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Introducing a Dog to a Cat

Meeting an excitable young puppy or a goofy older dog for the first time can bring so much joy, but for cats it can seem like the end of the world. They are animals that take pride in their clean coats and 9 hour naps, so make introductions short and steady. It’s also a good idea to respect your cat’s personal space, otherwise your pup might be greeted for the first time with a swipe around the face.

Here you can find out the best steps to take when introducing your dog to your cat, or your cat to your dog.

A dog and a cat rolling around on the grass
A dog and a cat rolling around on the grass

Does Your Dog Understand Basic Commands?

If your dog or puppy knows the commands for sit and stay then you should be all set. This is important as it means your dog will listen to these commands and know that it isn’t playtime when your new cat is being introduced.

An obedient Beagle looking up
An obedient Beagle looking up

If your dog doesn’t know any commands just yet don’t worry, just make sure that before you begin with any introductions you tire your dog out with a high energy walk. A dog with lots of energy is bound to get on the nerves of a lazy cat, so encourage him to calm down first.

The First Introduction

Timing Is Key
When bringing home a new dog or a new cat don’t rush into any introductions. Your house is a new and possibly scary environment for your new pet so give him/her time to get used to the new smells and surroundings. This may take anything from a couple of days to a week or more. Taking these steps will help your new pet settle and avoid unnecessary stress.

Tip: One way you can help your pets get used to each other’s smell is by swapping their bedding before they meet. You never know, they might even sleep together after a few introductions.

A Golden Retriever pup and a cat sleeping on the same blanket
A Golden Retriever pup and a cat sleeping on the same blanket

The Right Setting
When you decide that your pets are ready to meet ensure the house is quiet and avoid having unfamiliar guests or small children around. This will keep the meeting as calm as possible. As mentioned above, giving your dog a long walk to get rid of any excess energy is the best thing you can do before introducing a new pet.

On The Lead
For the very first meetings it is a good idea to put your dog on a lead and have him/her sit and stay before introducing the cat to the room. This will help the dog understand that the cat does not equal playtime.

Keep your pup on the lead when introducing a cat for the first time
Keep your pup on the lead when introducing a cat for the first time

Escape Route
Give your cat an escape route (this can be high up furniture, a window, cat flap etc.). This is just so that if the cat does feel worried or threatened it can leave the situation without feeling trapped. Forcing the animals to get along will only make the situation worse.

Positive Reinforcement
Have dog treats on hand to reward your dog for good behaviour and obedience. Never punish your dog otherwise you might make the dog associate the cat with a negative outcome. For bad behaviour give a firm "no" and go back to "sit" or "stay" commands.

For some cats and dogs the introductions will go very smoothly and it may only take a couple of introductions before you feel happy, but for others it may take multiple introductions per day over a few weeks. After your dog remains calm on the lead then the next step is to allow them to interact off the lead, but always ensure there is an escape route for the cat. The most important thing here is not to rush through the introductions, some dogs may need much longer before you feel happy that they can be trusted with a cat.

A dog lying down with its ginger cat friend
A dog lying down with its ginger cat friend

Things To Expect

Some dogs will see a cat like they see a dog and might want to play with it. This is not ideal - it will most likely be interpreted with a few claws and a hiss, and it might even cause one or both animals distress or harm.

Some breeds of dog have very high predator/prey instincts and will act aggressively i.e. stalking/staring at the cat. This is where “repeat” and “positive reinforcement” are very important in order to break this behaviour. Sometimes this instinct will be very difficult to break and you may never be able to leave your pets together unsupervised.

Sometimes your pets will outright avoid each other. Although not a bad thing, this may mean that if forced to stay in the same room (overnight for example) one of your pets may become distressed.

A cat deliberately avoiding a strange dog
A cat deliberately avoiding a strange dog

A Warning For Kittens
This is probably the worst thing to imagine, but you have to think about it. A dog can very easily kill a cat and this is even more true for kittens. It may be best to wait until your kitten has grown up before making any introductions. This is especially important if your dog is quite lively and playful.

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