Thinking about mixing things up and introducing a kitty to your household – or perhaps you’re getting a canine sibling for an existing cat? They may not start out as best-friends-forever, but with careful planning and a little bit of inside knowledge, you can improve the chances of a peaceful introduction and a rosy future for your fur babies. So, how do you introduce a dog to a cat?
We’ve got some top tips and tricks, but remember – you can never guarantee that two animals will get along, so don’t leave them alone until you’re sure there won’t be any funny business!
Whether you have inherited a beloved pet, moved in with a partner with an existing fluffy friend, or you just can’t live without both a kitty and a pupper – here is how to properly introduce a dog to a cat.
Do your research
While it’s true – every single creature on earth has its own, unique personality – there are some traits you can expect from the majority of dogs of a certain breed. The following are generalisations, of course, but take a look and see if they set off any alarm bells!
- Sight-hound breeds (such as greyhounds, whippets, salukis and borzoi). These have been bred to spot movement and give chase, so they are usually fast, with a strong prey drive. If you own one of these breeds and they have worked (for example, racing greyhounds) then there is a good chance that they won’t be able to unlearn their instincts and training
- Scent-hound breeds (such as beagles, basset hounds, dachshunds and foxhounds). These are bred for hunting by scent, so they also feature a strong prey drive – though less pronounced than the sight-hound breeds, so many do make excellent companions for other types of animal.
- Terriers (such as Jack Russells, Staffies, Bostons, Airedales and Schnauzers). Terrier breeds also feature a strong prey drive, though with a slightly smaller target than cats in mind (think rats and mice). That said, if they do get on with your cat, kitty may get a surprise if she thinks she has found someone her own size to pick on. Terriers don’t back down easily!
- Herding, Sporting, Working, Companion and Toy breeds (including retrievers, huskies, spaniels, collies and shepherds, bulldogs) are often either highly trainable or lacking a strong prey drive, so they may be your best bet.
- Puppies of any breed can – with the right training – be brought up to respect their feline friends, so if you’re choosing a new pupper then you can bear these traits in mind, but don’t feel restricted by them! Do remember that larger breeds may be more likely to injure or accidentally ‘trap’ your kitty though, so choosing a Bernese mountain dog is probably a little overoptimistic.
That said – our canine companions are full of surprises, so if you aren’t able to choose your pooch, all is not lost!
Some breeds, such as Maine Coons, Abyssinians, Norwegian Forest Cats, Siberians, American shorthairs and ragdolls have various traits that can make them a good match, such as playfulness and even a tendency to play fetch! However, cats are independent and often smaller than dogs, and have not evolved to live in large family groups. Some cats barely even tolerate the presence of neighbouring cats! So you’ll need to move slowly – at your kitty’s pace – and make sure that whatever breed or age of cat you have, it has plenty of dog-free space and easy escape routes. And if you are getting a young kitten, a well-trained dog may end up being its best friend very quickly.
🐾Top tip: Generally, your kitty will need somewhere that the dog cannot access for its litter tray and food, so try to ensure there’s at least one safe room where they can escape from any canine shenanigans when they need to.
Make sure the new arriving pet has a chance to decompress and get used to the new sounds and smells. Choose a small, safe room for this – your bedroom, a conservatory or a study could all work. Don’t allow your current pet to bother them until they have had a couple of hours to chill out.
🐾Top tip: Place a piece of bedding the kitty has slept on into your doggo’s bed, crate or on their favourite blanket for naps, and vice versa. This will help them each get used to the strange new smells that are about to surround them!
How to introduce a cat to a dog household
If you already have your canine companion and need to add a cat into the mix, there are some simple steps you can take before the meeting to help ensure success. If possible, try to do one or more of the following:
- Bring in any new items you’ll need ahead of time, such as the cat food, fountain (yes, some cats require a fountain) and cat flap, so your pooch doesn’t have too much change to get used to at once.
- Try to make sure there are plenty of high-up places for a kitty to hide, such as on top of bookcases. You can add ‘cat shelves’ if you don’t have anywhere suitable. Table tops might not be enough distance from your doggo, so try to provide a few options.
- Get a headstart: teach your pooch to ‘settle’ in one place (such as on a blanket) on command, and practice impulse control by training them to ‘wait’ before snaffling a treat you have placed in front of them.
- Make sure your canine companion has had plenty of exercise on the big day, as it will help prevent any over-the-top displays of enthusiasm! We’ve also got some ideas for games to play with your dog inside.
So, your pussycat has had a little time to get used to things, your dog is tired and calm. What next? Give your dog a chew or food puzzle to play with. While they are occupied, ask your assistant to bring the cat into the secure space you have chosen next to Fido, such as an adjoining room separated by a stair gate.
If your doggo doesn’t notice the new addition to the household immediately, ask your helper to talk to the kitty in a gentle voice – this should get things going! Position yourselves close to the gate (one on either side) so you can intervene if anyone gets over-excited. Once pooch has noticed the new friend and had time to investigate, try to bring their attention back to you. Get pooch to settle, or do some tricks, and use lots of tasty treatos as rewards when they manage to tear their attention away from the irresistible new sights and smells!
At this point, you’ll have a fairly good idea of whether your doggo is going to be one of those ‘friends to all animals’-type of furry brother or sister, or whether the road might be a little longer in your path to a peaceful coexistence! If Fido just won’t settle or respond to commands when the kitty is in view, it’s best to keep them separated and continue practicing until he will.
If there’s no change after a week or so, you can find a local professional dog trainer who should be able to guide you through the process.
If, however, your canine companion is able to settle nicely around the kitty, you can let them meet and greet (although the kitty may not oblige immediately!). Make sure those vertical escape routes are available and ensure the cat is up safely out of the way and paying attention (and the dog, preferably, is not!) and open the gate that separates them. You can have the dog muzzled for this first interaction, too, and keep them on the lead so you can intervene if things get messy!
Then, all you need to do is wait and see who makes the next move.
The cat may approach the dog.
The dog may approach the cat.
Either way, the aim is to keep the dog calm and continue to steal his attention away from his feline sibling with commands and treats: sniff sniff, then a trick and a treat.
If either of the pets show any signs of feistiness, separate them for a while then slowly try again. Eventually, they should get used to each other through this process. If not, a specialist trainer could be helpful, as they will be able to pick up on the underlying reason that your particular pets don’t get on and offer advice that is tailored to your situation.
How to introduce a dog to a cat household
🐾Top tip: If you don’t already use one, try a Feliway diffuser. It releases calming feline hormones that help kitties feel safe and calm in their environment.
The above steps can be used if you are introducing a new pupper into a cat (or even a multi-cat) household. So to make it work, you start off with the puppy in a separate, kitty-free room. You’ll also need to make sure that there is a space the pooch won’t be able to access where the kitty litter-tray and food/water is. While your cat will probably have a multitude of favourite hiding places, you may need to add some more if these are accessible to the dog, too. Provide a few new escape routes, just in case! This is particularly important for indoor kitties, as many of their favourite routes around their space may now be within the reach of a big, wet nose, so they will need plenty of their own territory, too.
The difference here is that you probably can’t train the pooch in advance, and you don’t know the best way to distract him if he’s a new addition from a breeder or rescue centre, so you’ll have to move a little more slowly. It’s also possible that your kitty may be a little more confident in approaching a nervous new pupper, so crate training the doggo straight away can help!
Again, move slowly through the stages until the new siblings are used to being around each other and can be easily distracted. Use lots of praise and treats when the pooch ignores the kitty, and you can hide some kitty snacks out of the puppers reach so he or she has some pleasant changes to enjoy, too!
At some point, your furry friends will have to figure out boundaries. We’ve all seen puppers try to dog-play with cats and get their noses’ ‘booped’, so try not to worry if there’s a little scratch here and there. Over time, they will learn more about each other and develop their own way of interacting with each other – or leaving each other alone!
What happens after the introductions?
Trying to ensure your pets get along harmoniously is an ongoing task, but it should get easier with each day that passes. However, there are some things that you’ll need to supervise the first few times, at least.
- Outside play. Your doggo might react entirely differently to your kitty when they are outside, so make sure you use some of the same precautions in the garden or outside spaces, such as a safe escape route and keeping pooch’s lead on!
- Fuss time. Kitties and puppers can both get jealous when someone else is getting all the attention, so try not to be so smitten with your new arrival that the existing pet feels left out. Lots of equal attention at different times, and praise for the other one if they don’t show any jealousy, is important to teach them that there’s lots of love to go around!
- Visitors, particularly kids. Kiddies can be loud and unpredictable, which is a challenge for either type of pet! But they can also be our furry friends’ favourite people ever, and bring out quite the protective instinct. Make sure you’re on hand to ensure calm introductions when you are first visited by friends and their kids.
So there you have it: how to introduce a dog to a cat, or vice versa! Remember to take things slowly, and if things just don’t seem to be progressing there are experts out there who can help.