Can't We All Just Get Along? Introducing Cats and Dogs
A multi-species household can be fun and rewarding—assuming your cats and dogs don't fight like cats and dogs.
Take a few steps during the introduction period to set them up for success.
Plan for Success
Arrange as much as you can to accommodate both the existing pet and the new pet prior to bringing the new one home. Both should have individual areas to be separated safely from each other. If you don’t have the ability to use different rooms, set up a system of baby gates to keep them apart. Each area should have access to fresh water and, for the cat, litter. When the new pet comes home, allow him or her time to acclimate to the space. The first step, before the dog and cat are introduced, is to let them get used to each other’s scent. After the new pet is settled, switch the animals’ spots so that the dog can smell the cat’s space (just be sure to pick up the litter first!) and the cat can smell the dog’s space.
Once the new animal is settled, start introductions slowly. Always remember, the cat runs the show. Always keep the dog on leash at first, and ensure that the cat has plenty of escape routes. It’s helpful to have at least two people to manage the initial introduction. Bring lots of treats—for both the cat and the dog—and reward calm behavior. Don’t let the dog rush up to the cat; rather, allow the cat to choose when to come near and when to escape. If they seem fine in each other’s presence, which often happens with kittens and puppies, allow sniffing and calm interaction. If either animal gets too worked up, simply remove them to their individual spaces, and plan to try again tomorrow.
Full disclosure: It took my shepherd mix, Lucas, six months to be able to be off leash around my cat, Newt. His prey drive took over when she dashed, darted, and climbed, so it took the full six months of daily, supervised, leashed interactions before they could be around each other safely. Now, two years later, the two nap together on the sofa. If you take the introductions slowly, even slower than you maybe need to, you’ll ensure the safety of both animals while building trust between the two.
Though cute Facebook pics indicate otherwise, not all cats will nap on top of dogs. Not all dogs will abdicate the biggest bed to the tiniest cat. Aim for peace and tolerance between the two species, and enjoy having a houseful of loving furballs—any extra cuddling or playing between the two is a bonus!
Maggie is a writer and author, whose first book, Clicker Dog Training: The Better Path to a Well-Behaved Pup was published by Open Air Publishing. When she's not writing (or reading books about grammar), she teaches writing courses to college students and professionals who want to nail down the basics of communication. Outside of work, she hikes, throws dinner parties, plays with her three dogs and cat, and travels as much as possible.