Introducing Your Dog to a Cat

It’s easy to do. After you bring one animal into your home, if you don’t have a tremendous amount of willpower, you may soon find the four-legged residents of your home outnumbering the two-leggers. So how do you make the introductions between your dog and your cat without their fighting, well, like dogs and cats?

bonding
There may be tension at first, but your dog and cat can learn to get along.

Preparing to Bring a Cat into a Dog’s Home

If your dog is already the established resident, and you’re bringing in a cat, there are several things you can do to make the transition to a two-animal home more successful. The key is to take it slow and allow your dog time to get used to the idea.

Before you even start looking for a cat, you may want to test your dog’s attitude towards felines by taking him or her to a friend’s house where there are cats. If you have no friends with cats, you might look for a day when your local pet store is having an adoption event and take your dog to visit the cats then. Ideally, you will find a cat that is sleeping or otherwise being still so your dog’s prey drive is not triggered by the cat running away.

Once the cat starts moving, you won’t get a true read on how your dog feels about cats because the urge to chase will be overpowering. Most dogs like to chase anything that moves – squirrels, bunnies, small children – so they will think the running cat is just another plaything to chase after.

If the cat stays still, a dog who is going to get along with cats may approach the cat calmly to simply check it out. Watch your dog’s body language: cautious sniffing is a good sign. What you don’t want to see is the dog crouching and leaning forward, getting ready to spring. Backing up in fear is also a bad sign.

A cat who is up to the challenge may rub his or her face against your dog. Cats have scent glands in the area around their whiskers. By rubbing the face up against something, they mark the thing as their own. The cat may rub his or her face while winding between your dog’s legs, or the rubbing may be face to face.

Once you have established that your dog is not going to go stark-raving mad every time he or she sees a cat, you are ready to find the specific cat that’s right for your home. Ask the rescue organization or cat breeder with whom you’re working to help you find a cat that is good with dogs. Many adoptable cats live in foster situations, just like dogs do, so the foster families may be able to help you find a calm cat who gets along well with canines.

Even in a shelter, there are often cats who are allowed to roam the premises, and may have had experience with dogs.

If you’re getting a young kitten, it’s likely the cat will not have had time to form any preconceived notions about dogs. It’s your job to make the first experience a good one.

When you actually bring the cat home, start by wrapping the cat or kitten in a towel to get the feline scent on the towel. Leave the cat in the car, and take the towel into the house. Let your dog sniff at the towel to get him or her used to the smell. Dogs explore new things primarily with their noses, and it’s going to be much easier on the cat if the dog at least gets a preview of the exciting new scent.

You may want to bring the cat into the house in a small crate or carrier. This will allow a face-to-face meeting without any possibility of actual contact. Let the dog sniff all around the carrier while the cat is safely locked inside. The cat may not like the attention, but will be in no real danger.

Find an area of your home that can be blocked off with a baby gate where the cat can establish a safe haven. In this area, set up the litter box, bed, and food for the cat. Keeping the dog locked out of the area also means your dog won’t be eating the cat food or the lovely presents the cat leaves in the litter box.

Take the carrier to the safe area and open the door, but let the cat decide when to get out. It may take hours or even days, but that’s okay. Eventually the cat will come out of the carrier. As the cat gets used to the safe area, he or she may begin to venture out into the dog’s area as well. Cats are extremely agile and can negotiate their way over a baby gate even when they are quite small.

Meanwhile, your dog will be getting used to having the scent of a cat in his or her house so that when the cat actually does come out of hiding it may not be such a big deal.

Preparing to Bring a Dog into a Cat’s Home

Just as when you are picking out a cat to bring into your dog’s home, when you bring a new dog into a cat’s home, you want to spend some time doing temperament testing before you take the plunge. Ask breeders, shelter volunteers, or foster families if the dog you’re looking at has any experience with cats.

bonding
Once you successfully introduce a dog and cat, it's High-Fives all around!

In a shelter, you may be able to take the dog (on a leash) into the cat section, or at least near enough to it to see the dog’s reaction. If he or she goes nuts, you may want to consider a different dog.

Even if your cat isn’t used to having a “safe area”, you may want to create one before you bring the dog into the house. Putting up a baby gate to keep the dog away from the cat’s food and litter box will be helpful, even if the cat doesn’t at first recognize the area as his or her own. Your cat will also seek refuge under beds and in small spaces where larger dogs cannot fit.

If your cat still has front claws, it is likely that when the dog comes by to give him or her a nose job, the cat will establish the pecking order fairly quickly. If the cat doesn’t like the attention of the dog, a quick swipe across the nose will be a big deterrent to your dog. This can be a long-lasting lesson, and you may never have any problems again.

Without claws, the cat will need to rely on you to keep at least the initial interactions safe. You may want to hold the cat on your lap the first few times the dog is around to help the cat feel secure and to maintain safety. If the dog is outright aggressive or if the cat is getting overly upset, you can simply stop the interaction and carry the cat back to the safe area.

Eventually, your animals will likely learn to co-exist whether or not they’re wild about having other four-legged housemates.

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