If you have or are planning on adopting a new cat, congratulations! You may have a dog that is already part of your family and it’s important to make sure that your pets can peacefully coexist. There are many ways to go about introducing cats to dogs, but these are the six steps I’ve used successfully many times, for a slow and safe introduction of a new cat to resident dogs. “Slow” can be as quickly as one week, or it can take months, depending on the pets being introduced.
These six steps are the distillation of my first- and second-hand experiences working in pet adoption for over a dozen years, including speaking to hundreds of adopters in follow-up calls, and introducing many fostered and adopted cats to dogs in my own home. I’ve learned from many mistakes, so hopefully you won’t have to!
The ideal way to do an introduction is with the help of a professional pet behaviorist or trainer. Nothing replaces in-person observations and expertise. It is worth the cost if you can afford it. If you aren’t able to use professional in-person help, you can follow my preferred “introducing cats to dogs” steps below. I like using a crate and taking extra time to do a slow, step-by-step introduction. Taking extra time is really worth it, for everyone’s safety and stress levels – including yours!
1. Get ready
To get Rover ready, if he does not already know the commands “sit” and “stay”, he should learn them before being introduced to Kitty for the first time.We’ve seen a lot of success using clicker training to help with learning new commands.
To get Kitty ready, set up her isolation room, with her food, water, litter box and bed. Give her a chance to become adjusted to her new home. Depending on her personality, this can be anywhere from 1 day to several weeks. “Adjusted” is behaving in a relaxed manner, properly using her litter box, not hiding, and no big black dilated irises at noises from the other side of the door.
Of course you spend time with her in the isolation room, but Rover should stay outside…no peeking! You may want to set up an “ex-pen” gate on both sides of the door so you can get in and out more safely, like a bank’s double door. Or, close Rover in another room away from the isolation room’s door, so if Kitty slips out, it’s not right into Rover!
2. Opposite sides of the door
3. Get Kitty used to a crate.
4. Dog on leash & harness, cat in crate
- Put Rover away.
- Put Kitty in the crate, carry crate into your biggest room, and put it as far away from the Rover-entering door as possible.
- Put a leash and harness on Rover and bring him into the crate room.
- Have him “sit” and “stay” just inside the door, but where he can see Kitty.
- Have him practice his sit, down, shake, etc. for 5 minutes in that location.
- If he ignores your commands because he’s too interested the cat, or barks, growls, or lunges, use your firm “no” and walk him out of the room. Get his attention outside again by practicing a few commands, then try entering the room again.
- Remember to breathe and think calm thoughts, and try to keep some slack in the leash. The “worst” that will happen is Rover or Kitty will lunge at each other, and you will have time pull Rover back – everyone is safe! Pets respond to tension they feel in you. It often helps to say things aloud in a pleasant tone, like, “Kitty, this is your big brother Rover.” Repeat this step for as many days as you need to, until both Kitty and Rover can be in the same room without tension, fear, aggression, vocalizing, or any other undesired behavior. This can be the first time, or it can take weeks, or months – and rarely, never. There are some high prey-drive dogs or territorial cats that that cannot live freely and safely together.
- If you’ve spent a week or more trying at least 3 sessions a day and they are still acting aggressively or tense towards each other with no improvement, please consult with a professional behaviorist/trainer. Staring is often a warning an animal is about to attack. Please be very careful if your dog or cat seems “calm” but is actually tense, stiff, and staring.
- With each 5-minute training session, allow them to get a little closer together, with Rover still on leash and Kitty still in the crate. Then leave with lots of praise for everyone being so good! If Kitty becomes frightened, or Rover starts ignoring you, increase the distance between the animals and progress more slowly. Eventually, the animals should be brought close enough together to allow them to investigate each other visually and calmly. Then you can allow Rover to sniff at the kennel and Kitty, as long as he is being calm, and listens to you if you say “sit” or “come.”
- Now increase the length of the sessions together. If Rover or Kitty is agitated in any way, you may have to spend as many days as necessary with the cat in the crate, dog on leash, until they are calm and relaxed. You may find distracting yourself (a book, a DVD) will relax you, and that will help them relax too!
- Once they’ve sniffed each other through the crate with no issues, and you can spend a half-hour in the room with everyone relaxed right next to each other, you are ready for Step 5.
5. Dog leashed, cat loose
6. Both loose together!
Even after step 6 when you are not home: keep them separated with a physical barrier (crate, door, etc) to be certain they will be safe, for at least an additional 1 month. With bigger or high prey-drive dog breeds, you may always want to keep them safely separated when you are not home. I hope these steps help lead you to a harmonious multi-pet household!
Additional tips: Although your dog must be taught that chasing or being rough with the cat is unacceptable behavior, your dog must also be taught how to behave appropriately, and be rewarded for doing so (e.g. sitting, coming when called, or lying down in return for a tidbit.) If your dog is always punished whenever the cat is around, and never has “good things” happen in the cat’s presence, your dog may redirect aggression toward the cat.
Precautions: Dogs like to eat cat food – keep the cat food high enough to be out of the dog’s reach. And although there are no health hazards to a dog eating cat feces, it is usually distasteful to owners – and it’s so tempting to dogs that it’s hard to train them not to – could you leave your dog alone with a cheeseburger at nose level? The best solution I know of is to place the litter box where the dog cannot access it, but the cat can- such as behind a baby gate, or in a closet or cabinet with a cat door cutout, or the door wedged open (from both sides) just wide enough for the cat. For more tips on keeping your dog away from your cat’s litter box, read this article.
What if they can’t get along?!
There are times when even the most experienced owners cannot get a dog and cat to coexist peacefully. You may have a dog with a very high prey drive or a cat that just does not like dogs no matter what. If the tips above do not work, it may be a good idea to seek professional help. The first step toward a cat-doggie truce is to consult a certified professional dog trainer, certified animal behavior consultant, certified applied animal behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist. He/she can give you personalized tips to help your pets.
If seeking out a professional does not help, you may be left feeling helpless. Our experts at Rehome by Adopt-a-Pet.com and the Petco Foundation have talked to hundreds of pet owners with very similar dilemmas and understand how difficult it can be to figure out the best course of action. In situations like this, it’s important to remember that pets are individuals and not every cat or dog is meant to live with other pets. If you’re put in a situation where one pet is in danger or you feel having them live separately may be the best option for your family, Rehome can help. Rehome is a peer-to-peer adoption service that allows pet owners to post their pets on Adopt-a-Pet.com to be seen by millions of potential adopters. Rehome also provides pet owners with all of the tools they need to review applications and choose the right new family for their pet. While we hope proper socialization and behavior training for your pet will help you to stay together, Rehome is the safe, reliable, and free way to find another great person or family to adopt your pet if all else fails. Get started with Rehome here.We hope these 6 steps helps you with introducing cats to dogs. Have any additional tips or questions? Leave us a comment below!
This article was updated from its original version on June 6, 2019.