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How to Introduce a Cat to a Dog

How to Introduce a Cat to a Dog

Dogs and cats living together peacefully may seem like an unachievable goal, but there are ways to ensure your furry friends all get along. The best way to introduce a cat to a dog is to take precautions when they first meet, as you don’t want to create a bad experience for either animal. It’s important not to allow the animals or yourself to get hurt.

Some dogs will naturally get along fine with cats, while other breeds will be predisposed to chasing, herding or even hunting smaller animals like cats. Remember that each animal is different, and depending on the individual dog’s and cat’s personalities they may get along fine with some animals but be no good with others. This article will explain how anyone can introduce a cat to a dog without the two getting into a fight, including:

Best practices for introducing a cat to a dog

Whether you are introducing a new puppy to the cat’s domain, letting a puppy and a kitten meet for the first time, or bringing a kitten into a dog’s home, make sure you strategise first. If you’re adopting a new animal, check with the shelter if they are well-socialised. Some cats will already have lived with dogs and this could make things go more smoothly for you if you’re worried about your dog’s reaction to a new cat.

Experts say the ideal dog-cat introduction occurs when they are both young, so they learn to live with each other from the start. Of course this isn’t always possible, so some quick tips for their first meeting are:

  • Trim your cat’s claws
  • Put your pup on a leash
  • Make sure your dog knows his/her basic commands, namely ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘leave it’
  • Take your dog for a run or play before the introduction to run off some excess energy
  • Have treats for both animals handy

It’s important that you are present for the first interaction, ideally with a second person around to help. Be ready to intervene if necessary. The best way to introduce a cat to a dog is to keep it brief at their first meeting. They might get along well straight away, but allow them to get used to each other slowly as it’s best not to put them together unsupervised for a few weeks to a month.

Watch both animals’ body language to gauge how they are reacting. If your cat has it’s ears back and tail swishing back and forth it is a sign he is unhappy. If the dog begins to freeze up and stare at the cat, this is a predatory reaction which can indicate it wants to chase the cat. The same goes for whining and barking. It’s normal for the dog to be interested in the cat, but if either animal is becoming too uncomfortable or a fight seems imminent, it’s probably time to intervene.

Quick Tip: Have two people present at the first meeting so you can restrain both animals if necessary. If your cat and dog get along well, make sure to give them both a treat so they have a positive association with the meeting.

Desensitising the two animals

If your dog and cat don’t get along well when they first meet, or your dog is too fixated on the cat, try letting them get used to each other slowly. Desensitise the animals to each other by gradually increasing the amount of exposure they are allowed.

The first way of doing this is by placing your cat in a spare room with a baby gate against the door, so your dog cannot get in. Don’t pick a room your dog spends a lot of time in, as he or she might feel like the cat is invading his/her space. The cat might also feel threatened by a strong smell of dog in the room. Give the cat everything he/she needs, such as food, water, toys and a kitty litter box.

Remember that cats are clever at escaping and jumping, so make sure the cat can’t get past the blockade you put up. If your dog is simply too excited by seeing the cat, you can keep the door closed completely for a while before allowing the animals to view each other. Feed the animals on either side of the door, so they can smell each other but not see each other.

With your cat and dog safely separated, you can desensitise the two animals to each other and allow them to meet only when you, the alpha, decide. When your dog is focussed on the cat, draw his/her attention away with toys, games and attention. Praise your pup and try giving him/her a little treat to reward her for not focussing too much on the cat.

Keep in mind that cats are good at squeezing through small gaps and are also good climbers and jumpers. So, make sure your cat can’t get past the gate you put up. The gate needs to be a barrier that allows the cat and dog to see one another when you allow it, but does not let the two animals get to each other. By continuing to work with your dog in the cat’s presence, you can teach your dog to associate the cat with good things, such as toys, food and your attention, and desensitise him/her slowly.

cat playing with dog

Through this process of slowly letting the dog see the cat and get accustomed to the cat’s presence, most dogs will become desensitised and lose interest in the cat. In some cases, the dog will lose interest in the cat quickly, but for other dogs it may take weeks or even months.

A few dogs will simply never adjust to having a cat around. As either animal could seriously injure the other, exercise patience when allowing them to adjust to each other, and don’t allow them to be together unsupervised until you are sure they are ready. Be patient and make sure both animals are safe at all times.

Quick Tip: Try desensitising the dog and cat to each other by allowing them to see each other while they are safely separated. Give them food and toys to keep them happy and they usually slowly adjust to having each other around.

Keeping cats and dogs living together happily

Going forwards, you can make sure your dog and cat continue to live well with each other and hopefully create a beautiful bond. You can create separate spaces within your home which will be best suited to each animal. This could mean a high perch for the cat and a sleeping bed for the dog in a separate area. These permanent retreats will ensure both animals feel like they have privacy and their own space from each other, which will help prevent them from becoming jealous.

Feed both animals at the same time but in different areas. It’s important to keep your dog away from the cat’s litter box, both because this is stressful for the cat and because your dog might be tempted to dig or mess up the litter box, or even confuse it with food.

Quick Tip: Allow your dog and cat to have their own separate areas, as they are different animals with very different needs. Hopefully they will bond and spend time together of their own accord.

Dogs and cats can be friends

It’s a commonly spread myth that cats and dogs will never get along. Many canine and feline best friends like to nap and play together, and your dog and cat will hopefully be this way one day.

Take time to give your animals the best shot of living together happily, but remember that in rare cases, your dog may never adjust to having a cat around. Conversely, some cats have had bad experiences with dogs and will remain suspicious of all canines.

The methods of allowing a cat and dog to meet for the first time which were discussed in this article will help you to give their friendship a chance while keeping both animals safe.

Things to remember

In conclusion, whether you are introducing a cat to a dog, a kitten to a puppy, an older cat to a puppy, or vice versa, give them time to meet but be ready to restrain them if necessary. Watch both animals’ body language and treat them for good behaviour. If they don’t get along well at first you can desensitise the animals to each other by allowing them to adjust when they are in safe, separate spaces but can still see and smell each other.

Keep them both happy by making sure they have separate areas and both get lots of love, attention and treats. Your cat and dog will learn to tolerate each other at least, and hopefully come to love one another with time.

Read more articles on pet parenting. Learn how to introduce a kitten to a cat and how to remove fleas on your cat or dog.

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