Introducing Dogs to Cats
The best indication that cats and dogs can live together comfortably is that they’ve done it before. Nevertheless, if you’re in search of a cat or dog to add to your fur family, below are some pointers on finding a good candidate and how to make introductions.
Finding a Prospective Pet
- Before bringing a new pet home, assess whether or not this will enrich your current pet’s life and increase their overall quality of life. If your cat or dog has not been able to live comfortably with other animals in the past due to their behavior, getting a second pet could be challenging and detrimental to your current pet's emotional well-being.
- Find out as much as you can about the behavioral history of any cat or dog you are considering, specifically in regards to living with other cats or dogs. Ideally, the new pet you plan to bring home will have a history of having lived comfortably with other pets, without apparent conflict.
- Dogs who are not socialized to cats are likely to respond to them similarly to how they respond to other dogs or may treat them as prey. If a dog does not have a history of predatory behavior (i.e., doesn’t chase cats, squirrels or other small animals when outdoors) and appears gentle, relaxed and friendly, they may be a good candidate to consider.
- Relaxed and confident cats or kittens are more likely to adjust comfortably to living with a dog. They are less likely to be negatively impacted (displaying fearful behavior, going into hiding or developing appetite and elimination issues, or fleeing, which can trigger chasing. Shy, fearful and declawed cats may feel vulnerable or threatened around dogs.
- If a cat or dog wasn’t socialized to other species at a young age, they are less likely to show friendly, relaxed or “neutral” behaviors toward other cats or dogs as an adult.
- Regardless of whether or not you have information about a pet’s history with other species or you’re bringing home a puppy or kitten, you’ll want to gradually introduce your current pet(s) to your new pet.
What to Look for and What to Expect
The introductory period can take days or even weeks of brief, gradual and supervised introductions. At each stage, observe your pet’s body language and behavior to gauge how they are feeling about their new roommate. Only move to the next stage of introductions when both pets appear comfortable, relaxed and/or friendly.
With Dogs: Indications that your dog is experiencing relaxation or positive emotions (both are good) include a soft and relaxed body, an open mouth, a wagging tail and choosing other behaviors while in the presence of your new pet, such as checking in with people, sitting or lying down, and sniffing or moving away. Straining and pulling at the end of a leash, whining, barking, growling, lunging, biting, intent focus and apparent agitation are all signs that a dog may not be friendly toward cats. Many dogs will fall somewhere in the middle for their first introduction or a period of time, in the beginning of this new phase.
With Cats: Cats will also display a range of behaviors that indicate whether or not they can comfortably share space with a dog. Indications that your cat is experiencing relaxation or positive emotions (both are good) include constricted pupils and narrowed eyes, a low or softly swishing tail and choosing other behaviors while in the presence of your new pet, such as calmly moving away, grooming, sitting or lying down. A puffy tail and coat, swatting and clawing, hissing and yowling, biting, spitting, fleeing, permanent, consistent hiding or changes to appetite and elimination habits may indicate that your cat is not friendly or comfortable sharing space with a dog.
Integrating a New Cat or Dog
- With the dog out of the house, make sure your cat is set up with access to a couple of safe spaces to retreat to if needed. Initially give a space with a door, and then you can use baby gates and set up high spaces that only the cat can access. Food, water and a litter box should be in these areas.
- Once the cat’s safe space is set up, you can bring the dog into the house. They shouldn’t meet face-to-face for several days. During this time, they’ll both be able to smell and hear each other. You should spend time with each pet separately and allow them to smell their scents on you. If the dog is the newcomer, be sure to pay extra attention to the cat, so they don’t associate the change with less affection and attention. If the cat is the newcomer, aim to make positive associations for the dog.
- It’s crucial that the dog be leashed when making an introduction. Be sure that the dog has gotten plenty of mental and physical exercise before meeting the cat, so that they will have burned off some energy. Also make sure you can redirect the dog’s attention to another activity. You can use toys, treats and praise so that they’ll focus on you.
- Once the dog is less interested in the cat behind a closed door, you can begin planning for them to meet. Have the dog on a leash, and you can use a baby gate to keep them separate and allow the dog to approach it if calm. If the dog behaves in a friendly and/or cautious way, try not to intervene in their interactions except to praise and reward the dog for good manners.
- Allow the cat to venture out of the safe space when ready. As soon as the cat begins to enter an area with the dog, continue to direct the dog’s attention with praise, treats, toys, etc. This will help the cat feel comfortable knowing that the dog isn’t focused on them.
- If the dog and cat get into a scuffle, you’ll want to separate them again and spend time with each of them individually. Wait another day or two and then begin the integration process again.
- Don’t ever force the cat or dog into close proximity by holding them, caging them or otherwise restricting their ability to escape.
- In the first few weeks, observe whether things are getting better or worse. The integration process can take time, and it can also be stressful, so be patient and continue to monitor their interactions until there is a pattern or plateau in their relationship.
Behavior Helpline: Contact our Behavior Team
For behavior questions, please contact our Behavior Helpline either by calling 619-299-7012, ext. 2244, emailing email@example.com or filling out our Ask a Trainer form. San Diego Humane Society Adopters can fill out the Post Adoption Consultation form to schedule their troubleshooting session. We aim to respond within 7 days, but responses may take up to 2 weeks. Thank you for your patience!
Note: Due to the potential for serious injury, canine and feline aggression are best handled by a professional who specializes in aggressive behaviors. Because phone or email counseling is inadequate for addressing serious behavior concerns, we ask that you contact a qualified professional for help. Please refer to the list of behavior resources here.
Questions About Public Classes
San Diego Humane Society offers training classes and resources to address a variety of needs for companion animals.
Our training philosophy is based on the behavioral science concepts of positive reinforcement. Training your pet using these concepts will not only help them learn new behaviors more quickly, it will also strengthen the bond you share.
Our website includes a current schedule of training classes or call 619-279-5961.
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