Cats vs. Dogs. It’s an age old rivalry. And yet, sometimes we find ourselves in situations where these two “natural enemies” have to get along. But do they have to hate each other? Can’t the two species live in harmony?
The short answer is, yes. It’s possible. Maybe you’ve been thinking about adding a dog to your cat-friendly household. Or maybe you’re thinking your current dog could use a feline friend. Whatever the circumstance, introducing a dog to a cat isn’t always easy. That’s why we’ve broken the introduction process into 4 simple steps. Follow these guidelines, and these two enemies will surely become fast friends!
- Keep Them Separate for the First Week
You might be tempted to let your dog and cat hit the ground running and get used to each other quickly, but this can really backfire. The best way to get a cat used to a new dog or vice versa is to keep them in separate areas of the house for about a week. Separation is key to setting both of them on the right track to friendship.
Both cats and dogs are very smell driven. Without ever seeing each other, cats and dogs can begin to get used to eachother’s presence simply through smell. There are many successful ways to keep your animals separate. Some pet owners choose to keep their cat in a closed off “sanctuary room” that houses their food, water, litter box, and bedding. Other pet owners put up a sturdy baby gate on the staircase, and keep one pet upstairs and one pet downstairs. No matter what you choose to do, be sure the areas are securely closed off. Also make sure each pet has appropriate access to food, water, bathroom breaks, and still gets plenty of love and affection!
To encourage your pets to familiarize themselves with each other, you can try a process called “scent swapping.” An easy way to do this is to pet one animal for a while, then without washing your hands, go pet the other. The smell will travel with you, and your pets will be able to familiarize themselves with each other from a distance. Another way to scent swap is by frequently switching bedding between the cat and the dog – without washing it! Sleeping and relaxing on something that smells like the other animal will encourage a relaxing first meeting in the future.
The Animal Humane Society also suggests feeding the animals on opposite sides of the same door after the first few days. Through the bottom of the door, the animals will be able to smell each other and recognize each other’s presence. Feeding them while the other animal is safely nearby encourages a positive association.
It’s a good idea to use this separation time to teach or reinforce with your dog some basic commands. When your dog and cat finally meet for the first time, it’s helpful to know that your dog will respond when told to “sit” or “leave it.” This can be beneficial to the safety of both your cat and your dog.
- The First Meeting
If your cat is the new comer to the house, give them a chance to familiarize themselves with the layout of the home. Cats can be very territorial, so let your new feline get to know their new territory! Do this without the dog in the house. Take the dog outside for a couple hours and give the cat free reign of the home. Repeat this process a couple times. If your dog is the new comer, put your cat in a “sanctuary room” for a couple of hours while the dog gets to know the home.
Once both animals are familiar with the home and are familiar with each other’s scent, it’s time for the big first meeting! Always keep your dog on leash and let your cat come and go as they please. Never keep either of the pets in your arms. This could result in injury! For this first meeting, it can be helpful to have at least two people facilitating the introduction: one person to handle the dog, and one person to observe the cat.
For this first meeting, treats, toys, and other positive distractions are your best weapon. Give your dog simple commands and reward with treats and praise. If and when your dog is calm and ignores the cat, reward with more treats and plenty of praise. This may take some patience as some dogs tend to be very excited around cats!
Allow your cat to do as they please. They may hide or they may hiss and spit. Use distractions such as toys to discourage aggressive behavior. Encourage your cat to come out of hiding using treats and affection. But don’t force anything! If the cat wants to leave the room, let them. You don’t want to encourage a potentially aggressive situation.
- Repetition and Positive Reinforcement
It may take many first meetings before your cat and dog get used to each other, but be patient! Positive reinforcement is your friend here. Use lots of treats, toys, and praise. Keep the separation zones set up for each animal so they can be confined to their safe space when you are out of the house. This provides peace of mind for you, your dog, and your cat. Keep these zones ready to go until you are 100% certain they get along well.
Continue to keep your dog on the leash during these meetings. Look for signs that your dog is calm and reward them for this behavior. If fear and aggression continue to be present, it could be beneficial to restart the introduction process by continuing to keep them separated. During the separation phase, wait until both animals are calm and ignore each other’s presence. Then restart the introductions.
Sometimes animal aggression can be hard to spot, so keep your eyes peeled. Obvious signs from your dog include growling, baring teeth, lunging, or snapping. Often these actions seem to come out of nowhere, but not if you’re vigilant. If your dog is hyper-focused on the cat and not listening to your commands or calls, this is a sign they may be about to make a bad decision. Move your dog away from the cat before that bad decision gets made!
Cat aggression is fairly obvious as well. Hissing, spitting, arching of the back, and hair standing on end are all signs the cat is behaving aggressively. And if aggressive behavior does occur, do not reach in with your hands to separate them! You could injure yourself by doing so. Use the dog leash to your advantage and separate them that way. Or use toys and treats to distract the cat.
Your cat may display other signs of unhappiness as well. If they stop eating, stop drinking water, stop using the litter box, or stop seeking human contact, this is a signal your cat is unhappy. If this behavior does not improve early on, consider seeking the help of a professional animal behaviorist.
Every dog and every cat is different, so this can take a long time. Patience is key! Remember not to speed this process up. Attempting to force the animals to like each other faster can actually create more problems.
- Giving Them Freedom
Finally! It seems like your dog is ignoring the cat and the cat is able to move throughout the house stress-free. Now is the time to let the leash go.
But not entirely! Because safety is always top priority, leave your dog’s leash on but don’t hold it. Let it drag behind your dog as they greet the cat on their own terms. If the interaction is calm from both the cat and the dog, wonderful! Keep the leash on your dog for a few more days while you are home. This way, if any aggressive behavior does occur, you can easily grab the leash and remove the dog from the situation.
This new freedom for both the cat and the dog is when you need to be the most vigilant. The Animal Humane Society recommends keeping the “cat sanctuary” set up at all times if tensions do arise. It’s also important to continue to separate the animals when no one is home. If tension is still present, it may be necessary to repeat the “meet and greet” process while rewarding both animals with treats and praise.
After a few days of calm behavior, you can remove the leash and allow the two animals free reign of the home. Before you know it, your dog and cat will be the best of friends!
Do you have a cat and dog friendship success story? Let us know!