Your house is about to get a little fuller! Congratulations on deciding to bring a cat into your life. This is going to be an exciting time for everyone involved, including your dog. If a dog and a cat are introduced in a calm, friendly manner, it can set the tone of the relationship for years to come. Here are some ways to help ease the process.
If you have not decided on a particular cat yet, you’re in luck. You can make the introduction a bit easier on both animals by asking the shelter if they have any dog-friendly cats. Some cats are given up by homes that already had a dog, so the shelter might have a cat that is familiar with dogs. Shelters or rescue agencies can also help facilitate a meeting at the location. Always check ahead before bringing your dog, and try to team up with shelter workers to plan the safest route. If you have decided on a cat, you might have some time before you are allowed to bring him or her home. Many shelters spay/neuter their animals before finishing the adoption paperwork, have the animal checked over once more by a vet, or need at least twenty-four hours to fully process the documentation. This leaves some time for you to make preparations at home.
You can prepare your dog by introducing the cat’s scent first. Dogs rely heavily on their sense of smell, and introducing the scent first will allow your dog to get used to the new smell in the house. Ask the shelter or rescue agency if you can use a piece of cloth that was kept in the cat’s cage. If you are getting a cat or a kitten from an individual, you can also ask for this item. Bringing this item to your dog’s attention will introduce the smell of the cat, and give your dog a hint that something will be changing soon. This can work for both animals. Ask if you can provide something with your dog’s scent on it to introduce to the cat. This will also help the cat acclimate to the new surroundings by having one less unfamiliar scent.
Sometimes easing the animals together is the best route, even if it will take quite a bit of time and planning on your part. Try keeping the animals in separate rooms at first. The new cat will grow accustomed to the new environment without having to deal with a very curious roommate. The smell will be strong for both animals, but try to keep them separate and calm for at least a few hours, giving them both space to adjust. Do not leave the two home alone with access to one another. If you are worried about your dog scratching at the door or whining to get to the cat, perhaps consider enlisting the help of someone who can stay home with them during the day. If they have both calmed down and the cat is adjusting well, you can finally introduce them physically. However, if you have a few days, try to wait until the cat is eating and using the litter box, and the dog has had some more time to adjust to the new scent.
The moment has arrived where you feel comfortable introducing the animals. Attach your dog’s leash and use soothing tones. Many people have someone else nearby to help with the introductions. The other person can bring the cat into a room while you bring the dog. It might be easier to introduce the two in a place where the cat and dog do not claim territory, such as a friend’s place or a room in your home where the dog doesn’t go often (such as the kitchen). Try to eliminate all possible hazards in the room before bringing in any animals. You can learn more about making your home pet-friendly in our article “Dog-Proofing Your Home.” Ease the two animals together with your dog secured by a leash. Both animals can act in different ways. Either can become very excited, very nervous, or even aggressive. Most people have to deal with a very excited dog and a panicking cat, but the reactions may vary based on each animal’s unique personality. In the cases of excitement and nervousness, wait for the animals to calm down before bringing them closer together. Go slowly and don’t rush the process. Try to get your dog to respond to commands including “sit” or “lie down” as time passes to keep your dog focused on you, not the cat. The cat might need some coaxing, but he or she will usually start exploring the room and timidly might approach the dog. If this happens, keep your dog as calm as possible.
Watch for signs of aggression which can occur in either animal. Cats can hiss, try to scratch, or try to bite the dog upon introduction. Try to distract the cat, or start the introduction over. If the cat is still behaving this way, revert back to separation and scents. A cat may not be the proper fit for your home if he or she tries to attack your dog even after a prolonged attempt at civil introductions. Dogs can show aggression by growling, snapping, raising the fur on their backs, pinning their ears back, or lunging at the cat. As with cat aggression, try taking a step or two back and starting again. If this does not work, consider your options. You might need the help of an animal behavior professional or to reconsider the two animals living together.
By going slow and planning ahead, you will ease both animals into the idea of change. Be open to other options and consider outside help if the introductions do not go as smoothly as you hoped. Never leave the animals alone together unless you are positive they will be safe. This might need to wait until several weeks or so of supervised interactions have gone well to ensure the safety of both pets.
By Callie T.