Introducing your new cat to your dog

A step-by-step guide to help adopters integrate a new cat to their furry family members.

Bringing a new kitty into your home is a great thing. You’re saving 2 lives- the cat you’ve adopted and one that gets to take their place, and you’re filling your home with even more love. But how do you make sure that Fluffy and Fido will tolerate each other — let alone become best buddies?

Even if the cat has had experience with dogs and the dog has lived with a cat before, always proceed with caution. The top priority is always safety. If you have more than one dog, introduce each dog separately to the cat. Be aware of your pet’s body language around each other in each new situation, until you know how they respond to each other.

It’s important to have two people present, one to handle the dog’s leash and the other to tend to the cat. In the initial introduction, make sure that the two animals first clearly see and become aware of the presence of each other. If one of the animals hasn’t seen the other before the other gets too near, fear and panic may result. Even if the two animals appear to be exhibiting playful behavior, slow down any approaches until it’s clear that neither pet is anxious or frightened.

Things to remember before introducing

  • Take your time. Keep in mind that a new interaction or relationship may not succeed in the first few minutes or even the first few days. During the introductory period, you want to always supervise and be ready to separate the animals if any conflicts arise. Pay attention to the body language of both animals.
  • Keep it optional. Don’t force interactions and let your cat set the pace. Don’t rush things. Allow them to remain inside their “comfort zone’. They will interact when they are ready. Don’t ever force the cat or dog into close proximity by holding them, caging them or otherwise restricting their ability to escape.
  • Be patient. Start with scent swapping. Give the dog a soft blankie the cat has been sleeping on and vice versa. That lets your furry companions get to know each other through smells. Take at least a day to do this. Limit exposure through a single, closed, solid door. The dog and cat won’t be able to see each other, but they will be able to hear and smell each other. Start with very short exposure (less than a minute) and gradually prolong the duration of the sessions. This can days, and this is ok!
  • Make the first introduction a quick one. Next, let them see each other at a distance, through a barrier like a strong gate or a screen door. A double barrier is recommended at first. Don’t use glass doors, since some dogs get anxious when they can see but can’t smell or hear the other animal. Keep your dog leashed as an extra precaution. Working at a distance helps both animals get used to each other at their own pace. Again, start with short sessions of letting them see each other, and gradually lengthen the sessions. Allow either pet to retreat without a chase if they’re not ready yet.
  • Don’t forget the importance of body language. Watch the body language of both pets to get clues about how they are feeling. If you notice any signs of stress, stop and allow them to calm down. Then try again later with shorter sessions and more distance between them.
  • Training is key. If there are no signs of stress, work on training the dog to give you eye contact and calm behavior whenever the cat is visible. If you can distract him relatively easily, his behavior suggests he doesn’t have an unhealthy degree of interest in the cat. You always want to ensure the dog’s prey drive isn’t present. Encourage and reward calm behavior.
  • Sharing safe spaces. When the cat and dog no longer respond to each other when they see each other from behind the barrier, start doing sessions with no barrier, but with the dog securely on leash (and muzzled for extra safety, if you wish, and if your dog has been trained to wear a muzzle). If the dog and cat get into a scuffle, you’ll want to separate them again and spend time with each of them individually. Wait another day or two and then begin the integration process again.
  • In the first few weeks, observe whether things are getting better or worse. The integration process can take time, and it can also be stressful, so be patient and continue to monitor their interactions until there is a pattern or plateau in their relationship.