You’ve probably heard stories about dogs and cats who were lifelong friends, and others who never learned to get along. Whether cats and dogs can peacefully coexist depends on their individual personalities, past socialization, and your commitment to a slow, stress-free introduction process.
Introducing cats and dogs may take only a few days, but truly integrating them in your home may take weeks or months. Some pets simply are not compatible, although most can learn to live together harmoniously. Here are some tips to help with safely introducing cats and dogs.
#1: Be honest about each pet’s personality and characteristics
If you already own a dog, before you bring a cat home (or vice versa) take a moment to assess your current pet’s personality. How does your pet react when they see another animal? If you answer “Friendly and curious,” you’re good to go. If you answer “Fearful and aggressive,” think carefully about moving forward.
Many cats adjust to dogs in their space, but not all dogs are cat-friendly. If your dog has a strong prey drive to chase or kill small animals, they likely will view cats the same way. Smaller dogs may be less intimidating, but this is not a hard and fast rule. For example, some small terrier breeds are known to instinctively chase cats, while large, gentle breeds like a Newfoundland get along well with most any creature.
#2: Establish personal space for each pet
If you decide to move forward with introductions, you must first establish safe, individual spaces. These would ideally be separated by both a pet gate and a solid door where each pet will first be confined. The eventual goal is that they share the whole home, while still ensuring cats have a dog-free safe zone and dogs cannot block the cat’s access to food or their litter box. Keep these points in mind and choose each pet’s space carefully.
#3: Allow pets to smell, hear, and see each other prior to face-to-face meetings
Both pets should start off in their own, completely separated areas. Offer each pet a towel or blanket that you switch daily so each pet learns the other’s scent. After a few days, ask someone to help you host play or training sessions for each pet on either side of their door so they can hear the other pet move around. Continue these sessions until neither pet is distracted and each is focusing on the person interacting with them. Then, move on to training sessions on either side of a gate, with each pet in the other’s sight.
#4: Encourage and reinforce calm behavior
During your separate training or play sessions, reward your dog for calm behavior around the cat. Work on “Sit,” “Stay,” “Down,” “Leave it,” and “Watch me” commands with the cat nearby, so they learn to focus, despite their new friend’s presence. Curious and excitable dogs will struggle with this task, but continue working until the cat’s novelty has worn off and each pet can settle near the other. This could take weeks or months, depending on your dog’s personality.
#5: Keep sessions short and build gradually over time
If introductions are taking a long time, remember to keep each session short—less than 10 minutes. Go back one step if you are not making progress and strongly reinforce the commands and calm behavior before moving forward again. If things get worse, start again from scratch.
Once each pet is doing well on opposite sides of the gate and seem happy but not overly excited to see each other, you can try face-to-face introductions. Keeping your dog on a leash for safety, allow the cat to approach your dog on their own terms. Ensure your cat has an escape route back to their dog-free area with a cat tree, wall shelving, or a pet gate with a cat door, and do not allow your dog to chase the cat—distract them with your now-perfected commands and teach them to look to you you for guidance when they see the cat.
Again, keep these meetings short and positive, and then return each pet to their own areas. Extend their time together each day until you feel comfortable letting them interact freely. If you have any doubts, crate your dog or put up the gate when you leave the house.
#6: Consult a trainer for professional assistance
If your dog is persistently overexcited or tries to chase the cat despite your training interventions, or either pet shows fear or aggression, separate the pets and seek a trainer or behaviorist’s professional advice. A professional can assess your home setup, evaluate each pet’s behavior, and determine how to tweak your introduction plans for the best outcome.
#7: Know when to throw in the towel
If you have been trying for months and have consulted a trainer for assistance, but still cannot safely integrate your dog and cat, they may not be compatible and you may need to consider re-homing one of your pets for everyone’s safety. Avoid this heartbreaking situation with careful forethought and planning before you bring a new pet into your home.
With time, patience, and persistence, dogs and cats can live happily together. Some simply live alongside each other, while others form a close, heart-warming bond. No matter the relationship, similar to dog-dog or cat-cat homes, accidental injuries between dogs and cats can still occur. If this happens, separate your pets and seek veterinary care with an Ethos Veterinary Health or other area emergency facility. For more information on introducing cats and dogs, visit the fear free happy homes website.