How to Introduce a Cat to a New Dog
Cat owners who are interested in adding a dog to their home are find themselves faced with the question of how to introduce a cat to a new dog. If you want to encourage a long-term loving relationship between your pets, it is so important to take the time to do this introduction properly. If you simply let the new dog into your resident cat's environment and leave them be, the result can be a terrifying chase where the animals feel that they are hunting or being hunted – and then you have to undo all that damage.
The introduction process is important, but one of the most crucial aspects is your own attitude and the energy you give off – being calm and loving will rub off in a positive way on your pets, whereas anxiety and negative energy can be very damaging. Below are some introducing a cat to a dog tips to consider:
A major factor in a good match is both pets’ personalities. Note that there is no magic formula for matching breeds – the breeds of the animals will not guarantee that they get along; rather it is a combination of their personalities and the efforts of the owner. Here are a few factors to consider when thinking about how your cat’s personality might mesh with a dog and what qualities to look for in a new dog:
- Reaction to Dogs - If your cat generally reacts aggressively or fearfully to dogs – swatting, growling, running or hiding – this could be a sign that they are not a good match for a new dog.
- Age and Size – If your cat is very old or very young, be extra cautious about getting a rambunctious dog, as rough play could seriously harm them. If you have an adult cat who likes to play and can confidently take care of themselves, they might be a better fit for a playful (but gentle) new dog.
- Fear Responses – A shy cat who runs away when scared could trigger an excitable dog to chase, which would be a terrifying experience for the cat. On the other hand, a cat who runs and pounces when scared could be dangerous to a new dog. Ideally, you have a cat who stands their ground and is not typically interested in running either out of fear or in play.
- General Personality – A cat who is older, laid back, anxious or shy really needs a calm companion to avoid the possibility of a dog frightening or annoying them.
Before you add a dog to your home, consider whether your cat is in a physical and mental state to handle this change. This is not to say that a nervous cat cannot eventually come around to a new dog, but this process will take much longer and be more involved. You also might consider adopting a dog who has been previously exposed to cats who you know can be gentle with them.
You also want to consider the personality of your cat - for example, when my parents brought home their German Shepherd puppy, Napa, their Ragdoll cats, Caymus and Murphy, were a little over 1 year old. Murphy is an outgoing cat and already got along with the resident dog, Tucker (who had been trained by our cat, Rags). Caymus, however, didn't really care for dogs, so the addition of a new one was terrifying for him.
The process for how to introduce a cat to a dog could take days or weeks depending on the personalities of your cats. This should start at home where your cat or cats are comfortable – not at the shelter or breeder when you are picking up the dog. Here are some steps to take during those first days with a new dog in the house:
Step 1: Separate the Pets
Before you even bring the dog home, put your cats in a room with a closed door where they can smell and hear the new dog from a safe distance. For as long as this separation needs to take place, you can rotate who is confined, the cat(s) or the dog, but the animals should always be safely separated when you are out of the house. If the dog digs at the door to the cat’s room or barks incessantly for more than a few days, you might need to consider professional help from a trainer to introduce the pets.
Step 2: First Introduction
After the dog has calmed down and been in the house for a few hours, you can begin the introduction process. Any first introductions should be carefully supervised with the dog on a leash. Here are two different ways to start this process, depending on the personality of your cat:
Introducing a Friendly Cat: Bring the cat out of the room to meet the leashed dog. Hold the dog if possible, and turn it to face away from the cat so that the cat can sniff the backside of the dog for as long as it wants to. During this time, feed the dog treats to create positive associations with meeting the cat. Once the cat is bored of sniffing, turn it around and allow the dog to sniff while the cat enjoys a treat. If both are pets calm, allow them to meet and sniff face to face. Repeat this process after a few hours if necessary until both pets are comfortable.
Introducing a Nervous Cat: If you have a nervous cat who hides under the bed the minute the dog arrives in the house, their introduction process will take a bit longer and should include a step called cross-door feeding. Keep the cat in the room behind the door, but feed both the cat and the dog at the same time on either side of the door – near the hinge so that you can stand in the middle and watch both animals’ reactions. If the cat is too nervous to approach the door, move both food bowls back until you reach a distance where both will eat.
Each time you simultaneously feed them, move the bowls closer and closer to the door until they can comfortably eat directly on either side. You can also entice your cat with special food or treats to speed the process up. This might take multiple days, but over time it will create a positive association between food and the scent of the other pet. Once your nervous cat is comfortable eating close to the door, you can begin the process described above for introducing a friendly cat to a new dog – taking your time and being patient with multiple meetings.
Again, the most crucial part of this process is for you to stay calm and not give off worried energy. Instead, make a concentrated effort to be soothing, relaxed and radiating happy energy so that your pets will pick up on that mood. Reward them for positive responses and be as loving as possible. Be patient and move slowly – rushing into an introduction with a cat who is not ready could lead to a dangerous or damaging experience with long-lasting effects.
Step 3: Unsupervised Time
Leaving your pets together unsupervised is the final step in the introduction process, and should not be done until you are absolutely sure that they will be safe interacting together. It might take a month or so to get to this point, so be patient and carefully monitor the moods and progress of your pets.
Take the time to introduce your pets the right way if you want your home to be rewarded with a lasting, loving pet relationship!
A lot of the tips for how to introduce a cat to a puppy apply to the reverse situation: how to introduce a kitten to a resident dog. Introducing a new ragdoll kitten to a resident dog requires the same level of consideration and care in order to build a that long-term bond.
Do you have any tips for how to introduce a cat to a dog for the first time? What steps did you take? How long did the process take for your pets? Share your stories here!