7 Easy Steps to Introducing a Cat to your Dog
So you have a new cat. Congratulations! But you already have a dog. Yikes! What’s the best way to introduce a new cat to your dog? How can you make sure things go smoothly? Can cats and dogs ever be friends?
Introducing a new cat to your home can be a challenge. Cats are sensitive, territorial creatures and they need time to adjust to their new surroundings, especially if there’s a dog in the picture.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you can do to help your new cat feel relaxed and comfortable, and live in harmony with your dog.
Before you bring a new cat home
You’ve already seen how your dog responds to cats. Does he lunge at them? Bark excitedly and try to chase them? Growl and put his hackles up?
This is a dog that probably won’t acclimate well to having a new cat in his territory. You must think carefully about whether it’s right to bring home a new cat.
However, if your dog is calm and laid back, and doesn’t respond obsessively or aggressively when he sees a cat, that’s good news.
7 Steps to Introducing a New Cat to your Dog
First impressions count! The first time your cat and dog “meet” each other is critical. It’s important to take it slowly.
Here are 7 easy steps that can help your new cat and dog get used to each other.
1) Keep your cat and dog separated at first
When you bring your new cat home, begin by keeping her in just one room. She will be nervous. Confining her to a single room that has her bed, food, water and litter box inside, will help keep her calm.
Your dog will already be able to smell the cat. Observe him closely. Is he digging at the door, or barking all the time? Use your training commands. If that isn’t successful, you might need a professional to help ensure your dog can be properly trained to accept a cat.
Make sure you don’t let your new pussin out of this room yet, no matter how much she cries. She might be unhappy in her room, but she will be much unhappier if she comes face-to-face with a dog outside it!
Once your new cat is eating, sleeping and using her litter box calmly, and your dog is calm too, you can progress to the next step.
2) Feed your cat and dog at the same time, on opposite sides of the closed door
Begin by feeding your animals at the same time, on opposite sides of the door. Put their food dishes a short distance away from the door. That way they can safely explore each other’s scent. And they’ll learn to associate those smells with something they like – food!
As your animals get more comfortable, you can gradually move their food dishes closer together.
Once they’re eating calmly on opposite sides of the door, you can progress to blocking the door open a little way at dinnertime (carefully ensuring there’s no way for your dog to push through and get to the cat) so that they can see each other. A baby gate can work well, as long as your dog is too big to fit through the slats.
3) Swapping scents
This is something you can do from day one. From time to time, swap the blanket or bedding that your cat is using, with the blanket from your dog’s bed. This helps each animal get used to the other’s scent. You can also rub a washcloth along your new cat and then place it under your dog’s food bowl (and vice versa).
4) Time to explore alone
Once your animals are eating together calmly and can see each other through a door without any issues, you can progress to introducing the cat to the rest of your home. The best time to do this is while your dog is out on a walk, or in the yard where he can’t see the cat. You could also pop your dog into the cat’s room during this time, so that they’re each learning something new about the other.
5) The first face-to-face introduction
It’s important to carefully control the first time your new cat meets your dog. Make sure your dog is in his crate, or on a leash (you’ll need another person for this). This way you can ensure he doesn’t lunge at the cat unexpectedly.
Bring your cat into the room and place her on a table so that she feels safe. You can give them both their favorite treats during this visit. Don’t let the dog approach the cat – the goal is just to have them in the same room so that they can start getting accustomed to each other.
Keep going with these controlled meetings until both your animals are relaxed around each other.
6) Getting used to each other
Now, you want to slowly start bringing the cat and dog closer to each other. Keep your dog on a tight leash! If your cat seems uncomfortable, ask your dog to lie down. If your dog is panting or lunging on the leash, go back to the previous step.
Keep these visits short and calm. You want regular periods of controlled interaction where both animals feel safe and relaxed. Slowly start increasing the amount of time they spend with each other, but ensure your dog stays on his leash.
7) Meeting off-the-leash
The next step is to gently introduce your new cat to your dog while he is off the leash. You must feel secure that the dog is ready for this step. Nevertheless, ensure your cat has an escape route – so she can dive to a high perch on a cabinet or cat tower if she needs to.
It’s critical for you to supervise these visits closely. You must quickly correct any undesirable behavior such as lunging, chasing or stalking.
After your cat and dog have regularly met off-leash without any issues, you can start to leave them alone together. Makes sure these are short periods to begin with, and then as everyone (including you) starts to feel more comfortable, you can increase the length of time.
Always make sure your cat has an escape route or safe place she can get to if she feels threatened!
Success! Your new cat and dog are living happily together
Most dogs and cats can be friends, providing their introductions are managed carefully. It can take time, but it’s entirely possible. Be patient and don’t rush things.
Sometimes though, things don’t work out no matter how hard you try. You can enlist the help of a professional trainer, or if your home is large enough you could have the animals living in separate areas. In some cases, you might need to consider finding a new forever home for one of your animals.
Many cats and dogs can develop deep, lifelong friendships. This is the ultimate goal for all pet families – good luck with yours!