Cats and dogs can absolutely share a home. Introducing a new dog to an existing cat, however, is a process. The dog is entering a strange environment, while the naturally territorial cat is having a new, unpredictable animal brought into their space. Simply throwing them in a room together is a recipe for disaster. It can even be dangerous. A few simple tips can help bring the pets together in harmony.
A cat with a history of growling or swiping at strange dogs will need to be approached more carefully. Owners may need to reconsider getting a dog in this circumstance. When seeking out a dog, it's important to ask questions about the dog's behavior around other animals. A dog with a history of living peacefully alongside cats is ideal.
Consider the animal's personalities as well. A shy, skittish cat may not enjoy living with a boisterous dog who loves to chase.
It may seem better to bring the cat to the shelter to meet a potential dog before making a final decision. A shelter is, however, a new and potentially stressful environment. Strange sights and the smell of dozens of unfamiliar animals means the cat will not be behaving normally. At home, the cat has a sense of safety and confidence. It is also a space in which the owners can introduce their pets gradually.
Alternate which animal is giving reign of the common areas of the house and keep the other in a different designated room during that time. This allows both cat and dog to explore the space and get used to each other's scent. Initially, both animals may show signs of interest or even stress. Familiarizing them may take time. Wait until your dog seems used to the cat and the cat is calm, eating, and using the litter box normally before proceeding.
It's normal for cats and dogs to take interest in the door separating them. They may even be aggressive in the first day or so. If, after the first few days, your dog still cannot be drawn away from the door and seems obsessed with the cat, they may need professional training or support to be safe around the cat. Growling, angry barking, and swiping at the door are also unfavorable signs.
When your dog and cat are first in the same room, the dog should be kept on a leash. Any signs of fear or aggression from either animal is a sign that they are not ready to be together. A dog with strong prey instincts may become very focused on the cat. They may need toys or treats to help distract them. Owners should interact with the two animals as usual, but always be supervising their contact with each other.
If your dog seems overly fixated on the cat or introductions between the pets are too stressful, there are ways to help. Brief interactions may be best at first. Try placing their food bowls on either side of the same closed door. Play with your dog while the cat is behind a high gate or screen door. Pet your cat while the dog is leashed nearby. This helps the animals associate each other's scent with positive memories.
If the animals are calm and comfortable around each other, your dog can come off of its leash. If the dog is trained to sit and stay, it may be helpful to have the dog stay in place while the cat explores the space around them. Cats should always have an escape route to a safe area where the dog cannot follow them. Supervise all direct interactions for at least a month.
If after a month, the cat and dog have been calm and comfortable, it's generally safe to let them both have reign of common areas. Cats will still need their own high or quiet spaces where they can be alone and dogs will still need regular exercise and attention. At this point, however, many dogs and cats can live happy lives alongside one another.
Some animals never achieve peaceful coexistence. A dog who lunges or growls at a calm cat may never be safe around them. Cats can be trained to tolerate a dog, but they may not be happy. Some cats are even unable to eat or use the litter box due to stress. It's not fair to force an existing cat into a situation where they are constantly afraid. Animal behavioral specialists may help, but in some cases, the cat and dog simply cannot live safely together.
Kittens may be bolder around dogs than adult cats because they haven't learned to be afraid. A tiny, energetic kitten may overexcite a dog or activate hunting instincts. Young cats are especially vulnerable and can fit through tiny spaces between doors or in gates. It's essential to choose a dog with the right temperament and be especially cautious when introducing them to an existing kitten.
A well-socialized adult cat can be more tolerant of a puppy. It's still helpful to watch that the puppy does not get excited and aggravate or scare the cat.
Get your paws on the latest animal news and information