BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

How to Introduce a Cat to a Dog: Fostering Harmonious Homes

A cat and a dog lying in bed together
Martha Harvey
Written by Martha Harvey

Whether it is a cat or a dog, pets bring a great amount of joy to the family that adopted them. However, the idea of owning both a cat and a dog makes pet-loving families weary because the two can’t seem to handle each other’s presence. Have you been considering adopting a cat but you’re afraid that your dog will not like it? Have you started to believe that there is no reliable answer to the question “how to introduce a cat to a dog?”

It is likely that the cat and the dog would repel each other first, but all is not lost. There is a way for canines and felines to stay together in one house while fostering a harmonious relationship. You’ve seen it happen plenty of times—with how many pictures on the internet are featuring a dog and a cat snuggled cozily together.

A person introducing a cat to a dog

As long as you take it slowly, get them used to each other’s presence step by step, and handle the first meeting well, the cat and the dog should become fast friends in no time at all. Your dream of a harmonious, fairytale-like household with lots of animals living peacefully together may just come true.

This article will help you pull through the initial process of keeping a dog and a cat in your home. Introducing a cat to a dog involves five steps, and you are a vital part of the process. You need to be there to monitor them every step of the way. Before we lay out the tips and tricks, let’s take a moment to consider why dogs and cats usually have a hard time getting along.

Why Dogs and Cats Don’t Get Along

Are dogs and cats really natural born enemies? Why are they always depicted to be chasing each other all the time?

They Have Bad Chemistry

Generally, cats are quiet and collected animals that like to keep to themselves. Although they can be quite affectionate as well, they want everything to go at their pace. That’s why they don’t appreciate a dog’s “pushy” nature and rambunctious energy.

a labrador and a cat meeting for the first time

On the other hand, dogs are always too happy to chase after anything smaller than them (squirrels probably have a fair share of stories about being chased by dogs). They probably mean no harm, but the cat has no way of knowing that.

They Have a History

The phrase “fighting like cats and dogs” is an aphorism that says a lot about how a cat and a dog often reacted against each other in the past upon their first meeting. This bad relationship is attributed to the times when cats and dogs still roamed the streets.

cat-and-dog sleeping together

It is only recently that cats and dogs started receiving so much care and devoted attention from their owners. In the past, although dogs have long since been domesticated by human-gatherers and cats have long since learned to coexist alongside humans to hunt down pests, they weren’t as well cared-for as they are today. Many of them ended up homeless as strays. On the streets, they would fight over scraps of food to survive another day.

They Don’t Speak the Same Language

The matter is made worse by the fact that cats and dogs don’t speak the same language. The dog might wag his tail at the cat to show that he came in peace, but the cat will understand that differently. After all, while dogs wag their tail as a sign of excitement or elation, cats swish their tail from side to side as a show of aggression—usually just before they pounce on their prey.

a ginger dog looking at a black cat

But does this mean that it’s impossible for cats and dogs to be friends?  While their evolutionary traits may dictate that they are born to be each other’s arch nemesis, there is no denying that cats and dogs have both become lovable pets in human households. In most cases, they have learned to live together and harmoniously. An evidence to this is all the cat and dog videos available online that almost always make pet owners go “aww.”

Five Easy Ways to Introduce a New Cat to Your Dog

Introducing a cat to a dog may be challenging, but there are slow and safe steps that pet owners can take so the initial meeting won’t be a disaster. While introducing animals to each other (especially those from different species) is best done by a professional pet behaviorist or trainer, you could also choose to do the pet introduction on your own. Here’s how you do it:

Step #1: Get Your Pets Ready

Preparation can help a lot in turning an otherwise stressful situation into a fruitful one. If your dog understands basic commands such as “sit,” “stay,” and others, you should be able to keep them from immediately chasing after the cat on their first meeting. If the dog doesn’t follow commands, make sure to prepare a leash for them.

A puppy and a kitten meeting for the first time

The cat can be prepared by isolating them first so they can slowly get familiar with their new environment, one room at a time. Prepare food, water, litter box, and a pet bed. The adjustment period is greatly dependent on the cat’s personality. As the owner, make sure you stay with the cat in the isolation room while the dog is kept outside.

Step #2: Let Them See Each Other from Different Sides of the Door

Ideally, for this step, you should keep the cat and the dog in two separate rooms that are joined by a transparent door, so they can see each other without being in direct contact. If ever the dog should whine, paw, or bark at the door, make sure to correct him in a stern but calm manner. When both animals have recognized each other’s presence, feed them at the same time.

A dog and a cat looking at each other between a wall made on stairs

Feeding the animals on the opposite sides of an opaque door for a few days will help them associate each other’s sounds and smell with a pleasurable experience.  If the cat is so scared that she wouldn’t even get close to the food bowl, it would help to move the food bowls farther away at first. Gradually move the bowls closer to the door with each passing day.

Step #3: Lure the Cat into a Carrier and Let the Dog Out

To encourage a no-physical-contact meeting, pet owners must leash the dog while the cat is kept inside the crate. However, cats are known for hating crates or pet carriers as these often remind them of unlikeable situations such as car rides and vet visits. If the cat is in an anxious mood because of the crate during the introduction, it would not be a favorable situation.

A cat and a Sleepypod in a room

Let the cat get used to spending short periods of time in a pet carrier or a big wire crate first. These options should be big enough for the cat to at least be comfortable.

Once the cat is reasonably tolerant of the carrier, take the dog inside the room and let them meet. Let the dog sniff the cat’s carrier and observe their reaction. As the master of the two animals, you must also think positively. Animals respond to tension, and if they sense that you are tense, they would likely perceive the other animal as an aggressor. As a result, they might just launch themselves at each other and show aggressive behavior in a bid to protect you.

Step #4: Put the Dog on a Leash While the Cat is Loose

The next step is very crucial and could potentially break the tension between the two. Keep the dog on a leash and let him stay on the far side of the room. You may need someone to help you keep watch of the dog while you let the cat loose by opening the door of the carrier.

a brown dog sitting in a blue leash

Command the dog to “sit,” or “stay” so he understands that you don’t want him to be aggressive. If the dog is too excited by the presence of a cat to heed your warnings, rehash this step a few more times until both get used to each other’s presence.

Step #5: Let Both Pets Free to Mingle

Within a few days or weeks of introducing your pets, you should be able to assess if both of them are ready to meet without fearing that one of them will end up hurt. If they tolerate each other’s presence or even are able to play together at this stage, then congratulations! All your hard work has paid off.

If they are still growling, yowling, and hissing at each other even though you have barely let your dog out of the leash and your cat out of her carrier, don’t risk it. Backpedal to the previous step. Repeat it until you are absolutely sure that a fight would not break out between them.

dog rolling around with cat

Despite being successful with the introduction, you still have to be mindful about leaving the two animals together. Remember that it is ingrained in their evolutionary traits to naturally repel each other. Never leave the two of them to mingle alone without your careful supervising for the first few weeks.

The first few weeks is the norm—although it may take even longer than that. Pet owners need to remember that how long the introduction will take depends on the personality of the pets. Some dogs are so friendly they could adjust to having a cat in just a few days or a few weeks, but others may be so aggressive that they need months to adjust to the new feline in the house.

a puppy playing with a kitten

If after several weeks or perhaps even months your dog still hasn’t accepted the presence of the cat, consider enlisting the help of a professional. They are people who are trained to address behavior problems in pets. They can also come up with instructions for pet owners to follow so their new pet would be accepted by their long-time companions.

Dogs also have a tendency to eat cat food—whether because they are naturally interested in it or simply to just get cozy with the cat. To spare yourself from the potential headache of two fighting pets, consider investing in a dog-proof cat feeder.

Wrap Up

Having multiple pets at home can be a source of great pleasure. Having animals around help pet owners relax and live healthier. However, the test of introducing cats and dogs to each other may feel insurmountable at times. This isn’t true; it’s perfectly possible. As long as the pet parent work hard and exercise patience when introducing the animals, a happy multi-pet household would be right within reach.

It is natural for pet owners to be worried about their present pet’s reception to a new addition to their family. Even while introducing a cat to a cat or a dog to a dog, jealousy or a fight for dominance may result. When the pets come from two different species, the number of hoops you need to jump through doubles.

A labrador and a cat playing together in the grass

You have to correct your dog if he believes that chasing or being rough with a cat is acceptable behavior. You also have to be mindful when calling out a dog for bad behavior. You should not do it when the cat is around. Let the dog realize that you are still willing to give him the attention and love he deserves and that the cat is not a threat or competition.

Despite their differences, cats and dogs could still co-exist happily. After the adjustment period, they would be familiar with each other and may even become best buddies. Who knows; perhaps the next viral cat and dog photo or video shared on social media will be that of your pets.

Can you tell us more about your dog’s personality or the personality of the cat you’ve just adopted? How far have you gone in the process of introducing them? Please share your thoughts and experience with us in the comments section below!

About the author
Martha Harvey
Martha Harvey

Martha Harvey is a skilled veterinarian and a member of American Veterinary Medical Association from Greeley, Colorado. She has 20 years experience of working in Animal Hospital. Martha loves all of her patients, but her favorite one is the Russian Blue cat Stitch, who lives with her.

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