Cat and Dog Introduction: Introducing a New Cat to Your Existing Dog

By Amanda Jondle, DVM March 09, 2019

So you already have a dog and want to get a cat. However, you are wondering if felines and canines can get along in harmony. After all, one meows and the other one barks. They don’t even speak the same language! Is it possible for a cat to get along with a dog? In this article, we will be exploring cat and dog introductions and help you better understand the introduction process.

Can I Own A Cat If I Already Own A Dog?

The answer is yes!

Is It Possible For My Cat And Dog To Get Along?

Yes! Dogs and cats can become lifelong friends and bonded buddies. They can even be caught playing or sleeping together. While they don’t always seem to love each other, if you follow some simple guidelines, they can coexist happily.

Here Is A List Of Things To Keep In Mind Before You Begin The Introduction Process:

  • Introducing your new cat to your dog at a shelter or rescue is not always possible or wise. Introductions are usually best done at home.
  • Your home is your existing dog’s territory; the cat is the newcomer.
  • Cats are often smaller than dogs. If your dog is much larger or very rambunctious and playful, remember that it might be quite scary for the cat (or even dangerous). Make sure you are able to limit and supervise their interactions until you know how they will act around each other.
  • Throughout the introduction process, be sure to observe the body language of your pets. If your dog fixates on or stares at the cat, they may be displaying hunting type behaviors and you will want to proceed with caution. If your cat is always hiding or hunched down, they are probably terrified, and you need to approach the process more slowly.
  • Consider your pets' personalities and try to match them if you’re able to. If your dog is young and playful, get a young and playful cat. If you have a large rowdy dog, maybe don’t start with a tiny kitten or a senior cat. If your dog is a couch potato, try a middle aged, calm cat. Sometimes you don’t know their true personalities until you bring them home, so pay attention and read their behavior to know how to best go about making the introduction.
  • Cats like to visualize their surroundings. Since they are small, if they are limited to the floor, they can’t see their space and what’s around them. Providing high perches and “lookout” spots will help them get a good view of their new home and everyone and everything inside. Being able to see and monitor their environment makes cats more comfortable, especially if there is a dog around. They will be able to get away yet still interact with the canine without having to hide under a bed. High places could be a cat tree, flat top furniture, cat ramps, or cat shelves you can install.
  • Introductions take TIME. The process should not be rushed or done in confined quarters. It may take days, weeks, or even months to allow your cat and dog to be comfortable enough with each other that you feel safe leaving them together without supervision.
  • Work in short frequent sessions to not overwhelm your pets.
  • Never allow an unfamiliar dog and cat together – this is setting yourself and your pets up for disaster. Either one could be traumatized by the experience. Remember, go slow! Those that suggest letting them “work it out” on their own have likely never introduced new pets into their home.
  • Use plenty of rewards and praise for both your cat and dog throughout the process. Reward and reinforce good behavior. Stop, correct, and redirect if there is bad or unwanted behavior.
  • Freshen up your dog’s obedience skills before introducing a new cat. You should be confident that your dog will listen to you when you say “sit,” “stop,” “stay,” or “no.”
  • If you are comfortable and confident, this will help your pets feel comfortable and confident too. If you’re nervous, scared, or anxious, your pets will likely pick up on your nerves.
  • Know when to get professional help. If you feel like the introductions aren’t going well and notice repeated bad or aggressive behavior from the cat or dog, then stop and seek professional help. This could be from a trainer, behavior specialist, or your veterinarian.

Please feel free to reread the list and take action on each item if necessary before continuing to the introduction process. This will help you maximize your chances of success.

Steps To Introduce Your New Cat To Your Dog

  • Make sure the cat has their own space separate and away from the dog. They should have their own food and water bowls and at least one litter box in a quiet area. Offer hiding places and high lookouts. You can start by using a bedroom or confine the cat to one part of the house. Let the cat adjust to their new surroundings before introductions are made.
  • Start by allowing each pet to smell the other’s environment and bedding. You can swap spaces in order to let them smell around the other pet’s things. You can also swap bedding to introduce them to their scents.
  • Next, you can let your cat and dog see each other from a distance. This could be walking your dog on a leash past the cat at a distance, putting up baby/pet gates to allow them to see each other with a barrier, or carrying your cat inside a cat carrier by the room your dog is in.
  • Once they’re used to seeing each other, you can let them start to greet each other through a closed door or baby/pet gate so they can meet each other up close. Make sure you don’t rush or force them close to each other. Let them pick the pace of the interaction.
  • The new cat can be confined to a crate or kennel and put in the same space as your dog. This could also be done instead with the dog in a crate or kennel if that is more practical for you. This will allow the pets to be in close range to see and smell one another.
  • Next, you can start introductions with your dog on a leash. Some cats will allow you to put a harness on them. If they do, this will be beneficial because you will have a way to control the cat as well. Let them approach each other at their own pace. They can sniff and rub and lick each other if they want.
  • Once the pets are comfortable around each other with the leash, you can start supervised introductions. Again, it is ideal to provide a high surface for the cat. Let them play and interact with each other with you present in order to catch any unwanted or unruly behavior from either pet.
  • After your cat and dog get along or at least tolerate each other at a distance you can slowly start allowing unsupervised interactions. It may even be beneficial to set up a camera so you can see what they do when you’re not in the room.
  • If all goes well, you should soon be able to feel comfortable allowing your cat and dog to be together by themselves.

Again, we urge you to reread, understand, and even practice these steps with an inanimate object such as a cat doll before you start the introduction process in order to maximize your chance of success. Remember, the introduction process takes time, so don’t give up. Introducing your dog to a cat is going to be a memorable experience - one that you will not likely forget. So make it a good one! Lastly, we wish you the best of luck!

Leave a comment below if you want to share your cat and dog introduction experience. 

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