebellious feelings toward the cat.
  • Stuff like cat food or the litter box is very tempting for dogs. To avoid any disturbance, place both things out of the dog’s access.
  • If you have more than one dog, introduce them separately to the cat. This helps in making the dogs realize that the cat is a new family member and not some object to play with.
  • In case your dog and cat do not get along as smoothly as you expected, get professional assistance.

Wrap Up

To conclude, adding a new feline member to your dog-friendly family is not something impossible. We have seen some cases where dogs and cats live peacefully like buddies. All it takes is a little bit of patience plus effort on the owner’s part.

The detailed step by step guide compiled above is surely going to make things easier for you and your pets. Just follow the plan to get a peaceful multi-pet household in a reasonably short time.

Image showing a dog and a cat playing together

Do you have a household with a variety of pets? If yes, what steps did you follow to introduce your pets to each other? We would love to get tips on how we can improve this article. Share your success story in the comment box below.

About the author
Anna Smith
Anna Smith

Anna Smith resides in beautiful Santa Monica, CA, where she works as a Pet Nutrition Expert in a leading retail pet store. She is responsible for nutritional strategies for different breeds and development of new products on the market in compliance with Association of American Feed Control Officials. Anna’s passions are education about proven methods and best practices in the industry and her dog Max, who is always well-fed.

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