It is always exciting to bring a new family member into the fold, but sometimes that can be kind of complicated with pets — especially when there are already pets that have been in the house for a while. Introducing a new cat to your dog can be simple (and scratch-free) if you handle it slowly and give each pet their own sanctuary.
Much like having a new baby and their big sister or brother having to get used to the change in the household dynamic, pets are going to need to be prepared and eased into this news — especially if they happen to be rather territorial or jealous of their humans.
That’s why it’s important to take your time introducing your new cat to other pets in your home. You want that meeting to go well, and first impressions are very lasting for cats — ideally, this first meeting will go so well, they’ll be like family after. (Because that is what they are, right?) Pawp chats with vets and behaviorists about the best and safest ways to introduce a cat to a dog.
Before you introduce a cat to a dog...
Think about compatibility
Did you know some breeds of dogs are more likely to get along with cats? "Golden retrievers, Labradors, and beagles are all more likely to get along with your feline friend," says Dexter Jones, who has worked as an animal behaviorist.
Consider the age of the animals
Kittens tend to be more playful and brave than adult cats, with fewer inhibitions and a higher fear threshold. However due to this: "Alongside their lack of experience around other animals and their very small size, they are far more vulnerable than their adult counterparts," says Chris Masanto, Founder of Petlab Co.
In these cases, safety of the kitten must be the biggest priority. "Follow the same steps as you would with a cat, ensuring your kitten has a few days to become comfortable in their new environment and explore potential hiding places, whilst your dog becomes accustomed to the new scent in the house," says Masanto.
How to introduce a new cat to a dog
Start very slow
You don’t want anything to happen by chance, everything needs to happen in a way that no one is angered, scared, or aggressive. "Keep all other pets away from your new cat’s sanctuary until your new pet has had a chance to come out," says Karen Reese, Animal Behavior Manager at Operation Kindness.
Let the cat get used to your other pets' smells
Once your new cat has settled into their new home (try to be patient, as this could take a few days or weeks), you can allow the new cat to explore your home while your other animals are in another room. "This will allow the other cats to get used to the new smells," says Reese.
You may also find that the cat may smell the other animals through the cracks in the door or the smells on you as you move from one area to another. These are all great ways of getting your cats used to other pets before they actually meet each other.
Maintain separation at first
When introducing a cat to a dog, keep the cat separated from the dog at first. Allow the pets to sniff each other through the door and swap their bedding and toys so they get used to the other's scents. "Teach your dog how to meet others politely such as teaching them to sit and pay attention to you while they are on a leash," says Reese. After your cat has become more comfortable in your home, you can try an introduction.
Keep your dog on a leash or behind a baby gate
Allow your cat to feel like they are in control of the situation by keeping your dog on leash or behind a baby gate and having your dog to pay attention to you rather than hyper focus on the cat. "Provide your cat with plenty of places to hide and jump up on to get away from the dog if they choose," says Reese. Don't force your cat to interact with the dog but instead give your cat treats or play with them using a wand toy. Take breaks often to allow both animals to relax.
Never leave a new cat and dog unattended
Never leave your dog unattended with your cat or kitten until you know that both are safe. Keep introductions short; the more positive interactions the better. "Let the cat be in control of whether they want to interact, run away, hide, or explore," says Reese.
Don't force an introduction
Don't let the dog be in control of interacting with the cat. "Provide plenty of one-on-one attention to each pet separately during times when they are separated," says Reese.
Remember that introducing cats to new pets can take weeks or even months (longer for more mature cats), so don't rush it. "If you feel like things are going well and they start to take a turn for the worse, go back to what was working well and practice that for a while longer," says Reese.
Tire your dog out
Before the big meeting happens, take your new dog for a long walk or run. "The idea being that you can wear them out a little before the introduction," says Dr. Stephanie Austin, Medical Director at Bond Vet in New York City. That way, they are at their calmest when meeting.
Make sure both pets have safe spaces
To help ease your furry friend into the presence of a new sibling, confine the new pet to a single room of the house, suggested Jones. Keep the door to that room closed, and make sure that the cat has everything it needs.
For the first few days when your new pet arrives, divide your time between the single room, and the rest of the house. "Allow each animal to smell the scent of the other on your clothes as you go to interact with them," says Jones.
"When both of the animals in your home are aware of the other, and comfortable with their scent, you can begin to let them see each other," says Jones. The best way to do this is to get a pet gate or baby gate that you can set up in the doorway of the room for your new puppy.
Let them get closer
With time, those barriers can be slowly eased, as comfort levels increase. “At this point, you’re going to allow each animal to come right up to the gate on the door, so that they can smell the other properly,” says Jones. As usual, make sure that you can control both animals. If possible, have someone on-hand to help you out.
Bring them into the same room
This is the final stage of the introduction period before you start creating long-term living arrangements for your animals. "In this stage, you allow both the dog and cat to be in the same room together," says Jones.
However, it’s usually best to keep your dog on a leash, and your cat on a harness or in a comfortable box where they can see each other without interacting too much at first..
What to do if it's not going well
Safety for everyone involved is critical. "If the introduction goes negatively and one of the animals becomes scared and/or aggressive, the pet could bite or scratch the other one or even the people involved," warns Dr. Austin.
Therefore, it's imperative that you are fully engaged the entire time — not on your phone or taking pictures. "If your attempts at introduction are not going well, or either animals seem stressed or agitated, it may be wise to seek professional help through a trained behaviorist," says Dr. Austin.
If after many attempts the cat or dog is very stressed, agitated, or eliciting any aggressive behaviors, which you are unable to control and redirect, it would be a good idea to seek professional advice. "This is for the physical and emotional safety and wellbeing of you and your pets," says Masanto.
You can talk to certified pet professionals, like the ones on Pawp, who will have the knowledge, skills and expertise to assess behavioral issues, help with the transition, and prioritize the welfare of your animals.
Always remember, as you develop a plan for a successful introduction, two factors should always be top of mind, says Dr. Austin: "Immediate safety of all involved, particularly the two pets," but also: "The long-term relationship of the pets."