How to Introduce Dogs and Cats in 5 Easy Steps

A new dog being introduced to a resident cat

Do cats and dogs get along? While it’s used as a humorous sign of a ghostly doomsday scenario, dogs and cats really can live together without creating mass hysteria. The key is to choose your furry friends carefully and introduce them slowly. Here are 5 steps for introducing a dog to a household ruled by a cat or introducing a cat to a home protected by a dog.

Step 1: Prepare for the Introduction

How do you introduce a dog to a cat or a cat to a dog? The key to introducing dogs and cats is to take it slow. The first step is to prepare your home and your pets for the introduction. 

Before bringing a new dog or cat home, make sure they’ve been checked out by your veterinarian, so you don’t bring illnesses or parasites into the home.

Check the history of the new pet. Animals with previous positive experiences with the other species will adjust more easily. On the other hand, pets imprinted with a negative experience may take more time to relax in each other’s company.

Keep the new pet and the resident pet separated for a few days in the house while they get used to each other’s scent. Alternate areas where they can roam freely so they can pick up all the smells. Feeding them on either side of a closed door can help both pets relax and associate food with the other pet.

Be sure to split your time evenly between the new and the resident pet. If one feels jealous of the other, they’ll bring that jealousy to the introduction and start out on the wrong paw. While they are apart, train your dog to learn the “leave-it” command. 

Before you introduce a new dog to your cat, it helps if your dog exercises first to ensure he’s gotten rid of all his nervous energy. If there are multiple cats in the house, begin the introductions with your most dominant, top cat.

If the pets are relaxed and can eat calmly on opposite sides of a closed door, they are ready to meet each other. With a little luck and a lot of love, you’ll soon be enjoying the benefits of a multi-pet household 

Step 2: The First Meeting

The best way to introduce a dog to a cat is to meet on neutral ground. Make sure your dog is leashed and your cat has a perch that she can jump to or an escape route with a barrier, like a baby gate, so your dog can’t follow. Keep your dog on a leash and let your cat roam. Have some treats handy, especially dog treats.

If everything goes well, let your dog sniff your cat calmly, then redirect his attention to you with the “leave-it” command, give him a treat and praise him for being good. Repeat that a few times, redirecting your dog’s attention with a treat after each sniff.

If your dog can’t focus on you or the treats when your cat is in the room, keep the two separated for a few more days. Avoid holding or restraining your cat. If she is frightened, she may scratch or bite you to get away.

Keep the first meeting short. If there are any signs of intense fear or aggression on the part of either pet, separate them and try the next day.

Signs of a fearful or aggressive cat include: 

  • Hissing or growling 
  • Your cat’s ears go back and or lay flat on her head 
  • She arches her back and puffs up her tail

Signs of an aggressive dog include: 

  • Growling or barking 
  • Your dog becomes too focused on your cat and assumes a stiff body posture 
  • Your dog can’t be distracted with commands or treats 
  • He lunges or rushes your cat

Cats have a flight-or-fight response. If your cat gets cornered, scared, and can’t escape, she’ll fight. That can lead to minor swipes on your dog’s nose, serious corneal ulcers, or your dog becoming defensive and fighting back.

Don’t leave them unattended until you know they are comfortable with each other. Dogs can injure or kill a cat quickly if they become aggressive.

Step 3: Building Positive Associations

When they begin to relax around each other, reward both pets equally with treats and praise.  Allow them to meet again, keeping your dog on the leash and letting your cat roam around the room. Give your cat a way to escape or a high perch if she needs to get away from the dog.

The key is not to rush the introductions. If you’re worried about introducing a scared cat to a dog, just be patient and don’t force the issue. Cats are naturally curious, so even if she runs aways the first few times, once she understands your dog is not a threat, your cat will probably want to investigate this new furry friend. 

Step 4: Increase Interactions

If the introductions continue to go well and both animals seem calm in each other’s company, increase the interactions. Let your dog roam around the room but keep the leash on him so you can step on it or grab it if needed. Keep using the “leave-it” command if your dog is too focused on your cat.

Always supervise the interactions and keep them separated while you’re away from the home. Be sure to praise both pets and give treats equally to avoid either one becoming jealous.

Step 5: Be Patient

Wondering if your cat and dog will ever get along? Be patient; it may be a couple of months before they really get used to each other and even longer before them become cuddle buddies. Just remember not to force them to interact if they are not ready and don’t leave them alone together until you are sure that they are friends.

How do you get cats and dogs to get along and play with each? Play with both at the same time so they can learn. Dogs and cats have different play signals, and they may need time to learn each other’s body language. Your cat may not understand your dog’s “play bow” like another dog would. When cats play, they pretend to stalk, chase, ambush, and grab prey. Depending on your pet’s sizes (a very large cat with a small dog or puppy), that may initiate a fear response in your dog.

When relaxed, comfortable, and trusting, cats will lie on their sides partially exposing their stomachs, and dogs will lie on backs with their stomachs fully exposed. If your cat approaches your dog with her tail up or in the “question mark” pose, she’s calm and may want to play. If she tries to rub her head or body on your dog, she’s marking him as her own. This is a good sign.

If your dog approaches your cat like he does other members of the family, with a slightly wagging tail, his head up and his mouth open, he’s comfortable around your cat and does not view her as prey.

How do you introduce a hyper dog to a cat? If you’re worried your dog is intensely focused on your cat, is being too aggressive or excited around your cat, talk to your vet. Likewise, if your cat is scared of your dog, stays hidden, stops interacting with the family, or starts urinating or defecating outside the litter box, seek veterinary advice. Your vet may be able to treat excessive hyperactivity, fear or aggression with calming supplements or recommend animal behaviorists who can help.

One more thing to remember about dogs and cats sharing the home: make sure your dog stays away from your cat’s litterbox. It seems kind of gross, but many dogs like to eat cat poop. 

Best Dog Breeds That Are Good With Cats

While every dog is unique, there are certain dog breed groups that are more likely to get along with cats than others. Breeds from the toy group tend to be affectionate and sociable, and those from the sporting group are known as friendly and outgoing.

Be cautious about breeds that are likely to chase, shake, and kill prey. Some sighthounds, terriers, and other hound group breeds are hardwired to chase and may look at your cat as prey. Herding group breeds have a strong desire to herd anything that moves, including people and other pets. Cats will most likely get very annoyed by this behavior. Understand that you may not be able to train away these instincts in some dogs, but there are still plenty of dogs that are good with cats.

The best dog breeds that are good with cats include: 

  • Basset Hounds – among the most good-natured and easygoing breeds 
  • Beagles – amiable personality that usually gets along well with other pets 
  • English Bulldogs – docile breed that doesn’t like to run or chase; good with other pets 
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels – sweet, gentle, playful pup that’s friendly toward other pets 
  • Collies – mild-mannered dogs that are friends to all, likes mental and physical exercise 
  • Golden Retrievers – friendly, trainable, lovable dogs that are devoted and eager-to-please family pets 
  • Papillons – gentle, playful, and obedient pups that are generally friendly toward strangers and other pets 
  • Pugs – playful, confident, and willing to please although sometimes they can be a little headstrong

Best Cat Breeds That Are Good With Dogs

All cats are different, but there are some breeds that are known to be more mellow, playful, or outgoing, making them better suited for life with a dog. Just remember the combination of a large dog and a small cat might lead to rough or dangerous playtime for the cat.

The best cat breeds that are good with dogs include: 

  • Ragdolls – an easygoing, people-pleasing breed known to adapt easily to almost any environment 
  • Maine Coons – one of the largest cat breeds that can reach the size of a medium-sized dog, so they’re less likely to be intimidated and they love to play fetch  
  • Birmans – a gentle temperament, they can be playful with dogs 
  • British Shorthairs – very chill, sturdy, larger-size cats that get attached to family members 
  • Abyssinians – intelligent and extroverted kitties that love to play 
  • Japanese Bobtails – trainable cats that want to be involved with their family 
  • American Shorthairs – cats that adapt well, but might need a little me-time away from the pooch 
  • Norwegian Forest Cats – sociable, gentle, larger cats that are natural athletes 
  • Tonkinese – personable cats that love playing with the family and other pets 
  • Siberian – tend to welcome canine family members and enjoy playing fetch like Maine Coons 
  • Devon Rex – playful cats that are loyal and devoted to their families 
  • Turkish Van – even-keeled cats that can get along with non-hyper dogs 
  • American Curl – generally compatible with cat-friendly pets

Introducing Pets of the Same Species

Just because they belong to the same species, it doesn’t mean all cats will always get along. They can be very territorial, and cat-to-cat introductions should go slow as well. With a little time, your cats will sort out of the pecking order and learn to become buddies or at least good playmates.

It’s easier to introduce dogs, as they tend to make dog friends more readily than cats. Still, take it slow and keep them leashed to make sure they’ll get along before letting them play together off leash.

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