Introducing Your Dog to a New Cat (and Vice Versa)
Many people think that the world is made up of dog people and cat people, but in truth, there are many of us that are in between! Not to mention, there are also rabbit, bird, and fish people - animal lovers don’t discriminate. Canines are man’s best friend for a reason, but cats are adorable in their own way, and to be honest, much easier to take care of on many fronts.
The Matching - Is It a Good Idea?
Have one, two, three, four…the number is limitless for a lot of animal lovers, but is it always a good idea to bring a new animal into the mix? There is definitely a transition period after the initial introduction to see how animals interact with each other. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not a good fit.
It also matters when you bring the new kitten or puppy into the fold, but most of it depends on the personality of your animal. Bringing both into the home at a young age will usually see more success than a dog who is used to being the “only child” and getting all the attention suddenly being expected to live with a fur brother or sister and vice versa.
There are numerous pet parents that pose the question of whether it’s a good idea to bring another dog or cat into the family to keep the other company, or to make things easier because they tire each other out. The answers within the comments are usually very divided. You really never know until you try.
Your best bet is to find a companion that complements your first animal’s personality. Corgis, for example, are definitely high-energy dogs. Let’s give you a few examples of what will most likely work the best. It’s also important to know that some breeds are not the best dogs to have if you have small animals around the house due to their instinctual prey drive.
An overly playful dog/puppy, one that would chase, pin, and play aggressively (without any harm intended) should be introduced to a cat/kitten who matches that energy and personality. We will caution that it’s key to make sure that neither are aggressive and are just more playful.
This situation also applies if you’re bringing a new puppy home to a cat who is overly energetic and eager to play.
An aggressive dog/puppy that lunges, barks, or even attacks the new cat/kitten may not be suited to have a fellow furry companion in the house and vice versa.
The age of the animals has a lot to do with their energy levels and aggression. A dog that has been spayed or neutered will generally be calmer as well. A young cat/kitten or dog/puppy may not be the best choice of a friend for a senior animal.
Remember that a personality match or complement would be your best option. A shy dog with a shy cat or vice versa, or an anxious animal with a counterpart that is calm and grounded are good examples. What’s great is this logic also pertains to welcoming animals into the family of the same species.
Welcoming a New Kitten into the Dog Family
So you’re a dog family welcoming a new kitten into the fold, what should you do, how should you do it, and what should you be aware of? Let’s find out.
Separation is the Key (at first)
Separation is only necessary at first. Once both parties are acquainted and like each other, you can let them have all the fun they want - but not without this initial separation phase. Dogs, and to some extent cats, are very sensitive to new smells and the addition of an extra animal is bound to set off their noses.
The purpose of separation is to not overwhelm either party. Dog owners know everything you do, from training to introducing new food needs to be done slowly - and the same goes for introductions. After all, most people wouldn’t want to be forced to spend a whole day with a stranger let alone live with them without getting to know them first.
The kitten should get a safe space somewhere in the house (not where the dog is) where it can call home. Give your kitten a comfy bed, litter box, toys, food, and water bowls, and add anything else a cat needs so it can feel at ease.
You can expose the animals to each other’s scents even before the initial introduction. You can leave something that smells like the other in both their rooms. You can also let one roam around the house when the other is confined in their own area so they get used to each other’s scent around the house.
First Impressions are Important in the Animal World Too
The cat/kitten should be introduced in a neutral area where it’s “no man’s land” so neither party will feel the need to be on guard. Since the cat/kitten is the new member of the family, it’s important to reiterate some basic commands and practice them with your dog before the introduction. Sit and stay are two very crucial ones during the initial visit. You also don’t want introductions to happen when both parties have a lot of pent-up energy.
The best way to ensure a calm experience is to have separate play times with each of them to get out some of that extra energy. To further foster calm, you can also make some minor adjustments to the space like adding calming scents from a diffuser, which you can buy in local pet stores. Chamomile and lavender are two of our recommendations.
Say Hello at a Distance
The first interaction should still be done at a distance just to test out how the feline and canine respond to each other. You can keep a distance between them and still let them have the freedom to interact by placing a baby gate between two rooms or consider keeping them both or one of them on a leash.
You can also do this part of the introduction slowly, where you keep them at a distance and let them get to know where the scent they have been smelling around the house is coming from, before letting them get close.
Keep a Close Eye on Them
Whenever you are introducing two new animals in any setting, you always have to monitor them, watch out for signs of rejection and aggression, and note their body language. Dogs communicate a lot physically with the position of their ears, tails, and even their fur.
If you see signs of wariness, aggression or stress, and anxiety, then we would suggest taking a few steps back and try again another day. One important thing to try is to see if your dog can still pay attention to you even when his gaze is fixed on the cat because this shows that you still have control over the situation.
You want to be able to call his name and have him look at you and respond to your commands. If both parties are pretty calm and responsive to you even when the other is in the area, then it is time to meet!
Slow and Supervised Visits
Again, we would recommend starting slowly with supervised visits for short periods at a time. Maybe have a 10-min interaction, then take a break, and then try again. If both are generally calm animals, then you being there to monitor playtime should be enough. However, we have seen dogs that act calm when the gates are up but aggressively break loose when the gates come down.
If you suspect your dog is playful and energetic, then maybe it’s best to keep him on a long leash at home. Take your time with this first full-on interaction and take even more care to monitor their body language. As long as they are calm, you can feel free to give them rewards to foster a positive association with being together.
Ideally, you should always monitor their time together until it’s been at least a few months. Remember that everything should be done slowly and gradually, and don’t hesitate to backtrack a bit if necessary. You don’t want to force too much at once because both parties could become resentful.
Time For Full-Blown FUN!
If all has been well and the cat and dog-like each other and are perfectly happy after a few months of careful monitoring, then they can safely co-exist in the same space without your supervision anymore.
Bringing a New Puppy into a Cat Family
How different is the process if the situation is reversed? It’s much the same, with just a few differences.
Be There or Be Square - The Location
Picking the location is key, and it should always be done at home, in a place where you can have control. You would also start by creating a space for the puppy that won’t interfere with your cat’s daily life and activities. Make sure your new dog has everything it needs in the chosen space such as a comfy crate, bed, toys, food, and water bowls.
Separation Is Necessary
The beginning is also a separate affair. We would suggest rotating free-roaming time for the animals separately. Let your dog have the run of the house for an hour or two and then put him back in his safe space and let the cat out.
This is also done for the same purpose as bringing a new cat into the dog’s home - to let them get used to each other’s scent.
However, there may be a time when professional help is necessary when integrating a new fur family member. Training may be required for the more reactive dogs who dig under the door, at the door, wall, or gate to try and get to the cat. It’s best to enlist the help of a trainer even if it’s due to excitement and not aggression, because you have one shot at making a good first impression, and you want to do it right.
At this point, it’s important not to leave them alone in the house. We would still advise not to leave them in an unsupervised house even if they are separated because we have seen dogs perform miracles to escape confinement.
Hold Me Back! (Your Dog That Is)
After you think both the cat and the dog have accepted each other’s scent and the fact that there is another animal in the house, you can graduate to face-to-face meetings. The period before this can take a while and there is no set time. Do it slowly and feel free to retrace your steps if one or both start to show aggression or anxiety.
From experience, the meeting has a higher chance of success if an overly energetic dog is leashed for the first meeting.
Watch Out for Warning Signs
We stress again that it’s important to keep a very close eye on both animals. You don’t want the initial greeting to result in a trip to the vet. Look at the cat’s position, body language, and vocalization, and pay attention to the same in your dog. One obvious sign of dislike and aggression is if the cat smacks/slaps the dog or hisses and arches its back.
Slow and Supervised Visits Are the Key
Begin with leashed and controlled visits, and be prepared that one party may be super excited, so it’s a good idea to run through basic commands with your cat first. We would recommend starting with very short visits, as short as 5 min, and then gradually lengthening the visits.
When do you know it’s safe to untether the leash and let your fur babies coexist? The answer is when they can be in the same room and not be fixated on each other, eat together in peace and sometimes just go about their business ignoring each other. This behavior means that they are used to each other.
It’s Happening! The Puppy is a Formal Part of the Fam
When a few leashed or separated visits have been a smashing success, you can now place your fur babies in the same room! This is when you can be one of those families you undoubtedly want to be with canines and felines in the home cohabitating happily!
Introducing a new pet into a home with an existing pet is tough, but with patience, consistency, love, and a lot of positive reinforcement, we have no doubt that you will be successful. It’s great to monitor all the positive signs of acceptance from both the cat and the dog, but it’s equally as important to keep an eye out for warning signs and any changes in behavior.
Written by Brad Clarke
Brad is someone who cannot remember life without dogs around, he simply can’t live without them! He created Dog Nerdz to provide owners with crucial tips and essential info in order to be the best dog owner they can be. He has learned so much over the years about how to look after his precious pup Boogie!