Dogs and cats can make wonderful companions for each other. A dog grooming a cat’s head or a cat snuggled against a dog can be some of the most “Aww!”-inducing sights for any pet owner. Care must be taken when introducing a dog to a cat, however; these are two different species with different ways of communicating and interacting with others.
Change can be stressful for any animal but especially so for cats. A slow introduction should minimize that stress. The dog and cat should be completely separated from each other for at least a few days to give the animals time to acclimate to the sounds and smells of each other. The new pet should be confined to one room with all necessities and comforts: bed, crate, litter pan and scratching post, water, toys, etc. A couple of times a day rotate the pets to allow further exploration of each other’s scent as well as let the newcomer get to know his new home. Be sure the cat is safely out of sight when taking the dog outside for walks.
Feeding the pets near, but on opposite sides of, the door that is separating them can help to create a positive association with the other. The food must be far enough from the door that the animals will eat and be relaxed. Gradually move the food closer to the door each meal as long as the pets are calm.
Once the cat is not showing any signs of tension near the door or when the dog is near the door and the dog is not hyperfocused on the cat, it is time to let them see each other. Exercise the dog first so that he is likely to be more calm. The dog should be restrained, either behind a secure baby gate or on leash. Permit the cat to move about freely - holding the cat can cause him to be more stressed and can lead to injury to you. Have treats on hand for both pets. Do not force them to greet each other or even be near each other. As soon as they see each other offer them a couple treats. Hissing and growling are not uncommon responses when a cat sees a new animal; do not reprimand your cat if he does these things. If your cat flattens his ears, arches his back, spits, or yowls, remove the dog immediately and separate them again for a few more days.
Do your best to keep the dog calm. Straining at the end of the leash or jumping against the baby gate, bouncing up and down, and repeated barking might scare the cat. Continue to feed treats to the dog if that will help him to stay still. Allow the pets to sniff each other if they both seem interested. Keep initial meetings short – less than 30 seconds, if necessary. Follow your cat’s lead. It is better to do ten sessions that are less than one minute and are successful than one five-minute session that ends with either of the animals scared or agitated.
Be sure that your cat has a safe space to retreat to. This could be an elevated surface, a cat tree, or a room that he can access via pet door or over or under a baby gate. The dog should not be able to reach the cat while in his safe space, nor should the dog be permitted to loiter and antagonize the cat.
Continue to keep the dog and cat separated when you are not actively introducing them. Gradually increase their exposure and then decrease their restraints based upon their behaviors. It might be several weeks before the dog can be around the cat without wearing a leash. A good middleground is to keep a leash on the dog but let it drag; you can then grab the leash if the dog needs to be controlled. Do not allow the dog to chase the cat under any circumstance. Praise and reward friendly interest and interactions.
Most cats appreciate having some peace and quiet when they use their litter boxes. It is best to have your cat’s litter box in a location that the dog can’t access. If that isn’t possible, consider a “dog-proof” box, such as Clever Cat, so the dog can’t bother the cat while he is occupied. Observe the dog around the litter box, as well, to be sure he isn’t waiting to ambush the cat when he exits the box. It’s entirely normal for pets to hiss and growl at one another. This behavior may go on for several weeks. Your pets shouldn’t be expected to be friends right away; however, tolerance and possibly a great friendship can develop over time.
Never leave new pets unattended until you feel entirely comfortable that they will not hurt one another. Signs of a problem include litter box lapses, severe fighting, lethargy, diarrhea, hiding, lack of appetite, and general depression. If your pet shows any of these signs, do not hesitate to call our free Behavior Helpline for advice.
If you would like information from an Anti-Cruelty Behavior Specialist regarding this behavior topic, please call 312-645-8253 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.