Welcoming a new dog to your family is exciting time—unless you’re the family cat. Many cats and dogs do bust the myth that they cannot get along though. Cats and dogs can, and do, get along and can be friendly companions who sleep next to one another, eat next to one another, and share the same lap when they’re with their pet parent. It may just take time.
Gauging a Dog’s Cat-readiness
What steps can you take to introduce your dog to your cat so there are no fights, no scratched noses, hiding on top of the refrigerator, or hurt feelings? Cats are generally curious, but aloof and easily startled. Dogs are sometimes loud and pushy and just want to be liked. Whether the cat and dog get along is more about the cat and dog’s personalities than it is about the breeds.
Tip: Ask the shelter or rescue if the dog you’re adopting has experience with cats, and the extent of the experience (ie. socialization in a foster home, previously lived with household cats, etc.). If you’re bringing a dog home, ask that the dog be exposed to cats prior, so you know whether his personality is a match for a cat household.
Making a Smooth Introduction
As a pet parent, start by introducing your pets to one another in a calm and loving environment. Don’t force the relationship; they will come to their own understanding and co-exist. Here are some steps you can take when introducing a dog and a cat:
Give your cat his own space. Don’t make your cat eat by the new dog. Find a space that is secluded for your cat to eat, drink, and sleep. If the litter box has been located in a “public” space, move it to an area where the cat can use it without being disturbed.
Note: Cat parents will want to watch to make certain there are no litter box avoidance issues once the new dog has been brought home.
If your cat is accustomed to spending his afternoons in a particular patch of sunshine, do what you can to allow that to still happen. Put up a gate to keep your dog away or otherwise block his access to the patch of sun. Your cat shouldn’t have his life completely disrupted because a dog has moved in and the dog needs to know there are boundaries.
Make sure the dog has her own space. Your dog should have a space to call her own for food and water, a crate, or a bed she loves. You may be introducing the dog to the cat, but the dog needs to feel welcome and calm in an area of her own. If your dog has a crate, keep the cat out of it—just as you keep the dog out of the cat’s patch of sunshine.
Keep them separated initially. Let your new dog and your cat sniff one another through the safety of a baby gate. If you are worried your cat will jump over the gate, put the dog and cat in separate rooms and close the door. If they get accustomed to one another’s scent by sniffing under the door, it will make face-to-face introductions smoother because your cat may not feel as though the dog is a stranger.
Tip: Some pet parents will put the new dog or puppy into his crate, close the door and let the dog and cat sniff one another through the bars. This lets them see one another and keeps each of them safe from rough housing or scratches.
Pet each of them. Pet the cat then let the dog sniff you and your hands. Pet the dog and let the cat sniff you. Getting them accustomed to each others’ scents is part of the process, but letting them know that you—their human—smells like the other animal may help put them at ease.
Tip: You may want to put a blanket or piece of clothing in with each animal for a day, then put that blanket or clothing into the room with the opposite pet.
Preparing for a Face-to-face Introduction
Even though you’re introducing a new dog to the family, let the cat be in charge of the introductions during the first face-to-face meeting. Never force the dog to interact with the cat or vice-versa or you and the dog will likely be the recipient of cat scratches.
Let the cat come to the dog. Let the cat sniff the dog and watch it from his favorite perch. If the cat doesn’t seem interested in meeting the dog, that’s all right too; it will come with time and patience.
If possible, have someone with you when you make the first introductions. Someone should hold and pet the cat and someone else should hold and pet the dog. Talk in a calm voice, when you do this, you’re positively reinforcing to each pet that the other is not the “enemy.”
Dog Training Helps
Sometimes, dogs have poor impulse control. If your dog lunges at toys or small objects, he may lunge at the cat. Train your dog to “be nice” to the cat. Work with him on the phrase, “be nice” and praise and reward him when he is calm and doesn’t chase the cat.
Depending on how the initial introductions go you may need to keep your dog on a leash until he learns to control his impulses. Pay attention to the body language of both pets. If your cat’s ears are back and his tail is swishing and if he’s growling, separate them. If your dog is crouching down, if his ears are back and if he is growling or barking, back off on the introductions until both animals are ready to interact.
Happily Ever After
Unless a dog or cat has had a bad experience with the other species, they will most likely learn to get along. Don’t worry if it takes weeks, or even months, for them to be in the same room without the dog barking and the cat hissing. Keep in mind that you’re introducing a stranger to the family and that changes the dynamic. Everyone needs to learn to get along and because all pets have unique personalities, they will settle into the new family member in their own time.
Editor’s Note: It is important to understand basic dog behavior when introducing them to a new dog, cat or even human. Here are five common dog behaviors explained to help you better understand your pet.
Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.