Introducing Your New Dog to Your Cat

Ada meeting resident cat

It is such an exciting time when you adopt a dog and start preparing to bring them home but of course there is a lot to think about and can be a little overwhelming.  However, this can be managed with planning, so that everyone feels safe and there is minimal stress.  With so much to think about, plan and prepare we put together a guide Welcoming Your New Family Member which gives you handy tips and advice for what you will need to buy, how to introduce your furry family member to your home and other family member as well as what to expect and a basic outline of their care.

But what about introducing your new dog to your cat?  It is really important that you manage the introduction to your feline family member carefully to ensure a successful start in the relationship and of course to ensure everyone is comfortable and safe.

Choosing the Right Dog

Often dogs from rescue shelters have been fully assessed – including a cat test

Some dogs will integrate into a family with existing pets better than others.   We always recommend taking into account your situation and being really honest with yourself and the shelter you are adopting from as this will ensure they can help you find the best match for you. Embarking on your Adoption journey – Are you ready to Adopt?  will help you if you work through the questions and have a good think about the sort of dog that would be suited to your home and lifestyle.

Consider adopting your dog from a rescue shelter as each dog will have their temperament tested and those working and volunteering will be able to give you an idea of how each dog may respond to cats. This will help you to find a dog who will be more likely to get on with your cat.

In addition it is of course not just about the dog you adopt, it is about your cat too.  Are they used to dogs?  Have they ever met a dog before?  If your cat has never shared their home with a dog the introduction will need to be managed even more carefully than if your cat is used to living with a dog.

Age and Personality of Your Cat

Consider the age and personality of your cat.  Does your cat tend to do their own thing or are they very much present and at the centre of your home?  Are they playful and like lots of interaction? Or do they take themselves off for hours outside or curl up somewhere quiet and warm?

Cats that have been raised with dogs, or who are more confident, will adjust more quickly than older and extremely shy cats who have never been exposed to dogs. Very shy cats may run from the dog, which may result in the dog aggressively chasing the cat. Likewise, energetic, playful cats may also pounce on the dog and run from the dog which might cause the dog to chase the cat. In these cases, a dog free household would be best for the cat. An overly playful cat would do best with a dog that is playful, yet gentle at the same time. An elderly cat would do best with a calm dog.

Age and Personality of The Dog

Dogs who exhibit the following behaviours towards a cat would do best in a catfree household: staring intensely, growling, lunging, chasing, and/or trying to grab the cat in their mouth. Dogs who are cat friendly, yet play rough would do best with confident adult cats who are used to dogs and clever at jumping out of reach.

Preparing For Your Dog’s Arrival

Koda the cat loves resting on top of the door to look down at Komo

Once you have decided on the right dog for you, you will have to think about how best to introduce them to your existing cats to ensure that everything goes smoothly. This may be a stressful time for all the animals and it is important that you are patient and prepared for the introduction to take place over at least a week but perhaps a few weeks. The same process should be followed if you have more than one cat.  The absolute key is to not rush anything, be patient, calm and one step ahead of both your cat (s) and newly adopted dog.

Cat Only Areas

A baby cate is very useful for creating separate areas

Before you bring your new dog home you should spend some time preparing your house and your existing cat (s) for their arrival. In particular, it is important to ensure that there are plenty of high resting places where your cat can easily and safely retreat away from the dog or puppy if they want to.

In addition, if your cat normally has their food, water, litter tray etc. in an area where the dog will now be or has access to, it is good to plan ahead and move these away to an area only the cat has access to and get the cat used to the change before the dog or puppy arrives. This helps reduce stress and avoid problems with your cat being too afraid to eat and or drink or use the litter tray once your dog arrives.

Baby gates can be really useful for separating areas and creating a safe area for your cat whilst still allowing them to see what is going on when your dog arrives and of course to be able to meet your dog with a safe divide.

Introducing the scent of your dog

It can be really helpful to introduce the scent of your soon to be new family member prior to their arrival.  You can leave a T shirt of sweatshirt with your dog for a few days and then leave that same item of clothing (which will have the scent of the dog on it) in your home for your cat to smell.  This way your cat will recognise the scent when you do bring your newly adopted dog home for the first time.

Bringing Your New Dog Home

Ada and the resident cat have a ‘we tolerate each other’ relationship

First Few Hours and Days

Remember that everything will be new to your new addition, even if they are used to cats, dogs and children they will not be used to yours.  Put yourself in their paws, think of it being like when you moved into a new home or got lost in a new town. It feels daunting, scary, exciting too. Have patience, understanding and be forgiving if your new dog doesn’t know something. It is your role to show your dog their new home, teach them, guide them and reassure them.  Take each step at a time, encourage good behaviour and provide them with everything they need to settle and become a loved member of your family.

On the day you bring your dog home, secure your cat in their favourite room with their bed and bedding, water, food and litter.  Allow your dog to explore the house and then secure them in a room of their own with comfy bedding, water and a treat. While your dog settles down allow your cat to explore the house and become familiar with your dog’s scent.

Repeat this over the next few days, allowing each animal their turn to have access to the whole house without ever  confronting one another. In the meantime, work on basic training with your dog or puppy so that you have some control over them when it comes to introducing them to your cat for the first time.

As mentioned above baby gates can be really useful for separating areas and creating a safe area for your cat whilst still allowing them to see what is going on when your dog arrives and of course to be able to meet your dog with a safe divide.

Always make sure initial encounters are supervised until you are certain that your cat and dog tolerate each other.

Introducing Your New Dog to Your Cat

When you are ready to physically introduce your dog and cat without a physical barrier, do so when your dog is at their calmest. You may wish to take them for a long walk beforehand.

For the first introduction, use a room in which your cat is easily able to escape to a safe place if they want to (for example, a room with some familiar and well used high elevated areas such as a sideboard or shelf or even the top of a door.   This way your cat can escape from the situation and gain vertical height as cats often like to be above the scene looking down and can feel safer that way.

We would recommend for the first introductions to keep your dog on a lead so that you have some control should they decide to chase your cat. Keep your dog next to you on a secure lead while your cat is in the room and give them both praise and treats to reward calm behaviour. It is helpful to have another person with you during this time if possible so each animal can be praised and rewarded at the same time. If your dog becomes highly excitable at any time during the introduction remove them from the room. Do this several times a day, keeping the meetings short so that stress is kept to a minimum.

Never force any interactions but just give your cat a lot of attention and positive experiences such as grooming, playing, and treats while they are in the same room as your dog. Just let the cat get used to the dog being there and vice versa.

Komo the dog and Koda cat get on famously

You should allow the cat to choose whether they approach your dog or not. They may hiss or growl but if no interaction is forced they are unlikely to advance and if they do you can protect your dog from any aggressive advance. Just make sure you have a soft safe object (like a large cushion) to place between you and the dog and the cat for the worst case scenario!

Be patient, it will probably take a few weeks of having your dog on the lead with the cat around before everyone is sufficiently comfortable to try without the lead. These interactions should still be closely supervised.

In the initial stages there may be some hissing and tail swishing – but this should settle down after a few days. Keep a close eye on both animals and never punish either of them for aggressive behaviour as this will be a negative experience associated with the presence of the other animal and counter-productive.

When you are ready to let your dog off the lead ensure that your cat has an easy escape route, again, choose a room with elevated platforms such as high window sills or shelves. Never leave your pets unsupervised and take things very slowly, allowing your pets to become used to one another gradually at their own pace.

Ensure your cat receives a lot of individual attention from you during the period of time over which you are introducing your new dog.  it is important they don’t feel put out by the new arrival and feel neglected.

Do not leave your animals alone together until you are absolutely certain that they tolerate each other, the dog has been trained not to chase the cat and they are all safe.

If you are not sure, continue to supervise directly when you are at home or physically separate them when you are not at home.

The cat should ALWAYS have somewhere safe to which they can retreat (an area the dog cannot get to, such as elevated platforms), even when you do feel comfortable about leaving the two unsupervised together.

Please note, that if the cat has no experience of dogs introducing a dog can be a distressing experience and many cats (if they are allowed unrestricted access outside and have the opportunity to) may leave home for a period of time. This is obviously very concerning, so it is important to do everything you can to ensure that the introductions are done as carefully and slowly as possible and that the cat always has places in the house where they can be safe and secure away from the dog.

Cats and dogs can leave together, they may not be best of friends but learn to tolerate each other

Summary

Keep in mind that your pets may never be best friends. Hopefully, however, they will at least tolerate one another and learn to live happily in the same house. In situations where cats do not like the dog in the long-term, they may still be able to co-exist in relative peace by seeking out their own space and spending most of their time apart.

Pets often have the ability to find a balance and share their territory. Having access to different rooms so that they can choose to be alone can be a big help to making both animals feel secure and happy. Feeding the cat and dog separately is also important and ensuring that your cat has a private area to go to the toilet and a safe sleeping spot too.

If your attempts at introduction are not going well, or either animals seems stressed or agitated, it may be wise to seek professional help through a trained behaviourist.