How to Introduce a Dog to a Cat

Whether you’re considering expanding your animal family or already have a new addition, understanding how to cultivate introductions between different species can be the difference between harmony and chaos in your household. This guide will walk you through the steps for successfully introducing cats and dogs, addressing common concerns and questions, and offering advice on continuing amicable cohabitation between your furry family members.

How to Know if a Dog and Cat Will Get On

For pet guardians looking to expand their family, the thought of furry siblings not getting on can be a source of worry. While it’s not possible to know for sure if a particular cat and dog will get on in the long run, there are a few things to consider beforehand, and signs you can look out for during initial meetings.

Personality Over Breed

While some breeds are known to be more cat-friendly, such as golden retrievers, labrador retrievers, collies and beagles, individual personality plays a more significant role. A relaxed, laid-back dog is more likely to accept a cat and vice versa.

Age and Activity Level

Younger cats and dogs are often able to adapt more quickly to new animals in the home. However, they also tend to have much higher energy levels that could overwhelm their new sibling, especially if there is a big difference in age.

Previous Interactions

A dog with a history of calm interactions with cats bodes well, as does a cat that has shown indifference or curiosity about dogs in the past. During the introduction phase, body language can give clues; look for relaxed postures and curiosity without aggression.

How to Introduce a Dog to a Cat

When introducing a dog to a cat, it is essential to be patient, make introductions slowly, and consider each animal’s comfort. As a starting point, it’s important to understand the unique natural behaviours and body language of both cats and dogs. This way, you’ll be able to see at a glance whether the animals are comfortable at each of the following stages:

1. Settling in

Give your new arrival a few days to settle into their new surroundings before you start introducing them to other pets. This can help to reduce the amount of distress the cat or dog is experiencing, ensuring the first meeting is less likely to be overwhelming.

2. Prepare Separate Spaces

Before the animals meet, ensure each has a secure space on their own. These areas should include their bed, food, water, and for cats, a litter box. These are spaces where they can retreat to feel safe, completely away from one another or other stressors in the house.

Having these separate areas for your cat and dog to retreat to is really important. Allowing them time apart can help their relationship develop more quickly than if they are forced to be together.

3. Scent Swapping

Begin by leaving some of your cat’s bedding in your dog’s space, and vice versa. This allows you to introduce their scents to each other without a direct encounter. Whenever your cat or dog interacts with the scented item, offer their favourite food and verbal praise. This step is crucial for building familiarity in a non-threatening way.

4. Controlled First Appearances

The first sighting of each other should be brief and managed. Use a baby gate or keep your dog on a leash at a safe distance. Observe their body language, looking for any signs of discomfort. When they spot each other, offer their favourite food and relaxed, verbal praise.

5. Gradually Increase Interaction

Slowly increase their time together under supervision, always ready to intervene calmly if necessary. Continue to offer verbal praise for any positive behaviour you observe in either animal.

6. Respect Their Pace

Some cats and dogs might become fast friends, others may reach a mutual tolerance, and some may want nothing to do with each other. All outcomes are normal.

How Long Should I Wait to Introduce My Dog to a New Cat?

Wait until both animals seem comfortable in their own spaces and have grown accustomed to each other’s scent – this will typically take a few days to a week.

How Long Does it Take for a Cat to Get Used to a Dog?

This varies widely. Some cats might adjust within a few weeks, while others may take months. Patience is key.

What Should You Not Do When Introducing a Cat to a Dog?

Rush the Introduction

Forcing exposure can add stress to both animals, potentially leading to scratches, bites and lasting negative feelings about one another. Any introductions should be as short and sweet as possible, especially in the beginning stages.

Punish Negative Reactions

Corrections from you or the other animal will likely increase stress for everyone. Try not to punish either of the animals for expressing their emotions. Instead, aim to reward any positive interactions you see between the pets.

Maintaining Household Peace Between Cats and Dogs

The process of introducing your cat and dog should be gradual and involve several controlled, supervised meetings. Once these initial introductions have been made, it’s important to continue to meet each pet’s individual needs.

Treat Both Pets as Individuals

It’s important to make sure you continue to meet both animals’ needs. Maintain consistent feeding times, separate feeding areas, regular one-on-one time with you, and meet both of their species-specific needs.

Provide Escape Routes

Ensure your cat has access to high places or safe zones where they can escape if they feel overwhelmed.

Ongoing Supervision

During the early days, never leave your cat and dog together unsupervised. Over time, you’ll learn their dynamics and can start to adjust this accordingly.

Wrapping Up

Introducing a new dog to a cat or a new cat to a dog can feel challenging. By following these steps, respecting both animals’ individual needs, and maintaining a safe and positive environment, you’re laying the groundwork for a harmonious household. Success doesn’t always mean best friends. Sometimes, peaceful co-existence is the best outcome possible. With patience and understanding, you’re on your way to creating a loving, inclusive home for all your animals. Remember, if you are confused or unsure where to start with any behaviour, speaking to a qualified, ethical behaviourist can be the best first step you make!

Struggling with your dog’s behaviour? Discover how Renee can elevate your wisdom and transform your relationship by visiting www.rplusdogs.com

Renee Rhoades MSc, dog behaviour expert for Animed Direct


About Renee Rhoades, MSc

Renee Rhoades, MSc, is a distinguished authority in canine behaviour and welfare, recognised for her unwavering commitment to improving the lives of both dogs and humans. The founder of R+Dogs, a virtual dog behaviour consultancy, Renee offers cutting-edge private coaching and online courses to dog guardians worldwide. Renee specialises in transforming fearful and high-energy dogs, addressing aggression, reactivity, generalised anxiety and hyperactivity.

Beyond client-focused coaching, Renee is also the co-host of DogLogical, a podcast dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of our dogs. In addition, she extends her expertise by mentoring fellow dog professionals, contributing to the growth and development of the industry.

Struggling with your dog’s behaviour? Discover how Renee can elevate your wisdom and transform your relationship by visiting www.rplusdogs.com