Despite how we say they “fight like cats and dogs”, our furry friends can actually be the best of buddies if they’re carefully introduced to one another. Plenty of cats and dogs live together in harmony, despite the stereotype that these animals are sworn enemies!
How you introduce a dog to a cat will lay the foundation for their future relationship. A safe and slow introduction between a cat and dog will maximise your chances of ensuring your furry family members become firm friends.
Not all dogs and cats get along though. Whether Fido and feline can live together will depend on each animal’s individual personality, their past experiences, and how they are introduced to one another. But hopefully with these tips on how to introduce a dog to a cat, you can form a friendship between your furballs. (Or at least teach them they can live peacefully together.)
What if my dog doesn’t like cats?
Some dogs just don’t like cats, or have a really strong prey drive that could put a cat in danger. Similarly, some cats just do not like dogs, and they might be fearful of even the most calm and friendly pooch.
If you already have a dog at home who doesn’t like cats and you want to introduce a new pet, you really should think about if it’s a sensible thing to do. Take into consideration the age, breed, and personality of your pets and whether it’s likely that they’ll tolerate a newcomer.
If you already own both a dog and a cat, but the pair have had a rocky relationship, it’s best to go back to basics and reintroduce them to one another. This way, you can hopefully provide positive reinforcement that teaches your pets to tolerate each other and live together peacefully. Your cat and dog might never be the best of friends, but they could still learn to live safely and comfortably together.
And remember if you don’t seem to be making progress or are struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your vet or a canine or feline behaviourist, and they’ll be able to provide you with advice and assistance to help your cat and dog to get along better than… Well, better than a cat and dog.
How to introduce a dog to a cat
Whether you have a grown dog or a young puppy, you should approach introducing them to a cat in the same ways.
And regardless of whether you have the dog first, or the cat, how you introduce a dog to a cat will be the same. There are a few steps you can take to prepare your pets for meeting one another and tolerating the changes in their home.
You also need to remember that introducing a dog to a cat can take a long time, so remember to be patient and take things slowly!
Step 1: Create a safe space
You will need to make sure both your dog and cat have somewhere safe to go for time alone if they need it. This will reduce stress in your pets because they know they can escape a stressful situation and find a safe place to settle without distraction or interruption.
You could also try using a pet-safe diffuser which releases “pet-appeasing pheromones” designed to relieve anxiety and relax your dog or cat.
Your dog’s space
You can set up a room for your dog with their bed, toys, and a crate. This gives them a cosy den to hide in if they want some time alone.
If you’ve had your dog for a while, make sure this safe space is inside whatever room they usually sleep in, so you aren’t disrupting their routine and causing unnecessary stress.
Your cat’s space
If you can, you should set up a room for your cat too, giving them a place to escape to for some time alone. Make sure everything they need is in that safe room, including a bed, scratching pole or cat tree, food and water bowls, toys, and a litter tray.
If your cat is an adult, put a baby gate in the doorway so your dog can’t get into your cat’s safe space. (Your cat will still be able to get in and out.)
If you’re bringing a kitten home, a baby gate won’t be able to keep them separate from the dog, so you’ll need to make sure you keep them in a secure room. Get a pet carrier or a small dog crate that your kitten can be kept inside safely and put this in their safe room so they can get used to going in and out of it, because you will need to use this later when introducing them to your dog.
If you’ve had your cat for a while, use a room you know they’re already comfortable in as their safe space. Meanwhile, if you’re bringing home a new cat, providing them with a safe room gives them a secure and safe area to get used to their new surroundings.
You should also make sure you have high places like cat trees or cat shelves in other rooms of your house. This is because cats like to go to high places when they’re stressed or nervous, so providing a high spot for them to jump up to will help to keep them calm and prevent them from feeling trapped.
Step 2: Swap smells
Scent swapping is a great way to get your dog and cat to start identifying each other without overstimulating them. You can even do this before you bring your new pet home!
Take a soft cloth and gently stroke it along the head and body of your cat, so you now have a cat-scented cloth. Then use a different cloth to stroke your dog, giving you a doggy-scented cloth.
You should then give your pet the cloth that smells of the other animal. This means the cat can start to smell the dog’s scent, and the dog can sniff the cat’s, all without the stress of meeting face-to-face.
If you’re bringing home a new cat or dog in the future, try to visit your new pet and give them a cloth that smells of the pet you already have at home. You should also stroke your new pet with a cloth which you can take home for the other animal to smell. This means they can start to get to know one another before you even have to worry about bringing them home.
Step 3: Bringing your new pet home
When you first bring your new cat or dog home, you must keep them separate from one another for a few days. Keep your cat in their safe room, or your dog in theirs. They shouldn’t meet face-to-face for at least a few days, or even a week.
By keeping your cat in a secure room with a baby gate, your dog and cat will be able to see, hear, and smell one another but won’t be able to get too close. This will help to desensitise your pets to one another, being able to watch and get used to one another without the stress of a face-to-face meeting.
Scent swapping is still important at this stage, so keep stroking your pets with soft cloths and swapping them so your cat and dog can identify each other’s smells and get to know one another before their first face-to-face interaction.
Depending on whether you had the cat or dog first, stroke a soft cloth on your newest pet, then rub the cloth on areas around your home. This will start to introduce the smell into the environment, and it means your pooch can sniff it and get used to the idea that they’re sharing their home.
As well as swapping cloths, you can simply stroke your cat or dog, then without washing your hands in between, go and stroke your other pet. This will also introduce their smells to one another.
Step 4: Prepare to introduce your dog to a cat
Finally, it’s time to introduce your dog to your cat. But before you set up any social interaction between your pets, make sure you take your dog outside for a walk to get rid of any excess energy and excitement.
The calmer and more relaxed your pets are, the less likely they are to react boisterously, anxiously, or aggressively.
Keep your dog on their lead once you’re back inside the house, because this will stop them from being able to chase the cat. Preventing chasing is crucial if you want your pets to get along because even if your dog doesn’t mean any harm, chasing the cat will scare it and your feline won’t want to approach the dog again.
You will also need to keep some tasty treats on you so that you can reward your dog’s calm behaviour and provide positive reinforcement.
Step 5: Introductions
First introductions are important, and to maximise your chance of success, you need to take things slowly. You should also allow your dog and cat to meet for the first time in a safe space free of distractions or loud noises that might cause additional stress.
Let your pets meet in a common area first. Don’t use either your dog or cat’s safe spaces for a first meeting, because you need to keep these areas separate.
At first you will still need to keep your dog and cat separate. Keep your cat in their safe room behind the babygate, or if you have a new kitten, keep them inside a pet carrier or small dog crate. If you have a kitten in a crate, keep your dog further away at first so you don’t overwhelm them, because the kitten might feel trapped if your dog gets too close.
Sit outside the room or crate with your dog, keeping your dog on a lead. Let your pets watch each other from a safe distance. However, if your dog starts to stare, distract their focus with a command, toy, or a treat.
If your dog behaves calmly, staying quiet or moving to sit or lie down, make sure you reward and praise them. This teaches them that you want them to be calm around the cat, and it associates the presence of your cat with good things. You should also reward your dog whenever they look away from the cat too, because this reinforces the idea they shouldn’t focus and stare at the cat.
On the other hand, if your dog starts to get excited or restless, or if they pull on the lead or start whining and barking, take them further away and distract them. Try asking them to sit, or paw, so they have something else to think about. Again, praise your pooch and give them toys or treats if their focus shifts away from the cat and they do as you ask.
However, if your dog doesn’t calm down though, or won’t be distracted from the cat, end the session and separate your pets.
You must keep these first meetings short and positive.
If you suspect your dog or cat is getting restless, anxious, or aggressive, it’s always better to end the session early before they can get worked up. (This keeps the meeting and their relationship positive!)
Although if your dog or cat does show any signs of stress or fear, stay calm. Simply end the interaction and separate them again.
It’s important not to shout or scold your pets if they hiss or bark at one another, as this introduces negative associations with one another.
If you do need to end the interaction early, continue scent-swapping and just try again the next day, taking things even slower or giving your pets more space.
Try to let your dog and cat meet a few times a day, gradually increasing the time they spend together, or getting closer to one another as your pets get more confident. Keep doing this every day!
Remember, there’s no time limit to introducing a dog to a cat. Be patient and focus on creating a safe and positive environment for both your pets and take things at their pace.
Note: Never force it!
Never force your pets to get close to one another, as this will only cause stress and undo all of the hard work you’ve done trying to build up their confidence.
If you’ve got a cat, don’t pick them up and hold them near the dog. Being held and confined will make your cat feel trapped and anxious, and they might scratch or bite you to try and escape.
Similarly, don’t bring your dog too close to your cat unless you’re sure your dog is calm and the cat is confident, otherwise your dog might become overexcited or anxious and behave boisterously, scaring your cat away.
It’s best to keep your dog on a lead and close to you, and to let your cat approach the dog in their own time. This will build up your cat’s confidence whilst you work on making sure your dog learns to stay calm.
This is because most dogs are easily trained and know a “sit” or “down”, so it's easier to distract them or control them compared to cats. Dogs are generally more confident and social than cats too, which is why it’s best to take introductions at your cat’s pace.
But remember your dog can still get anxious as well, so keep an eye on their body language and make sure they’re comfortable too!
Step 6: Giving them more freedom
As your dog and cat become more used to one another, you can give them a little more freedom to interact with one another and to explore the house.
At first you will still need to keep your dog on a lead in the house to prevent them from chasing the cat, or keep them in a dog crate if you can’t supervise them closely.
Let your cat have the opportunity to explore the house, smelling where the dog has been, and let them approach your dog if they want to.
Once your cat seems confident around the dog, and your dog seems calm around the cat, you can put your dog on a houseline lead. This is a thin, lightweight lead that trails behind your dog, so it won’t disturb your pup as they do their doggy things, but you can step on it or grab it if you need to stop them from chasing the cat. (Or to stop them doing anything else they shouldn’t be!)
Eventually, you can get rid of the lead altogether. Just make sure you have plenty of high places your cat can escape to, and that you’re always there to supervise your pets. Never leave your dog and cat alone together unsupervised until you’re certain they’re comfortable and safe with one another.
Final note: take things slowly
Introducing a dog to a cat could take anywhere from a few days to a few months. The time it takes will vary depending on your pet’s personalities and how well introductions go. However, there is no time limit to introducing your pets, and it’s better to take things slowly, steadily, and safely.
Controlled introductions like this might take longer, but they’re much easier and more successful than trying to fix a damaged relationship between your dog and your cat. It’s also always better to be safe than sorry!
Taking your time and even doing things slower than you need to is much better than rushing things and making a bad first impression that could imprint fear into your cat, or reinforce your dog’s instinct to chase the cat.
If you’re struggling or don’t seem to be making progress, don’t be afraid to ask for help. We all need help from time to time, and introducing a dog to a cat is a tricky task!
Your vet, a canine behaviourist, or a feline behaviourist should be able to give you the advice and assistance you need to help introduce your dog and cat and teach them to live peacefully together.