Good canine candidates for living with cats.
- Puppies or adult dogs that have successfully lived with a cat before.
- Laid-back, relaxed, friendly dogs.
- Dogs that are not very chase-driven (i.e. don’t chase cats or squirrels when outdoors).
Good feline candidates for living with dogs.
- Relaxed, laid-back cats and kittens.
- Cats with dog experience.
Cats who haven’t lived with dogs almost always behave defensively the first time they meet a new dog. If the dog doesn’t come on too strong, and if the cat is given dog-free zones they can retreat to, many cats can gradually get used to the dog and sometimes even become bonded. This can take months, so be patient!
Steps for Successful Introductions:
- Keep your cat and dog completely separate for at least a week before introducing. Try scent swapping with your animals – put the used cat bed somewhere that the dog will be able to investigate the scent on his own time. Put the towel you used to wipe the dog’s paws in a place where the cat likes to sleep. This will help get both animals used to the smell of the other.
- Allow the dog and cat to see each other. Use a baby-gate to separate the cat and the dog. Keep your dog on leash. Have the dog sit and take treats near the gate, within view of the cat. Also treat the cat. If the dog can sit and take treats, allow him to sniff the barrier for a second or two and then call your dog away and reward him. Keep these sessions short and repeat several times over many days before moving on to the next step. Make sure both animals are staying calm before moving on.
- Control Meetings: Keeping your dog on leash, use treats to help your dog sit or lie down and stay. Once your dog is settled, someone else should allow your new cat into the room. They should quietly sit near the cat, but not physically touch her, and offer her some special treats or wet food. At first, the cat and the dog should be on opposite sides of the room and the visits should be very short. Always end on a positive note.
- Allow your cat freedom: Once both animals seem to be relaxed, allow your cat freedom to explore your dog at her own pace. Keep your dog on-leash! Make sure you give your dog treats and praise for calm behavior. Good signs from your dog will be gentle investigation and respect for the cat’s signals. Bad signs are instant attempts to chase, straining at the leash, whining, or barking. If your dog is displaying any of these behaviors, or if your cat runs away or loses her calm demeanor, go back to the previous steps. If the animals seem to be doing well, repeat several times over several days before moving on.
- Drop the leash: Once the on-leash sessions are going well, drop the leash, allowing it to drag on the ground, and supervise closely. If the dog is friendly or cautious with the cat, don’t get involved in their interactions, except to praise and reward the dog for good manners. Interrupt chasing and give a time-out by removing the dog from the room. Keep the dog on leash around the cat until you have worked out a routine.
- Continue to supervise all interactions between your dog and cat. Watch closely for a few weeks. Are things getting better or worse? Do you see a positive pattern in their relationship? Even with positive introductions completed, keep your dog and cat separated when you aren’t home to supervise.
Be sure to reward your dog for sitting, coming when called, and being calm around the cat. Avoid punishment – you want your dog to have a very positive, calm association with the cat. If the dog is the newcomer, give plenty of extra attention to the cat so she doesn’t associate the dog with reduced attention and affection.
Above all, be patient. The more gradual and gentle you make the process, the better your chance of success.
Have a dog-free room for your cat (use baby-gates, cat doors), as well as high places the cat can access but the dog cannot. The cat needs places where she can regroup in peace and then venture forward into ‘dog territory’ at her own pace. Make sure food, water, and litter are accessible in this area.
Never force the cat to be close to the dog by holding her, caging her, or otherwise restricting her. This is stressful. Aside from being inhumane, stress is a common reason cats stop using the litter box.
A useful management exercise for cat-dog interactions is to practice sit-stays for treats with your dog when the cat is present.
At first, reward your dog for just looking at your cat without running after or barking at them.
If one of your pets has an injury or medical problem, this could stall the introduction process. Check with your veterinarian to make sure that all of your pets are healthy enough to meet a new pet.
Many dogs like to eat cat food and eat out of the litter box. The best solution is to place the litter box and food where your dog cannot access them. Depending on your dog and cat’s agility level, you can try behind a baby gate, in a closet or room with the door anchored open from both sides and just wide enough for your cat, or inside a room with a cat door in the bottom.
Introductions not going well? Conflicts between pets in the same family can often be resolved with professional help. Please contact us for guidance.
Need help? Call our free pet behavior help line at (503) 416-2983.