Introducing Your New Dog
Dogs and cats can usually live together peacefully, although creating a harmonious “blended family” requires some planning, patience, and careful guidance on your part. In some cases your dog and cat will become best friends. When introducing a new dog into your house, you must remember that dogs can kill a cat very easily, even if they are only playing. Sometimes all it takes is one shake by the dog, and the cat’s neck can break. Some dogs have a very high prey drive and should never be left alone with your cat.
When you introduce pets to each other, one of them may send “play” signals that can be misinterpreted by the other pet. If those signals are interpreted as aggression by one animal, then you should handle the situation as “aggressive”.
Before bringing a dog into a home with an existing cat, be sure to do the following:
Create a safe place for your cat, where the new dog cannot get to it (use a baby gate or a cat door). Your cat should have a “safe” location in every room, even if it is only the top of a bookcase.
Put your cat’s litter box in a safe area. Many dogs eat cat feces, and if the dog ambushes the cat in the litter box, the cat may become afraid and relieve himself elsewhere in the house.
Keep the cat’s food and water dishes in a safe area as well. Cat food is too rich for dogs, and dog food lacks vital nutrients for cats’ eyesight and heart function.
Figure out if your new dog understands basic commands, such as “sit”, “stay” and “leave it”. This will be helpful with the introductions.
Beforehand, exercise your dog and feed him a nice meal; this will help the dog to get into a relaxed mood.
Put the cat in a safe place, and let the dog roam the house for about 30-45 minutes; this allows for the dog to “meet” the cat by smell only. Then take the dog out for a walk and let the cat “meet” the dog by smell only.
Put your dog on a short leash, or you can attach the dog’s leash to your belt (for the first few days, if necessary) – this will allow you to make a quick correction if he starts to chase the cat. It will also allow you to bond with your dog… everywhere you go he goes!
Put your cat in her carrier if she’s typically skittish; otherwise, let her walk around. Be ready with lots of treats for good behavior.
The cat’s first reaction will likely be to hiss and/or run… this is perfectly normal.
Let dog and cat check each other out at a distance. Pet and talk to your dog soothingly. It’s not time for dog to approach cat just yet. Give your dog and cat some treats and praise as rewards.
If your dog bolts toward your cat, correct him with the leash, and use the “sit” or “leave it” commands. If he shows any signs of excessive excitability, calm him. If this doesn’t do the trick, cut the visit short and try again later. Praise the dog (or give a treat) the moment that he complies and stops trying to get the cat.
Repeat these short visits several times a day, gradually giving your dog more leash as appropriate.
DO NOT MOVE TO THE NEXT PHASE UNTIL YOU HAVE SEVERAL CONSECUTIVE DAYS OF INCIDENT-FREE VISITS, IN WHICH BOTH ANIMALS DEMONSTRATE TO YOUR SATISFACTION THAT THEY ARE COMFORTABLE WITH EACH OTHER.
Proceed with Caution:
Once your dog and cat consistently get along during leashed visits, you’re ready for the next step. Let go of the leash, but be prepared to grab it or step on it if he attempts to go after the cat. If the cat swats the dog on the nose, distract the dog with a toy, but don’t punish the cat. Many times, all it takes is one swat from the cat for a dog to learn his lesson.
Be sure to speak in a calm and soothing voice, and use both animals’ names. If there are any accidents, simply clean it up using an enzymatic cleanser or white vinegar.
Take your dog off the leash, and supervise the two closely. If you see problems, and they don’t resolve with a few simple voice commands, go back to the previous phase for a few days. Gradually make the no-leash sessions longer. Do not leave the cat and dog alone until you’re sure they’re both fully comfortable with each other and there will be no trouble.
Until you know that your dog and cat will be OK when feeding, a trick you can use is to separate them, on either side of a door. This will allow them to associate something enjoyable with the other’s “smell” while eating.
Swap their bedding, so that they will get used to the other’s “smell”.
Be sure that the animals are healthy and that you are aware of any medical problems, otherwise this could prolong the introduction process.
If you are introducing a dog into a household with a kitten, use extra caution. A kitten is more likely to be injured by a young, energetic dog or a predatory dog.
When introducing a puppy to a household with a cat, a well-socialized cat will typically be able to deal with a puppy. If you have a shy cat, be more cautious, as a puppy will not understand that the cat does not want to play.
If introductions don’t go smoothly, seek professional help immediately (click here for our Training page). Your pets can be severely injured in fights, and the longer the problem continues, the harder it can be to resolve. Conflicts between pets in the same family can often be resolved with professional help… punishment will not work, and could make things worse.
Now, with all of this in mind, hopefully everything goes very smoothly for you and your pets… so relax and give those guys some hugs!
Whether you already have a dog and are considering getting a cat, or vice versa, it is very important to think about their first introduction. By letting a loose cat and an off-leash dog meet each other in an open room for the first time, you are probably setting up both animals to fail. Instead, plan ahead and take your time.
Matching Cats and Dogs
- If you’re thinking of getting a cat for your dog or a dog for your cat, it’s important to consider both animals’ personalities. It may be helpful to look for a companion that has already been exposed to the other species in the past.
- If a dog attempts to aggressively chase, pin, pick up or otherwise “manhandle” any cat, it is best to not even consider getting a cat — or at least to proceed with caution. Additionally, a dog who growls, lunges at or obsessively barks at a cat would probably do best in a cat-free environment. Likewise, a cat who growls, swats at, runs from or hides from dogs would probably prefer to not live with a dog.
- If a dog loves chasing things, then a fearful, shy cat who runs away probably wouldn’t be the best choice, as it could trigger the dog to chase. Similarly, an energetic cat who runs and pounces would fall into this same category. A better match here would be a calm, confident cat who will not run (in fear or play).
- If a dog plays roughly, it is best to avoid kittens or elderly cats who can easily be hurt. Instead, stick to playful adults who are interested in play, but are also confident enough to take care of themselves. If a cat is rambunctious or playful, a dog that is playful, but gentle, could be a great option.
- If a dog or cat is elderly, laid back, quiet or anxious, then a calm counterpart would be best. Avoid rambunctious companions who may annoy, frighten or otherwise bother the other pet.
The Introduction Process
Regardless of whether you are getting a new cat or a new dog, the first introduction between your current pet and your new pet is a very important part of the process. Here are four steps that can help you ensure a successful meeting:
Step 1: Choose the proper location for the first meeting
- Resident cat to new dog: If you are adopting a dog, you should not take your cat to meet him at a shelter, or other establishment which houses a number of animals for health and safety reasons. Instead, the introduction should take place at home.
- Resident dog to new cat: If you are adopting a cat, do not take your dog into a shelter and expose him to the cats, as this can be highly stressful or traumatic for all of the cats. Also, it is not necessarily a good indicator of how the dog will react at home. Instead, ask the shelter’s adoption counselors whether they have any dog-savvy, confident cats they will allow to meet your dog under controlled conditions. If this is not possible, an alternative would be to have your dog meet a dog-savvy cat who belongs to a friend or relative. As a last resort, you can bring your new kitty home and do an introduction at home.
Step 2: Separate the animals
- Across a few days, rotate which animal has freedom and which is confined to allow each animal plenty of time to investigate the other one’s scent.
- Sometimes the dog should be confined to a crate or another room (or taken to another location if he can’t be left alone) to allow the cat time to roam free and investigate the smell of the dog.
- If the dog obsessively digs at the separation barrier or barks at the cat for more than a day or two, the interaction likely won’t work without proper training. You may need the help of a professional.
- When no one is home, the dog or cat must always be securely confined so unsupervised interactions are not possible.
- Once the dog is calm (or at least not obsessed with the cat) and the cat is calm, eating and using the litter box normally, you can proceed to the next step.
Step 3: Make leashed introductions
- Allow both animals to be in the same room at the same time, but keep the dog securely leashed.
- Continue with this type of introduction until the dog is calm and ignores the cat, and the cat is calm, eating and using the litter box normally.
- If there is any fear or aggression displayed on either animal’s part, stay at step 2 longer.
- Continue indefinitely until both the dog and cat seem happy and relaxed around each other.
- When no one is home, the dog or cat should be securely confined to separate areas so unsupervised interactions are not possible.
Step 4: Allow unsupervised interactions
- Unsupervised time together can occur after the cat and dog have been supervised around each other for a significant period of time (a month or so) and you are positive they will not hurt each other.
If the dog stares at the cat or the door separating the cat, try to distract him and get him to look away with treats, a happy voice or by gently guiding the dog away on a leash. Once the dog is away from the cat, try offering a treat. If he takes it, repeat this process until he is no longer focused on the cat or door.
Can cats get along with dogs? The answer is simply yes, says Dr. Liz Bales, a Philadelphia veterinarian. As long as pet parents take their time and follow a few simple rules for introducing cats to dogs, there’s no reason why felines and canines can’t develop a harmonious relationship.
Keep Them Separated
If you are bringing a new dog or cat into your home, it’s important that the pet gets adjusted to a new space without the added stress of additional animals right away. In this instance, Bales suggests keeping the cat in a separate environment with plenty of stimulation for several days.
A closed bedroom or large bathroom decked out with scratching posts, toys, food, water and the litter box is the perfect option for a new cat. Be sure to also give him a lot of attention during this time. If you’re bringing home a new dog, consider keeping your existing cat in a separate portion of the house and follow crate-training protocol with the dog.
Bales suggests placing some of each animal’s personal items—like beds—in the other animal’s space during this time period so that the cat and the dog become accustomed to each other’s scents. You can repeat this process until it’s no longer stressful for both animals. Once your cat is calm, eating well, and using the litter box consistently, it’s time to make the introductions.
Keep the First Meeting Quick
When you are ready to introduce your cat to your dog, make the initial meeting a quick one—approximately ten minutes. Keep the dog on a leash and allow the cat to roam around and venture as close to the dog as he or she wishes. Use a head collar (halter) on your dog if there is a chance that you may not be in complete control of the situation. Reward your dog with treats and praise for calm behavior around the cat.
As long as the process is going smoothly, gradually increase the time the animals spend together. Once you feel comfortable, allow your dog to also move around freely, but keep his or her leash attached so that you can quickly regain control if needed. Be patient—it may take weeks or even months for cats and dogs to finally accept each other and be comfortable.
Consider Your Pet’s Personality
Dr. Lisa Radosta, a board certified veterinary behaviorist in West Palm Beach, Florida, says that your cat or dog’s personality is a good predictor of his or her ability to get along with another pet.
“If your cat has lived with dogs previously and is confident around other animals, you are likely to have an easy transition,” she said. “However, if your cat puffs up, hisses, or runs from other animals, you will have a more difficult time.”
Dr. Radosta also says to consider your dog’s personality. “Is he playful but not aggressive? Dogs with this temperament will more easily adapt to a cat. The dog who is lunging, growling, and difficult to control may never be safe with your cat. If this is the case, consult your veterinarian.”
If your cat is the confident type and your dog is the easygoing type, it is best to let your cat handle things. Even then, however, the meeting should not be free-for-all. “Put your cat on a higher surface than the dog and put your dog on the leash for the meeting,” Dr. Radosta said.
Supervision is Key
Keep your cat and dog separated when you cannot directly supervise them until you are fully confident that they present no risk, Dr. Radosta said. The safest way to do this is to keep your dog in a crate.
“Even a dog who simply wants to play can seriously or fatally injure a cat,” she said. “Dogs can jump over or bust through baby gates leaving cats in a dangerous situation.”
Likewise, you’ll want to provide your cat with a safe place where he or she can escape the dog. This could be a cat tree that the dog cannot climb or a separate room with a cat door installed. “Once cats run, dogs chase. It is very important to prevent this at all costs,” Dr. Radosta said.
Brush Up on Your Dog’s Skills
In order to help your cat feel safe, your dog has to be under control. He will need to know basic commands such as “leave it,” “sit,” and “stay.” Before the first introduction, make sure to spend time practicing commands with your dog and keep treats handy so that you can reward your dog for good behavior. “When your dog sees the cat, ask him to sit and reward him,” Dr. Radosta said.
If the only thing your dog has to do is chase your cat, chasing your cat is going to be his favorite activity.
“Keep your dog very well exercised and busy by using food toys and rotating his toys so that he is constantly occupied,” she said. “You can even reserve these fun activities for times when your cat is loose in the house.”
Long walks and daily exercise can also help your dog burn off energy—making meetings with the family cat less crazy.
You never know which pet is going to be the leader of the pack, but taking the steps to properly introduce a cat to a dog—and practicing patience—will help things run smoothly in your blended-pet household.
Free-ranging and feral cats lead complex and busy lives. They maintain far larger territories than most people realize, and these territories often contain a variety of environments, such as forests, farmlands, urban gardens and yards. Within these territories, cats explore, hunt and scavenge for food alone. They only occasionally interact with other cats. They don’t live in groups or even pairs, and they don’t seek out contact with other cats. In fact, they actively avoid it. Considering this natural behavior of cats, it isn’t surprising that it can be very difficult to introduce a new cat into an established cat’s territory, even when that territory is your home.
If you’re bringing a new cat into your home, be patient. The introduction must be gradual. Following the initial introduction, it can take a very long time for a relationship to grow. It takes most cats eight to 12 months to develop a friendship with a new cat. Although some cats certainly become close friends, others never do. Many cats who don’t become buddies learn to avoid each other, but some cats fight when introduced and continue to do so until one of the cats must be re-homed.
If your resident cat becomes aggressive when she sees other cats outside your home, you’ll probably have a difficult time introducing a new cat into your household. If your cat has lived harmoniously with other cats in the past, the odds are good that she’ll adjust to a newcomer. However, it’s impossible to predict whether or not any two individual cats will get along.
Unfortunately, there are no reliable guides for deciding the best matches among cats. Some cats are very social and enjoy living with other cats, while others prefer solitary lives. The individual personalities of the cats are more important than any other factor, such as sex, age or size. Be aware that the more cats you have, the higher the likelihood that there will be conflicts among them.
How to manage introductions
Step 1: Controlling first impressions
The first impression a new cat makes when she meets your resident cat is critical. If two cats display aggression during their first meeting, this may set the mood for their future relationship. For this reason, it’s best to separate your resident cat from your new cat when you first bring her home so that you can control their initial meeting.
The two cats should be able to smell and hear—but not see or touch—each other. Each cat should have her own food and water bowl, litter box, scratching post, bed, etc. Feed the cats near the door that separates them so they learn that coming together (even though they can’t see each other) results in a pleasant experience. In addition to regular cat food, feed the cats extra-special treats near the door as well, like tiny pieces of tuna, salmon, cheese, chicken or liver.
After two to three days, switch the cats’ locations so they can investigate each other’s smell. This also allows the new cat to explore a different section of your home. Some behaviorists suggest rubbing the cats separately with the same towel to intermix their scents. First gently rub one cat with the towel. Then rub the other cat. After the towel carries both cats’ scents, bring the towel back to the first cat and rub her with it again. After a few more days, play with each of the cats near the door. Encourage them to paw at toys under the door. Eventually the cats may play “paws” under the door with each other.
Step 2: Letting the cats see each other
After a week or so, assuming that you see no signs of aggression at the door (no hissing, growling, etc.), you can introduce the cats to each other. One method is to replace the door with a temporary screen door so that the cats can see each other. If you can’t use a screen door, you can try using two baby gates positioned in the door jam, one above the other.
Ask a friend or family member to help you with the introduction. Have one cat and one person on each side of the door, and start the introduction by setting each cat down a few feet away from the screen or gates. When the cats notice each other, say their names and toss treats to them, aiming the treats behind them. Over the next few days, continue to encourage feeding, eating treats and playing near the barrier, gradually offering the cats’ meals, treats and toys closer to the screen.
Step 3: Letting the cats spend time together
The next stage is to permit the cats to spend time together without a barrier between them. Supervise these initial face-to-face interactions carefully.
It’s good to bring the cats together when they are likely to be relatively calm, such as after a meal or strenuous play. Keep a squirt bottle handy in case the cats begin to fight. As the cats become more familiar with each other, allow them longer and longer periods of time together. If one cat spends most of her time hiding, or if one cat continuously harasses and pursues the other, please consult a professional.
If you’re bringing a new cat into a household with multiple cats, introduce each resident cat to the newcomer individually. After each of your cats has met the new cat one-on-one, you can start to allow all of the cats to mingle as a group.
Your cats will be more likely to get along if they’re happy in their environment. Look at the layout of your home. Make sure there are plenty of hiding spots for your cats. Some like to sit up high, on shelves and on kitty condo perches. Frightened cats, on the other hand, tend to hide under and behind things, so make sure you provide spots at floor level as well. Place food, water and litter boxes out in the open so your cats don’t feel trapped when they access these resources. Make sure you have a litter box for each cat, plus at least one extra.
Did you know that that cats and dogs don’t have to know each other from kittenhood and puppyhood to be able to live together? It is definitely possible to successfully introduce an adult dog into a cat household, and even for the two to eventually become pals. So if you’re an animal lover with a cat already in your home, it is still possible for you to adopt or foster a dog! Here are some tips and tricks to help facilitate successful introductions.
First, set up your cat for success! Before your bring a dog into your home, you can work on the following with your cat:
- Place the litter box, cat food and water in a safe space, where the dog cannot access it.
- Create high, safe spaces in your home that your dog cannot reach. You can use tall cat trees or install fun shelving on the walls for your cat to climb. Ideally, your cat would be able to get from one end of a room to the other without having to touch the ground. This allows your cat to observe and get used to the presence of a dog without feeling like they are in danger. This also provides your kitty with much more space as well as an easy escape route if they become overwhelmed.
- Even dogs that can be great with cats will chase anything that runs away, so work on building confidence in your cat! This can be done by spending lots of time playing with your cat, in addition to providing lots of vertical space and escape routes.
Second, take your time finding the right dog that is the right fit for your family!
- Ideally, you should select a dog that has had prior experience with cats. If this is not possible, it would be wise to choose one that has tested well with cats at the shelter. Although testing well with cats at the shelter doesn’t always translate to doing well with cats in the home, it can be a helpful indicator.
- If you have a senior cat at home, it may be a good idea to look for a more mellow, lower energy dog that won’t play too rough.
- Curiosity and chasing can be worked on, but if a dog is lunging aggressively towards cats and shows strong prey drive, it probably isn’t a good dog to bring into a home with your cat.
- Rotate the animals in the house for a few days to get them used to each other’s scent – keep them from seeing each other by keeping the cat in a room during the day, and allowing the dog the rest of the space. At night, keep the dog in a room, and give the cat free run of the house to explore the exciting new scents.
- It’s critical to work on very strong basic cues with your dog, such as “leave it” or “wait” and to develop a very solid recall, so that you can recall the dog if it gets too interested in the cat. Berkeley Humane offers all sorts of training classes that would be helpful, you can see a full list of classes here.
Third, make sure the first introductions takes place in a calm, controlled environment.
- During the first introduction, the dog should be leashed and under control. Its best that the introduction take place when both animals are calm, and in an area where the cat has vertical space to perch up high.
- Give your dog plenty of treats and if it gets too focused on the cat, recall its attention. Do your best to ensure that both animals get used to being relaxed in the same space together. These leashed interactions should happen for several days without incident before you allow unleashed interactions. If you are away, make sure to keep the dog in an exercise pen, crate, or separate room where it cannot be alone with the cat.
Fourth, move on to supervised unleashed interactions
- Once a week or more of leashed interactions go by with out any alarming occurrences, you are ready for supervised, unleashed interactions.
- Keep a vigilant eye out for any signs of rising tension, and continue to treat the dog and keep the interactions calm and mellow. Do not hesitate separating the two again if you feel that they are not ready for this step.
Finally, unsupervised interactions!
- After a month or more of supervised, off leash interactions go without incident, you may be able to start leaving the two alone together. Start with shorter periods of time, and work your way up. Of course, you are the best judge of your dog and cat. Keep an eye out on body language and warning signs, and don’t hesitate to start separating the two if you have any doubts.
Signs to look out for:
- Dog getting overly focused in on the cat. Break the focus by recalling and rewarding with treats. If recall doesn’t work, physically body block the cat from the dog to break focus.
- Keep an eye out on your cat’s eating, drinking, and litter box habits. If these habits are not normal or don’t go back to normal after an adjustment period, your cat may be stressed.
- Be observant of body language and watch for aggression. This can go both ways – if your cat is continually acting out against a completely calm dog, and it is being properly exercised and has plenty of safe spaces to retreat, you may not have a dog-friendly cat.
Though it may seem daunting at first, once you get started the process will feel somewhat intuitive. Introducing a dog into your feline family can be a wonderful, rewarding experience for everyone involved.
If you’re interested in adopting a dog, check out our adoptable dogs here! Click here more information on volunteering as a foster.
Tips for introducing your newest member of the household.
It’s exciting to add a cuddly new pet to your life, except maybe when you have to introduce it to another pet that has already staked claim to your home. That’s especially true if one’s a dog and the other’s a cat. But whether you’re introducing a new dog to your cats — or a new cat to your dogs — it doesn’t have to be hard. Here is some expert advice to help keep peace during the transition.
Watch the Dog
If there’s going to be a problem during cat and dog introductions, says Katherine A. Houpt, James Law Professor of Behavior Medicine – Emeritus at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, it’s usually caused by the dog.
Most dogs will chase a rapidly moving object. So if a cat gets frightened and runs, “a dog often feels honor-bound to chase it,” Houpt says. “It’s important to nip that in the bud.” If you don’t, the result can be injury, and even death, for the cat.
- Make sure your cat can run and hide if it wants to. Whether your cat is the newbie or the senior pet in the house, the cat needs to be able to move freely when the introduction is made. Christopher Pachel, DVM, a veterinarian who focuses on animal behavior issues says there should be perches or cubbies for hiding, someplace where the cat can get off the floor and settle in. “You basically want an elevated resting place [for the cat].”
- Make sure your puppy or dog is well restrained. Your dog shouldn’t be able to chase, even if the cat darts away. “This is a bigger issue with herding breed dogs, who have a prey instinct,” Pachel says. “But it’s really a hardwired response in all dogs to chase small fluffy things that run away quickly.”
- Consider baby gates. Gates can help you gradually introduce dogs and cats, and the barrier minimizes danger to the cat. Houpt says a baby gate is often better than a cat carrier because it gives the cat much-needed freedom.
Age Can Make a Difference
When introducing a new pet to the household, youth can be a virtue. That’s because puppies are much less dangerous to adult cats, and kittens can be quite fearless with adult dogs, Houpt says.
The same safety rules still apply, though. When adding a kitten or puppy, you may want to enforce separation longer or extend your period of supervision. That’s because kittens tend to scurry (an enticing behavior for dogs) and puppies “are just goofy and will want to pester the cat,” Pachel says.
Here are four common mistakes you don’t want to make when introducing cats and dogs:
- Forcing physical proximity: Picking up your cat and holding it in your dog’s face by way of introduction will tempt your cat to scratch the dog and encourage the dog to not like the cat. Always let kitty decide when or if it will approach the dog.
- Not knowing the background of the dog you adopt. Adopting a dog from a shelter is often a wonderful idea, especially if you don’t have other pets. But Houpt notes that people rarely know a shelter dog’s past. “If a 2-year-old dog is looking for a home, there’s usually a good reason,” Houpt says. In some cases, the dog may be aggressive, destructive, or have other problems. If you want to bring a canine into a feline household, Houpt usually recommends getting a puppy.
- Not preparing your pet for change: Pachel suggests making changes — like moving your cat’s litter box, putting up a baby gate, or closing certain doors — before you bring your new pet home. That way, your long-time pet has a chance to get used to the changes before the new pet shows up.
- Not thinking about your pet’s reaction. Try to think about the changes you’re making in your home from your pet’s perspective. For example, be aware that if you move the litter box and the cat has to walk past the dog’s kennel to get to it and the dog is barking — that’s going to be stressful for the cat.
When to Get Help
If you’re lucky, it can take just a few minutes for a new pet to settle in, although it’s more likely to take days or even weeks.
But if you’ve come home to find your kitty cowering in fear, if one pet is always hiding, if your dog is displaying resource guarding behavior (such as snarling around its food) or being aggressive toward your cat, get help.
Don’t wait until a pet gets hurt. Talk with a veterinary behaviorist (a veterinarian specializing in animal behavior). These professionals can help you troubleshoot so that your old and new pets get along.
Katherine A. Houpt, VMD, PhD, diplomate – American College of Veterinary Behaviorists; James Law Professor of Behavior Medicine – emeritus, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
A house full of kittens and dogs can be one of the cutest and happiest places in the world. To achieve such a harmonious home, you want to introduce your kitten to your dog in the right way. Just as a bad first impression can have a lasting effect with people, the same can happen when introducing a cat to a dog.
Dogs and cats can become good friends, but it takes time. This is because they have very different body language styles that can lead to some mixed signals. A kitten’s attempt at play might be interpreted as aggression by your dog or vice versa. 1 So be prepared to take every step slowly. It could take weeks or more before they’re calm and comfortable with each other. But the result is worth the effort.
Keep Your Kitten in a Separate Room at First
You’re going to need to keep your pets separate so they can gradually get used to the smells and sounds of the other in a stress-free environment. Your kitten will need her own comfy room with a litter box, food, water, and a kitty bed. 2 A Comfort Zone Calming Diffuser can help her feel safe and relaxed in her new room. This drug-free solution mimics a cat’s natural pheromones to help her feel calm and happy.
Start by feeding your kitten and dog at the same time, but in their own rooms with a closed door between them. Slowly move the dishes closer to the closed door that separates them.
After they’re calmly eating “near” each other, swap their scents by leaving a towel with your kitten’s scent in your dog’s room and vice versa. Every now and then, let your kitten roam around the house while your dog is confined to a room. This helps them get used to each other’s scents before they meet.
Prepare for a Good First Impression
To make sure first impressions go well, review basic obedience commands with your dog before you introduce them. Make sure your dog still responds well to commands like sit, stay, come, and leave it. 2 You’ll also want to make sure both are feeling calm whenever they meet face-to-face. Play with both pets separately to expend a little of that extra energy before they meet.
Keep Them Separate for Their First Face-to-Face
Their first meeting should be face-to-face but not in the same room. You’ll want to use a screen door or gate to separate them. Make sure your kitten can’t squeeze through the door or climb over it. Your dog and kitten need to be able to smell, hear, and see each other without touching each other. Just like you did with the closed door, start by feeding them from a distance and slowly move them closer to each other over time.
Watch Their Body Language
During this phase, it’s very important to observe their body language for signs of stress or aggression. 3 Does your dog have a prey drive? Is he very focused on your kitten or barking and whining? You’ll need to continue to keep them separate if he displays these behaviors.
Ideally, your dog will watch your cat but not fixate on her. You want him to be able to look away from your cat and respond to you.
As for your cat, she should appear relaxed. If she’s hissing, puffing her fur, growling, or slinking to the ground, she’s feeling scared and not confident. Once both seem pretty chill with each other and can look away sometimes, they may be ready to meet.
Start Slowly with Supervised Visits
Now it’s time for supervised visits with both pets in the same room. These introductions need to be done slowly, and your dog should always be on a leash. Your kitten should have places to hide or climb to that are out of your dog’s way. These visits might take a few weeks or more before your pets are comfortable with each other.
Take your time. Start on opposite sides of a room, then slowly let them be closer. Some people opt to start the introductions with their dog in a crate before moving on to a leash.
Watch for signs of tense body language. If your pets are relaxed, see if you can distract them or if they stay focused on each other. Will your dog respond to your commands? Keep the visits short at first. Gradually make them longer, and let your pets be closer to each other as long as they act calmly. Reward them with treats each time, so they make positive associations with seeing each other.
Realistically, you might not ever leave your kitten and dog alone until your kitten is older, especially if your dog has a strong prey drive. This isn’t because anything’s wrong with your dog or your cat. The simple fact is that kittens play a lot, and this can sometimes trigger a dog’s prey drive. It’s better to err on the side of caution and take as long as you need. Eventually—especially once your kitten is a little older—your pets will be calm around each other. Over time, they could even become good friends.
When introducing a kitten to a dog, remember to keep your expectations realistic. Your two pets might not be best friends right away, and you might need to keep your little kitten separate until he’s bigger. It may take some time, but with a bit of patience and preparation, your dog and your cat will get along famously.
Planning to bring a new kitten home? Be sure and review our list of all the supplies you’ll want to have ready for him.
As a dog trainer with nearly a decade of experience, I frequently get asked the best way to stop a new dog from harassing the family cat. It’s natural for a dog to be extremely interested in a quick-moving, funny-smelling cat. It’s the responsibility of the humans in the home to shape their overarousal into calmer, more respectful behavior.
Gradual introductions combined with desensitization and counterconditioning training can mean the difference between chaos and harmony in a mixed cat-and-dog household. The process should have at least four phases, beginning with the cat and dog smelling and hearing each other through closed doors. Altogether, the introduction should take at least a week. For younger and highly excitable dogs, it may take several weeks for both pets to be comfortable sharing the same space.
Read more about how to introduce a new dog to a cat below:
Introduce cat and dog through sound and scent
Both dogs and cats rely heavily on their sense of smell so it’s a good place for introductions to begin. In the days after you first bring home your new dog, keep them not just physically separated from your cat but visually separated from them too.
- Set up a den for your cat in a room or section of the home that can be completely closed off to the dog. A bedroom is often a good option, but if your space is limited, even a bathroom will work. Make sure the room has everything your cat will need to be comfortable including a litter box, scratcher, food and water bowls, a dark place to hide, and a cozy place to sleep (a cat carrier can double as both). Use a pheromone collar or diffuser to help manage your cat’s stress.
- Place a soft blanket in your cat’s den and another one in a place your new dog likes to relax. Exchange them daily.
- When you are out with your dog, allow your cat to explore the whole home. Just be sure to get them back in their den before the dog can see them.
- When you are with your cat in their den, feed them extra-tasty high-value treats when the dog vocalizes or approaches the door from the outside.
What you’ll need:
Let your dog and cat see each other
Once your pets have had a chance to become familiar with one another’s scents, give them the opportunity to see each other in a safe and controlled way.
- Set up a baby gate or x-pen (some sizes out of stock) in the doorway of your cat’s den.
- Sit with your dog as far away from the baby gate as possible and encourage them to sit or lie down next to you. Reward your dog whenever the cat is in sight, marking and rewarding with high-value treats. If they get up, rush toward the door or vocalize, encourage them to return to a relaxed position and reward them. Whole Dog Journal has more details on how to get your timing right so that it has the biggest impact.
- Ask a family member or friend to play with your dog while you sit with your cat in their den. Reward them heavily with high-value treats as they watch the dog play, helping them to form a positive association with their new canine family member.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 frequently, keeping your training sessions to five or ten minutes at a time.
What you’ll need:
Begin to introduce your dog and cat face-to-face
When your dog begins to show less interest in your cat’s den and can be easily redirected away from the baby gate, it’s time to begin facilitating positive introductions face-to-face.
- For brief periods each day, put your dog on a harness and leash and remove the baby gate. Wear a bait bag full of extra-special dog treats or keep them close at hand and encourage your dog to sit or lie down next to you.
- Your cat will feel more confident if they have ways to escape the dog. Make sure there are plenty of places to hide and a cat tree or cat shelving onto which your cat can jump in order to get out of the way. Sprinkle catnip and/or treats on elevated surfaces and in hiding spots to entice them out of their den.
- When your cat begins to explore outside of their den, reward your dog for calmly watching. Offer them a stuffed Kong (or another food puzzle toy) or a long-lasting chewie to focus on instead of the cat.
- If the dog lunges toward the cat, calmly redirect them back to sitting or lying down or ask them for another behavior such as “spin” or “touch.” A minute or two of play with a toy can also help to redirect the dog’s energy into something more productive.
What you’ll need:
Remove all barriers
When you are confident that your dog and cat can be in the same space without stress, it’s time to try out life without baby gates or leashes to manage their interactions.