Introducing a New Cat to a Resident Dog
Once your adopted cat has acclimated to her new home (see the Bringing Home a New Cat article), she’s ready to meet the resident dog. As with any introduction (house, people, resident cat), the meeting process should be done slowly, calmly, and with lots of positive reinforcement.
To prepare for the initial meeting, make sure your dog is calm (you might want to consider exercising the dog thoroughly to tire him out). Next crate the dog, then bring the cat into the room and place her on a table where she can see the dog (if your cat is nervous or does not like to be held, then place her in a carrier). Give both the cat and dog treats while they watch one another. If either the cat or dog seems nervous or uncomfortable with this first meeting, then repeat this step as necessary before proceeding to the next part of the introduction.
For the next meeting, place the cat up on a table and give her lots of treats. Next, place the (calm) dog on a leash and bring him into the room with the cat. Ask the dog to sit and give both animals treats. If the cat and dog are comfortable and not hissing or barking, then move the dog closer and give more treats. If the cat seems nervous by the proximity of the dog, ask the dog to lie down to make the cat feel more secure. Continue bringing the dog closer to the cat as long as both remain calm. Once the dog is within a few feet of the cat, allow them to remain at this distance while giving them treats and praise.
Continue with these controlled visits as long as necessary; be sure to keep the visits short and as calm as possible. When the animals begin to relax while in each other’s company, you can start to increase the amount of time they spend together. But be sure to still keep the dog on a leash. These visits should continue until both animals seem comfortable with one another.
Once both cat and dog are behaving themselves, you can begin the next phase of the introduction process—leaving the dog off-leash while with the cat. To prepare for this meeting, it is important that you provide your cat with an escape route should she feel it necessary to get away from the dog. A high cat tree or cabinet will allow your cat to jump up to a safe area. If you don’t have these available, baby gates also work well—these allow your cat freedom while confining the dog to a specific area of the house. It is essential that you supervise these off-leash visits and quickly correct any chasing, stalking, or intimidating behavior using voice commands or timeouts (you can read more about how to effectively use timeouts in the article, Changing Your Cat’s Behavior). If problems arise that cannot be corrected quickly and easily, then separate the animals and back up a step to crate or leash controlled meetings.
After you have had several off-leash meetings free of incidents and you feel comfortable with the relationship, you can begin leaving the animals out together unsupervised. Again, it is important that before you do this, you make sure that your cat has an escape route should she need to get away from the dog. Start with very short unsupervised visits then gradually increase the time they spend together until they no longer need to be separated.
Most often animals can learn to live together in peace, but it may take time for this harmony to be established. If you’re patient and you don’t rush the process, then chances are you will be successful in integrating your household.
However, it is possible that things won’t work out. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, cats and dogs do not get along, and this can be a dangerous (and potentially fatal) situation. If you find that the animals are continually exhibiting aggressive and/or predatory behaviors during the introduction process, then it’s possible that you will be unable to integrate the two. If you have the space and time (it is important that neither animal be neglected) to allow the cat and dog to live in separate rooms in the house, then you could consider keeping both animals. If this is not possible, it is in the best interest of the animals that you find one of them another home. Consider having a trusted friend or family member adopt one of the animals. Or, if this is not an option, you can return the animal to the shelter where you adopted him/her, so that the animal can find a more suitable home.
When your cat is the aggressor
Usually, the assumption is that the dog will intimidate or harass the cat, but the reverse can be true as well! During the meeting phase, make sure the cat is not stalking or swatting at the dog. Continual intimidation on the part of the cat can eventually cause the dog to become aggressive. If you witness the cat harassing the dog, use time outs to correct the behavior.
Tree House’s Behavior Hotline
If you have questions about any of the introductions discussed in this article, please call our Behavior Hotline at 773-784-5488 ext. 300. You can read more about the Hotline in Changing Your Cat’s Behavior.