Dogs and cats are America’s favorite pets. For that reason, many pet owners own both at the same time. Although there are dogs and cats that shouldn’t live together, slow and careful introductions are key to matches that work.
My husband and I have introduced dogs and cats to each other three times. While these attempts have provided us with experience, I don’t consider myself an expert. For that reason I turned to research and interviews to compile the following guidelines.
DETERMINE IF THEY CAN LIVE TOGETHER
Kristi Jones, a long-time foster for animal rescues and owner of Mind Your Manners Pet Training, LLC, starts the introduction process through a glass door. “That way,” said Jones, “I can judge up front if they even should be introduced.”
“If the dog tries to attack the cat just seeing them through a door,” Jones elaborated, “I don’t introduce them. I’ve had two dogs that I’ve worked with that could not calm down. They were cat-aggressive dogs, and they just should not be with cats.”
Jones noted that dogs aren’t the only ones who should be evaluated. She also makes sure that any cat being introduced to a dog will be mellow. “I have a couple of cats that can be aggressive to dogs or at least challenge them. One aggressive encounter with a cat can ruin a previously cat-neutral dog!”
QUARANTINE FOR A WEEK
Should you decide that you have a compatible dog and cat, there are still two steps to take before you start the introduction process. A new pet should be quarantined for a week. The pet should also have a vet checkup and been cleared of illness.
PREPARE EACH FOR INTRODUCTIONS
The next step is to prepare both your dog and cat for introductions. You can make use of the new pet’s quarantine period by making sure that your dog has mastered ‘sit’ and ‘stay.’ It’s important for your dog to demonstrate good manners around your cat.” You should also ensure that your cat has a dog-free sanctuary. The sanctuary room can be of any size, but it must have a secure door. The space should include food, water, litter box, scratching post, and toys. Set up some hiding places as well to help your cat feel safer.
After the quarantine period, pet owners are often tempted to jump to face-to-face introductions, but this will be too sudden of a change. It’s important to take things more slowly. First introduce your dog and cat to each other’s scent via a sock or towel that contains their smell. In this way, allow them to get used to each other’s presence without face-to-face contact. Even if they can’t see each other, they can still hear and smell each other. For every positive interaction with the sock or towel, reward each of them with treats.
FEED ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR
Feed your dog and cat on opposite sides of a closed solid (not see-through) door. This will teach them to associate each other’s presence with pleasant things. With each feeding, move their food bowls a little closer to the door. If your dog starts to whine/paw/bark at the door, correct him with a stern but calm “No!” and move the bowls back to the previous positions. Continue this process until each pet can eat next to the door without a fuss.
Expose your dog and cat more strongly to each other’s scents by placing a sock or towel with the other’s scent next to their bowl. You can also swap beds and toys.
Once your dog and cat are comfortable with each other’s scents, it’s time for face-to-face introductions. Here’s where experts differ on their recommendations. I’ll cover both options.
Option #1: Introduce with Dog on Leash and Cat Free to Roam
Hold meet-and-greets in a room in your home other than your cat’s sanctuary’s room.
Keep your dog on a leash. Then ask him to sit and reward him with treats for calm behavior. Jones said, “I always reward the dog for calm behavior, disengaging from the cat, not pulling on the leash, etc.”
Let your cat explore as desired, and also reward with treats for good behavior. In addition, make sure your cat has lots of escape routes.
Keep the first few sessions short. “I work in very short sessions (30 seconds to two minutes)” said Jones, “to keep everyone’s arousal levels under control.”
If your cat attempts to leave the room, allow her to do so, and do not let your dog chase her. Try to end each session before either pet becomes stressed.
If either pet demonstrates aggression, redirect and then end the session for the day. Redirect your dog by calling his name and rewarding him for his attention and/or lure your cat back to her sanctuary area with treats and toys.
Continue with this type of introduction until your both your dog and cat are comfortable around each other. Your dog should not bark at or try to chase your cat; your cat should feel comfortable enough to eat and use the litter box as normal.
While on this step, confine your dog and cat to separate parts of the house when you aren’t home. Don’t allow unsupervised interactions until you are certain both pets will be safe.
Option #2: Introduce with Dog on Leash and Cat in a Crate
Other experts suggest that in addition to having your dog on a leash, your cat should be crated. Megan Leavy is a dog owner, trainer, and foster dog parent. Her go-to method is to put the cat in a crate. “I use a large crate, and put the cat in the middle of it on a folded blanket or towel. Most cats will lay on one of those options. I make the crate nice for the cat, with some catnip on the blanket/towel, and some treats.”
Leavy will then allow the dog into the room. Opinions vary among experts, but the general recommendation is to initially maximize the distance between the dog and the cat. As long as the dog remains calm, the owner can gradually decrease the distance between the dog and the cat.
Every positive interaction should be reinforced. Leavy explained, “Any time the dog turns or looks away from the cat at all, I praise and reward the dog. Even if it’s for a brief second.”
With each session, Leavy gradually increases her requirements. At first, she’ll reward the dog for looking away from a cat. Then she’ll reward only for turning away, then moving away, and finally settling away from a cat.
Leavy added that she had a gated room where the cats are safe from dogs. “The dogs are not allowed in there untethered” she said, “until I’m sure they know how to be calm around the cats.”
ALLOW PETS TOGETHER, Supervised
When your dog and cat appear to be getting along, allow them loose in the room together. Keep your dog’s leash attached to his harness and let it drag on the floor, so that you can step on it if needed to prevent him from chasing your cat.
ALLOW PETS TOGETHER, Unsupervised
If you’re positive that your dog and cat will not hurt each other, you can allow them unsupervised time together. This should happen only after a month of supervised interactions. You should have multiple high areas that your cat can easily get to safety if necessary.
Dogs and cats are not of the same species, which means they may or may not learn to live together. Don’t try to force a relationship between a dog and cat that don’t get along. At the same time, the internet is full of countless examples of successful matches. If you follow the steps outlined in this article you’ll have increased the likelihood that your dog and cat will be among those success stories.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This information is available as a checklist. Click here to download.