Five steps to harmoniously introduce your new cat to your dog

5 December 2023 - 3 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
Dog looking at kitten

We've talked about how to introduce new pets to human kids, but what about furry kids?

More specifically, how do you introduce a new cat to your beloved dog, or dogs?

There are a few good rules of thumb to keep in mind to get your pup and cat started off on the right paw. Let's get into it.

Create a "safe zone" for your cat

The goal: keep your cat safe

A little prep before your cat comes home can go a long way toward reducing stress for everyone.

Make sure you pick out a cat carrier that you'll be able to safely transport your cat home in, particularly if you're driving alone. A free-ranging cat or kitten in the car = chaos.

Next, build a cat-safe zone that's barricaded off from the rest of the house—and your pup. Not only will your cat adjust better in a calmer space, but it also means you won't have to entirely cat-proof your house just yet.

Here are the basics to have on hand for your cat's first night:

  • Littertray and litter

  • A couple of cosy bed options

  • A barrier, stair gates work well, or separate room

  • Toys/accessories - kitten teething is real

  • Age-appropriate cat food

  • Bowls for food and water

  • A comb and brush

  • A scratching post

  • A pheromone plug-in, optional. It may help calm anxious kitties

  • A stuffed animal with a heartbeat, optional

  • A blanket or object that smells like your pup, more on that next

By the way, make sure you do your research on cat food before you go shopping. There's an overwhelming array of cat foods out there, and your vet can point you in the right direction for your cat's age, stage, and circumstances.

If youʼre not sure what is best to feed your kitten, chat with your vet. They can help give recommendations based on your catʼs lifestyle, likes/dislikes, age and any concurrent health conditions. They can also help you sort through overwhelming and confusing pet food labels.

While you're doing all this prep work, consider getting your cat insurance. It can help cover the cost of unexpected accidents and illnesses that curious little floofers tend to get into.

Swap smells before introductions

The goal: breed familiarity

Both cats and dogs have incredible scent receptors, and a little bit of pre-meeting scent swapping can help familiarise them in advance of nose-to-nose meeting.

Here are some ideas for what to share with your cat:

  • An extra dog bed

  • One of your dog's favourite toys, that's cat-safe

  • A soft brush you use on your dog

Whatever you select, make sure it's safe for your cat with no long strings or choking hazards, and that your dog uses it regularly enough that it carries their scent.

Just make sure it's not your dog's absolute favourite, especially if they've ever shown signs of toy or possession-related aggression. The last thing you want to do is paint this new cat as a toy-stealing impawster.

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Introduce them behind a gate

The goal: keep it pawsitive

After a day or so—use your best judgment—it's time to get your dog acquainted.

Here are some tips to make sure the first meeting goes smoothly:

  • Calm and collected: Choose a time when your dog is calm and relaxed, ideally after a walk or playtime.

  • On a lead and supervised: Even if your cat's behind a stair gate, you may want to keep your dog on a lead during the first few meetings. This ensures you have control over the situation, preventing any overly enthusiastic greetings.

  • Short and sweet: Keep the first interactions brief and positive. Watch for signs of stress in both pets and separate them if needed.

  • Feeding together, but apart: Try feeding your cat and your dog on opposite sides of a door or gate. This helps them associate each other's presence with something positive. You can also accomplish this by giving your dog a treat whenever your cat's near.

Your dog will probably be excited. They might even try to jump over the gate to get to this new bundle of fur. Your cat (or kitten) might react by hiding. That's okay - expect there to be some friction, and be pleasantly surprised if there's not.

Make sure you don't yank on the lead or shout at your dog to calm down or stop barking. All of these can result in your dog associating your cat with stress. And contrary to popular belief, petting your dog to "calm them down" isn't a good call. It actually reinforces the behaviour.

If you can't get your dog to calm down, remove them from the situation and try again later or another day. It's okay to take your time.

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Remove the barrier and keep them distracted

The goal: keep them distracted

Is your dog ready to meet your cat without the barrier of a stair gate or door?

Here are some tips for success:

  • Exercise your pup first. A well-exercised dog is usually a better-behaved dog.

  • Employ prior training: If your dog has some basic training under their collar, now's the time to employ it. Sit, stay, and lay down are all invaluable commands when introducing your cat.

  • Keep them distracted. Play with your cat and have someone else play with your dog in the same room, keeping a safe distance.

  • Never force interaction. Allow them to approach each other in their own time. Forcing them together can create negative associations.

  • Understand body language. Learn to interpret your dog and cat's body language. Hissing, growling, or a stiff body posture are signs to separate them and try again later.

  • Supervision is crucial. Always supervise their interactions until you're confident they are comfortable with each other.

Oh, and dog treats are your friend. Whenever your dog approaches your cat in a calm manner, reward them with a treat. Don't forget to include their treats as part of their daily calorie count though, to help prevent pet obesity.

Don't rush it

The goal: build a calm foundation

So let's recap the steps:

  1. Create a "safe zone" for your cat

  2. Swap smells before introductions

  3. Introduce them behind a gate

  4. Remove the barrier and keep them distracted

Here's your last step: don't rush it.

I know you've imagined your dog cuddling with your new cat, and it's an adorable picture. You might even have friends who've simply plopped a kitten into their dog's bed and have had success.

But you can avoid a lot of future headaches by setting a solid and calm foundation first. Don’t get discouraged if it takes time. Celebrate small steps towards a harmonious relationship.

With time and the right approach, your furry family members can become the best of pals, or at least agreeable roommates.

A cat waving whilst a dog hides its face

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A cat waving whilst a dog hides its face