manx cat cuddles with labrador retriever dog
Samantha Gehrmann / Stocksy
If you have a new cat or are planning on adopting one — congratulations! If you already have a dog at home (who, ideally, you already know is good with cats), you’re probably wondering how to best introduce them. The good news is that many dogs and cats get along just fine. “[They] either benignly ignore one another or act like close friends. They often live together relatively easily despite differences in communication signals and the issue of some dogs viewing cats as prey. However, when the relationship is tense, it can cause deep distress for household members of every species, and can even lead to the surrender of one or more pets,” says animal behaviorist Karen B. London, PhD in her article Dogs and Cats Can Be Happy Together.

There are many ways to go about this introduction, but you can use the six steps below to slowly and safely get your family members acquainted. You can also use this technique for a new-dog-to-resident-cat introduction if you know the dog has lived safely with cats before.

It’s also best to enroll the help of a professional pet behaviorist or trainer, especially if you don’t know if your dog is cat-safe. Nothing replaces in-person observations and expertise for the safety of all involved; it’s worth the cost.

Introducing cats to dogs

How long does it take for a new cat to get used to a dog?

This method of introducing a cat or kitten to a dog uses a crate and lots of time. Taking it slow — which can be as quickly as one week or as long as months, depending on the pets being introduced — is really worth it for everyone’s safety and stress levels (including yours).

Six essential steps in introducing cats to dogs

Step 1: Get your home ready

First, get your dog ready. If they do not already know the commands “sit” and “stay,” they should learn them before being introduced to your cat for the first time.

To get your cat ready, set up their isolation room with food, water, a litter box, and a bed. This room allows your cat a chance to become adjusted to their new home. “Adjusted” is behaving in a relaxed manner, properly using their litter box, not hiding, and no big black dilated irises at noises from the other side of the door. Depending on your new cat’s personality, this adjustment period can take anywhere from one day to several weeks.

Of course, you can spend time with your cat in the isolation room, but your dog should stay outside. You may want to set up a wire dog playpen gate on both sides of the door so you can get in and out more safely, or close your dog in another room away from the isolation room’s door, so if your cat slips out, it’s not right into your pup.

Why is it essential to separate spaces initially?

There are a few reasons it’s essential to initially separate your cat and dog. First, as mentioned above, you want to give your new pet the space to adjust to their new environment. You also want to give both pets a chance to get used to each other’s presence without being in a confined space together and ensure they will both be safe around the other.

Step 2: Feed them on opposite sides of the door

Feed your cat and dog on opposite sides of a closed solid door (not glass, screen, or see-through) for one week. They will begin to associate each others’ presence (smell, sounds) with a pleasurable experience – eating. If your dog starts whining, pawing, or barking at the door, move the food bowls farther away. Keep your pup on a leash and gradually move their bowl closer to the cat’s door each feeding time.

Eventually, when both pets are eating calmly next to the door, expose them to each others’ scent more strongly by rubbing them with a towel (or a toy or their bed) and placing that down with the food bowl for them to smell as they eat.

How does exchanging scents help in the introduction process?

Exchanging scents gives each pet time to acclimate to the other’s scent, which can help them both adjust to having a new animal around. When giving each pet the item with the scent of the other, it’s helpful for pet parents to give that pet lots of praise, treats, and attention so that the pet associates that scent with a positive experience.

Step 3: Introduce your cat and dog through a barrier

This step allows your cat and dog to see each other without making any physical contact by putting your cat in a crate. Before you can do that, though, you’ll want them to get used to spending short periods of time in, ideally, a big wire crate. Many cats already associate a regular plastic pet carrier with scary things (vet visits, being abandoned at a shelter), so it can be worth investing in or borrowing a big wire dog crate. The bigger the crate, the better, but you should still be able to carry it.

Lure your cat into the crate by feeding them right outside the crate. Then, slowly move each meal farther back into the crate. Once they’re in the crate, shut the door for five minutes, then let them out. If your cat is nervous in the crate, practice this two to three times a day until they are relaxed.

If your cat refuses to go in the crate, you can crate your dog instead. However, there are several disadvantages, including the chances that your cat isn’t leash trained, which is necessary for the next step, and, in very rare cases, your cat might attack your dog in the crate, and cat paws and claws go right through most crate openings and can seriously hurt your dog. You’ll also have less control over your dog in the crate than when they’re leashed.

Step 4: Allow your dog into your cat’s room

Once your cat is in the crate, carry it into the biggest room in your house and place it as far away from the door that separates your dog from the room as possible. Put a leash and harness on your dog and bring them into the room where your cat is in the crate.

Have your dog “sit” and “stay” just inside the door, but where they can still see your cat. Have your dog practice sit, down, shake, and other commands for five minutes in that location.

You can allow your dog to sniff at the kennel and your cat as long as they are calm and listen to you if you say “sit” or “come.” Eventually, the animals should be brought close enough to allow them to investigate each other visually and calmly.

With each training session, allow them to get a little closer together. If your cat becomes frightened, or your dog starts ignoring you, increase the distance between the animals and progress more slowly. If everyone behaves, leave the room with lots of praise for everyone.

Increase the length of time together.

Once your pets can be in the same room together without tension for five minutes at a time, you can increase the length of their sessions together. If either pet is agitated in any way, you may have to spend as many days as necessary with the cat in the crate and dog on leash until they are calm and relaxed. You may find distracting yourself with a book or TV show will relax you, which will help them relax too.

Remember to breathe, think calm thoughts, and try to keep some slack on the leash. Pets respond to any tension they feel in you. It often helps to say things aloud in a pleasant tone.

What are the warning signs when introducing cats?

If your dog ignores your commands because they’re too interested in the cat, or barks, growls, or lunges, walk them out of the room. Get their attention outside again by practicing a few commands, then try entering the room again.

Repeat this step — with your dog still on leash and your cat still in the crate — for five minutes at a time, for as many days as you need to, until both pets can be in the same room without any warning signs such as:

  • Tension or stress (tucked ears, tucked tails, lip licking, panting)
  • Fear (avoiding eye contact, turning away, freezing)
  • Aggression
  • Vocalizing

If you’ve spent a week or more trying at least three sessions a day and your cat and dog are still acting aggressively or tense toward each other with no improvement, please consult a professional behaviorist or trainer. Staring is often a warning an animal is about to attack, so be careful if your dog or cat seems “calm” but is actually tense, stiff, and staring.

Step 5: Open your cat’s crate.

Eventually, the animals should be brought close enough together to allow them to investigate each other visually and calmly. Then you can allow your dog to sniff at the kennel and your cat, as long as they are being calm and listen to you if you say “sit” or “come.”

Once your pets have sniffed each other through the crate with no issues, and you can spend half an hour in the room with everyone relaxed right next to each other, you are ready to open the crate. With your dog on leash in a down-stay at the far side of the room, have a helper open the door of the crate. Keep your dog focused on you with training cues and treats.

If your cat stays in the crate, tempt them out by tossing a treat just outside the crate door. If they won’t come out, leave the room with your dog, wait for your cat to walk out of the crate, and come back in with your dog. Your cat may run and hide, but focus on keeping your dog in his down-stay. If your dog reacts to the cat walking or running, you’ll need to go back to doing the daily sessions in the previous step until they’re once again ignoring the cat while they are loose.

One thing you should never do: allow your dog to “play” by chasing your cat, ever. This “game” can turn deadly in an instant. Keep your dog on a leash when not separated entirely from your cat.

Step 6: Your cat and dog are loose together.

After two weeks of your dog hanging out with your cat and seeing them run, jump, and play — and both being relaxed around each other and mostly ignoring the other — you can drop your dog’s leash. Congratulations, you’ve successfully introduced your new cat to your dog.

Even after this final step, keep your cat and dog separated with a physical barrier (crate, door, etc) between them while you’re not home to be certain they will be safe for at least an additional month. With bigger or high prey-drive dog breeds, you may always want to keep them safely separated when you are not home.

Tips for making this process go smoothly

Reward positive behavior

Your dog must learn how to behave appropriately with your new cat, and be rewarded for doing so. 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.

Pheromones might help

“Pheromones are believed to change animals’ emotional processing, especially when conditions are stressful. It’s thought that they function differently than medications that reduce anxiety,” says London. One study on pheromones found that there were significant declines in reported problematic behaviors. “Households using a cat pheromone diffuser saw their cats become more relaxed, while households using a dog pheromone diffuser saw an increase in canine relaxation, as well an increase in friendly greetings and time spent by both the cat and the dog in the same room,” says London.

Seek professional help

Sometimes, even the most experienced pet parents cannot get their dog and cat to coexist peacefully. You may have a dog with a very high prey-drive or a cat who just does not like dogs no matter what. If the tips above do not work, it may be a good idea to consult a certified professional dog trainer, certified animal behavior consultant, certified applied animal behaviorist, or veterinary behaviorist. They can give you personalized tips to help your pets.

Can every cat and dog live successfully together?

If seeking out a professional does not help, you may feel helpless. Our experts at Rehome by have talked to hundreds of pet parents 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 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 pets. 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.

FAQ (People Also Ask):

What should you not do when introducing a cat to a dog?

Never allow your dog to “play” by chasing your new cat. This “game” can turn deadly in an instant. Keep your dog on a leash when not separated from your cat.

How long does it take for a new cat to get used to a dog?

This method can take one week or months, depending on the pets being introduced but it’s worth it for everyone’s safety and stress levels (including yours).

Can every cat and dog successfully live together?

Pets are individuals, and not every pet is meant to live with other pets. If one pet is in danger or having them live separately is the best option, Rehome can help.

Why is it essential to separate spaces initially?

Separating spaces initially allows your new cat to adjust to your new home and keeps everyone involved safe.

What are the warning signs when introducing cats?

Warning signs when introducing cats and dogs include tension between the pets, as well as signs of fear, aggression, vocalizing, or any other undesired behavior.

Is it easy to introduce a cat to a dog?

Every pet is different, so the difficulty as well as the amount of time introducing a cat and dog takes depends on the animals involved.

How does exchanging scents help in the introduction process?

Exchanging scents helps your dog and cat to associate each others’ presence with pleasurable experiences, like eating, and familiarizes them with the other.


Animal Humane: How to Introduce a Dog to a Cat

Introducing New Cat to Home

Whole Dog Journal: Dogs and Cats Get Along Together

Introduce Dog to Resident Cat