There are people proud to call themselves Team Dog and others firmly on the feline side of things, but the world doesn’t have to be split into dog people and cat people. In fact, if you’re an animal lover, you probably appreciate the jolly innocence of dogs just as much as a cat’s independent charm. You love them both, and you want both your dog and your cat to live peacefully by your side.
But before you all live happily ever after, you have to get past the first introductions. How you introduce a dog to a cat will set the stage for their future relationship. You want to do everything you can to foster a good bond between furry friends, and here’s how to do it.
First, think about personalities.
Regardless of species, personality matters most when making new friends. If the personalities don’t mesh, it doesn’t matter how well the introduction goes. You can’t force two opposite temperaments to get along. This is an important lesson to remember when you want to introduce a dog to a cat. Whether you’ve had your dog for years and want to add a cat to the mix or vice versa, everyone will get along better if their personalities complement each other.
American Humane points out that a fearful cat will not like a rambunctious dog. At the same time, a timid dog won’t appreciate sharing space with an outgoing cat. It doesn’t matter that one likes bones and the other prefers catnip mice; it’ll be conflicting personalities that cause trouble. Before you sign the adoption papers for your new pet, take time to get to know them. If you have a playful dog at home, he’ll do best with a confident cat that can stand her ground. If your older pup is more laid back, he might appreciate a feline friend that enjoys relaxing as much as he does.
Now, brush up on dog and cat body language.
When you introduce a dog to a cat, understanding body language is key. How the animals move their ears, tails, and eyes will tell you whether you have fast friends or weary strangers. You need to be fluent in both canine and feline body language to interpret what’s happening and know what to do next.
A swishing tail, pinned ears, and an arched back are all signs a cat is either irritated, afraid, or uncomfortable. They’re warning signs the cat might lash out with claws extended or run and hide. If your new kitty displays this kind of body language when meeting your dog, don’t panic. It’s not the end of the road, but it means you’ll have to spend a little more time in forging this new friendship.
You want your cat to show confident body language. Her body should be loose with ears in a naturally pricked position. If she slow blinks and has narrow pupils, that’s also a good sign she’s not feeling any stress.
Whether your dog is the resident pet or the new addition, you need to know about his prey drive. Certain dog breeds are known for loving the thrill of the chase, and introducing a small animal might not be an option for them. These breeds have been brought up to be hunters, and it’s in their blood to want to chase, capture, and sometimes kill small creatures. If your dog attempts to chase birds or squirrels, there’s a good chance he’ll see a cat as potential prey. There are ways to curb a dog’s high prey drive, but you’ll have to be extra cautious when introducing a prey-driven dog to a cat.
If the dog looks at the cat and his body seems stiff or frozen and his eyes are unblinking, he’s overly fixated. He might bark or whine and refuse to take his eyes away from the cat. This kind of body language is a warning sign. Don’t let the dog near the cat while this is happening. You want his body language to be loose and relaxed, and you’ll have to work with him until that happens.
How to Introduce a Dog to a Cat
1. Start With Smells
When you first bring your new addition home, give her a chance to explore the house on her own. She’ll smell the other animal that lives there, but try to arrange for your resident pet to be out of the building. Entering a new place is stressful enough without being faced with making a new friend right away.
Once she’s taken her tour, start your introduction between dog and cat through smell. Get the cat settled in a bedroom or another room that’s easily closed off. Close the door and let the dog approach. Both the dog and cat will smell each other, but they won’t see each other. Watch their body language for signs of over-excitement or discomfort. If they act calm and content, reward them with pets, praise, and treats.
If the dog obsessively barks, whines, or scratches at the door, work with him to pull his focus. Try to distract him with a training session or meal time. Don’t move on to step two until he’s no longer obsessed with the door.
2. Add in Sight
How long your pets stay separated behind the door depends on how they react to each other. When both parties seem relatively relaxed (a little excited is okay), move them to an area where they can see each other, but there’s still separation. A gate or screen door will work best.
Have a friend stay on one side with the cat while you hold your dog’s leash. If you introduce a dog to a cat outside, the cat should also have a harness and leash in case she gets spooked and runs away. Watch their body language again and go through the same process you did in step one. Test the dog by trying to take his focus away from the cat. If you can get him to look at you fairly easily, that’s a good sign. If you can’t, move him backward until you find the threshold where he sees the cat but isn’t obsessed. Praise and reward him at this distance before taking a few steps closer. Go slowly, and don’t rush the process. You want your dog to focus mainly on you and not the cat.
3. Meet Whisker to Whisker
Finally, remove the barrier. Keep your dog on a leash as you let him approach the cat. Carefully watch for body language and be ready to separate the two if a fight seems imminent. Cats aren’t as big a threat to dogs as dogs are to cats, but those claws can still do damage. Watch your cat for signs of stress and remove the dog if you need to.
As long as everyone seems happy and friendly, dole out praise and rewards. You want to create positive associations all around, and eventually, your dog and cat will learn having the other around means good things happen.
It might take a few days, or even a few weeks, to successfully introduce a dog to a cat, but don’t rush. It’s okay to move backward through the steps if you need to, and don’t feel discouraged if your dog and cat don’t become instant best friends. Supervise their interactions for several weeks to make sure everyone gets along. Bonds between pets take time, and your realistic goal is to have everyone feeling safe and stress-free in your home. Contact a professional trainer for help if you can’t seem to get your dog and cat on friendly terms.