Introducing Cats to Dogs

Dog and Cat Nose to Nose, Colorado
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Introducing cats to dogs takes planning, and while just throwing them together often is done, the pets do better with proper introductions. Nearly half of all pet families in this country include both cats and dogs in the household. These very different animals can—and do—appreciate each other as family members, but only if correctly socialized to each other as infants and then properly introduced.

Introduce Cats and Dogs on the Home Turf

Dog-to-dog introductions are best begun on “neutral” territory such as a park. But cat-to-cat introductions are different because cats aren’t willing to meet anybody until they are familiar with their environment. So an off-site meeting won’t work when introducing cats to dogs. Compromise by introducing the pets in your home, with accommodations made to the sensitivities of the cat and dog involved.

Bringing the New Pet Home

When bringing a new dog into a cat’s home, have a friend do the “dirty deed” out of the cat’s sight (if possible) so Tabby won’t associate you with the “scary” critter. Cats that have never been around a dog often act fearful.

If the new pet is a cat, though, send Fido outside of the house and let him see you carry the cat crate inside so he knows his human leader approves. He won’t make as big of a fuss if he finds Tabby already in the house.

Confine the Newbie

Confine your new pet (cat or dog) in a single room, door closed, with all the necessary pet paraphernalia. Include the new guy’s favorite bed or toy so the old, familiar smells help keep him calm. Isolating the new cat or dog tells your resident pet that not all of the house and territory has been invaded.

Cats normally posture or hiss while dogs typically sniff, whine, growl or bark at the closed door. Feel encouraged once the barking and hissing fade, especially if the canine “play-bows” at the door or the pair play patty-cake-paws under the door. Keeping the door closed helps prevent sensory overload so they pets only communicate with scent and sound, and not sight.

Once a few days have passed and the growls or hisses fade, swap items that each pet has scented so they have a closer sniffing opportunity to get acquainted. For instance, bring out the food bowl each has emptied to allow the other critter to smell.

Let the Newbie Roam

When the new kid is a cat, she’ll need an opportunity to wander around the rest of the house and become comfortable with her surroundings. Remember, cats aren’t interested in meeting new friends until they know all the good hiding places and have cheek-rubbed and mapped the territory. Send Fido into the yard during Tabby’s exploration, or shut the dog inside the new cat’s room so he can sniff where she’s been.

Install a baby gate in the isolation room so the pets can see and sniff each other, and meet at their own speed, but through the safety of the barrier.

Look for confidence and interest, and if either pet shows shyness or aggression--watch for what your ​cat tells you!--keep the gate in place for another few days.

Nose to Nose at Last!

When you finally open the barrier, let the pets interact at their own speed. Keep Fido on a leash to help him control his enthusiasm, and be sure Tabby has access to “high ground” to get out of doggy nose range if needed. Help both pets associate good things with each other’s presence by feeding them at the same time on opposite ends of a room. For play-oriented pets, engage them in separate games during the first meeting.

Use scent to speed up acceptance. Dogs and cats smell alike when they are friendly because they sleep together, cheek-rub each other and share a familiar “family” smell. Dab a bit of vanilla extract—or your favorite cologne—on the back of the neck and base of the tail of both animals.

Even better, rub a towel over both pets--first one and then the other--to share their own signature scent.

Until you are satisfied the pets accept each other, keep the new guy in his “safe room” when you cannot directly supervise. Take your time, and practice patience during introductions. Proper introductions ensure your cats and dogs enjoy their future together, in your very own peaceable kingdom.