Introducing a Dog to a Cat Home
Introducing a dog to a cat home takes time, love, and patience. Remember, your home was the cat's first and her needs and boundaries should be respected. If you give everyone their own space and introduce them slowly, your dog and cat will likely learn to get along and eventually become friends. Here's how to introduce dogs to cats in the right way.
Consider the Pets' Personalities
Personality can play a big role in whether a dog will do well in a cat home.1 First, consider your cat's personality. Is she calm and social? Does she try to greet guests or does she hide when the doorbell rings? Calm, confident cats are more likely to accept a new dog.
Of course, your new dog's personality is very important too. Puppies that grow up with cats are more likely to view them as friends, but older dogs might need a little training. If you're adopting an older dog, ask about his background. Is the dog good with cats or does he chase cats? If the dog is known to have a high prey instinct, he might not be a good choice for a home with cats. Find out if the dog knows basic commands like sit, stay, and leave it alone. Go over those commands before you bring your new dog home.
Give Your Cat a Safe Space
An important step when introducing dogs to cats is to give your cat a safe space where she can retreat.2 This can be a room with a cat door that's too small for the dog or a baby gate that your cat can jump over but the dog cannot. Keep a comfy bed in the room for your kitty, like the Lazy Cup bed. Some cats might prefer an enclosed bed, like the Thermo-Kitty Sleephouse, to feel more secure.
Put the cat's litter in a place the dog can't go, so she won't ever be cornered. Keeping her food elevated and out of the dog's reach is another good idea. The EZ Mount Up & Away Diner attaches to a window allowing your cat to eat peacefully away from your dog. Make sure you use it with a window perch.
Let Them Get Used to Each Other's Scents
Introduce your dog to your cat slowly. This is important because not only are their smells different, but cats and dogs use different body language that can take some time to get used to. At first, let them be in separate rooms so they can get used to the new scents without any additional pressure. Swap their blankets and feed them on either side of a closed door.3 You can also swap rooms sometimes, letting each pet have a chance to roam through the home.
Introduce Them Slowly and Cautiously
If the cat seems calm when the dog's near the door and the dog doesn't alert to the cat's smell, you can start to introduce them to each other visually. Try feeding them on either side of a closed screen or gate. It might take weeks to get to this point, and that's okay.
Once they're calmly eating while seeing each other, you can try supervised visits in a neutral room without a gate separating them. Some experts recommend keeping your dog in a crate at first and letting your cat wander around the room while you praise them both and give them treats.4 Separate them if the dog's too excited. If you don't have a crate, introduce them while your dog's on a short leash. Keep the visits short, praise your pets, and give them treats for staying calm. Your cat might growl or hiss, but this will likely diminish over time.
When you finally let the dog wander free, make sure your cat has quick escape routes and watch them closely. Keep your dog on the leash so you can grab him quickly if needed. Be very cautious with each step and watch your pets' interactions closely.
Watch for Prey Drives and a Chase Instinct
One big issue can be a dog with a high prey drive that tries to chase cats. You never want to let your dog chase your cat—even once—as this can start a habit that's very hard to break. If you see your dog lunge at your kitty, say "no" firmly and put him in a room alone. When they're together, work on redirecting your dog's attention. If he starts to fixate on your cat, tell him to "come" or "leave it." Praise him with treats when he obeys, and reward him for calm behavior too.
Don't forget that behavior indoors can be very different when the pets move outside. A dog that never chases a cat inside the home might obsessively chase your kitty when they're outside together.
Give Your Dog Lots of Exercise
Dogs that get lots of exercise are less likely to want to chase a cat. Try to give your dog lots of activities that are more fun. Don't just go for a walk—change direction multiple times, speed up and slow down, or stop and sit multiple times. Try high-intensity jogs, lure coursing, and scent training. Getting out that extra energy can help your dog be calmer around your cat.
Of course, playing with your cat is important too. Try clicker training or entice your cat to chase you around the house while you're holding a treat. Keeping her mind engaged and active can increase your kitty's confidence.
Once you learn how to introduce dogs to cats, you'll find it's quite easy for a dog and cat to learn to be friends. Just make sure to take things slowly when you introduce a dog to a cat home. With patience and time, your fur babies will soon become lifelong friends.
- Fawcett, Kirstin. "8 Tricks to Help Your Cat and Dog to Get Along." Mental Floss, 1 December 2017, https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/516438/8-tricks-help-your-cat-and-dog-get-along.
- Reach Out and Rescue Resources. "Introducing Your New Dog to Your Resident Cat." ReachOutRescue.org, https://www.reachoutrescue.org/info/display?PageID=10478.
- Animal Humane Society. "How to Introduce a Dog and Cat." AnimalHumaneSociety.org, https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/behavior/how-introduce-dog-and-cat.
- RSPCA. "How Should I Introduce My New Dog or Puppy to the Family Cat?" RSPCA.org.au, https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/how-should-i-introduce-my-new-dog-or-puppy-to-the-family-cat/.