For many, bringing a new cat into the home is exciting but, at the same time, can also be anxiety-inducing. When there are other resident pets that live in your home, take into consideration how they might respond to sharing their space. Cats and dogs are capable of living happily together, but it takes getting used to having another animal in the house before you start seeing the benefits.
When you bring a new kitten or cat into a home with a dog (or dogs) that already resides there, take some precautions before the introduction happens. You’re trying to create a space that is inviting and safe for your new pet without overturning everything your dog has ever known. As a pet parent, the main goal is for your animals to be healthy and happy, so we recommend taking this introduction seriously.
To learn more about some of the best practices to use when doing introductions between your new cat and your resident dog for the first time, keep reading.
Consider Both Pet’s Personalities
You’ve probably been considering bringing home a new cat for quite some time. Getting an animal is rarely an “on-a-whim” decision, so that means that you’ve done some thinking about if your dog is even capable of this new relationship.
You know your dog best, and you might have an idea of if they could live with a cat or not. It’s important to determine if your dog is able to live with a cat before going through the process of adopting.
For example, some dogs have a higher prey drive than others, making smaller animals an easy target. If your dog is one that gets overly excited and has a keen eye for hunting, you might want to reconsider getting a new cat or spend more time working on your dog’s drive and impulse control.
The last thing anyone wants to do is bring a new cat into the home, knowing that their dog’s personality might be too big for it. (While dog breed type can affect prey drive, it’s not a hard and fast rule.)
If you think that your dog would match up nicely with a cat, it would be helpful to seek out cats that have lived with dogs before. Even a kitten, who has no past trauma related to dogs would be ideal, as they are somewhat of a blank slate. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but it might help to have a more calm and anticlimactic introduction.
How To Introduce a Cat to a Dog
Introducing cats to a resident dog doesn’t always go as planned right away. It can take several days to several weeks for a new cat to warm up to your dog, and vice versa. They’ll need time to adjust. Don’t jump right in by throwing them in a room together; this could be a potentially dangerous first meeting, not to mention stressful for both animals.
By taking your time and going through specific interactions, you can get an understanding of how the two animals will react to one another. These initial stages can give you a good read on their body language and if they are taking to the new friend well or are labeling them an enemy.
Keep Them Apart
Before bringing a new cat into your house, establish a separate room set up for your cat to stay in. Have their litter box, toys, some food, water, a bed, and cat furniture in one room of your house so that they get used to the new space before having to get used to a new animal.
Have both animals eat on one side of the door. This will get them used to the new pet’s smell while doing something enjoyable. If the door-closed hello goes well, try an augmented face-to-face introduction through a baby gate.
Don’t rush into introducing them before either of them are ready; this situation can be overwhelming.
Once the new cat has spent some time getting their scent on some of the items in the room, take out a toy or blanket of theirs and swap it with one of your dog’s. Have both your dog and new cat spend time with each other’s toys so that they can begin to get used to each other’s scents.
Dogs heavily rely on their sense of smell, and this will prepare them for their new sibling. You can even rub your cat and dog with two different towels and place the towel under their bowls while they eat, again, to build a positive association.
If you have multiple animals in the house, like another dog or even another cat, swap scents with each of them and your new cat. This way, all of your animals can get used to the new animal’s scent, and your new cat can have a better understanding of how many other animals are in the house.
The next step is to allow your new cat to explore the rest of the house without interruption for your dog. Take your dog into the room where your cat has been and let them smell the cat’s space as your cat explores.
Give your cat ample time to check out all the rooms, nooks, and crannies. This is their time to become familiar with their new space without having other animals in their face.
Swapping rooms and allowing for some independent exploration will give both of your pets the ability to become accustomed to the other’s scent without the pressure of seeing each other face-to-face.
Leashed and/or Gradual Intros
Once they’ve had time to settle in, your new cat might be itching to get out of their confined room, and your dog is probably wondering who the new scent is coming from. The best thing to do is leash your dog and have your cat in some sort of crate/kennel. Allow your dog to go up to the crate and smell the new cat, but then have your dog step away and sit or lay down.
After a few minutes, let your cat out of the crate with your dog still on leash. Your cat can then take their time to come up and sniff the dog. It might not happen right away; don’t force the interaction.
Baby Gate/Separate Room Intros
Remember, you know your pet best. Your new puppy or new cat might have a better first introduction through a baby gate in separate rooms. This allows the cat to have a safe space as well as an escape route if they decide puppies aren’t for them. The new/resident cat can have a large room set up with all of their stuff. Their scratching post, litter tray, and hiding places are all there and undistributed.
Then, the face meetings can take place at the cat’s own pace. You can use door stoppers to prop open the door safely after a few days of eating behind closed doors to begin the process of introducing them face-to-face.
Shy cats, in particular, might be wary of new situations and this new animal family member in particular. If your feline friend decides to stay sequestered, make sure your cat feels like they are still important by spending time with them in their personal room. The same goes for a dog — our pets can get jealous!
Allow for Space and Time
Let your cat decide when they are ready to go up to them. Many cats are curious, and some are very brave. If your dog is giving them calming signals and not showing them they are a threat, the interaction could happen.
They might begin to gaze at each other as if communicating silently as a way of building trust. Just be patient!
Whenever your new cat or dog does something desirable, like sits calmly, boops noses, or sniffs gently, reward them with a treat and some calm praise. You don’t want to sound too excited, or else your dog might hear it in your tone of voice and become excitable.
Offer cat/dog treats and pets and let them figure it out for themselves. Positive reinforcement helps your pets make good associations with whatever they are interacting with.
Be Mindful of Body Language
All of the above can be dependent on both of your animal’s body language toward each other. Your cat may be giving signals that they are uncomfortable by raising their hair, hissing, or running away. If you notice these behaviors, the situation is likely progressing too fast for your new cat.
On the other hand, if your dog shows signs of aggression or becomes too excited, they might need to work on some things before furthering the introduction. If your dog becomes extremely focused and alerted to your cat, this could be a sign they see the cat as some sort of toy or snack. Immediately separate them to avoid harm.
Say Hello to AskVet
If you’re having difficulty with the introduction of your new cat to your current dog, consider using AskVet to get in touch with our Certified Pet Coaches. Our pet coaches can work with you to understand both of your pet’s needs and come up with behavioral plans to help your whole animal family thrive. They can also give you tips on how to improve the process and let you know if you’re doing anything incorrectly.
You want to make the introduction process as seamless as possible, but it’s much easier to do that with the help of AskVet. Sign-up today for a virtual session, and hopefully, you’ll be seeing a best-friend relationship form in no time!