Best way to introduce a dog to a cat so they become best friends

Best way to introduce a dog to a cat so they become best friends

For you cat people out there… adopting a dog when you have a cat in your home already can be intimidating. You are worried they won’t get along or worse, the new dog will attack your cat! 

Don’t fear, many dogs and cats can live happily together. Since we don’t have a cat of our own, I went to our community for suggestions and there was a lot of great advice for all types of situations. 

dog and cat meeting outside for the first time

How to get a dog and cat to get along 

Your dog and cat can get along! Some can even be best friends.

Make the introductions smooth and stress-free with these 7 easy steps. There is a good chance your dog and cat will get along once they get to know each other. It takes time, just as if you were introducing a new dog to another dog in the house.

  1. Keep the dog and cat separate for a few days
  2. Use baby gates
  3. Confine the dog in a crate
  4. Give the cat an escape route at all times
  5. Plan intros on leash
  6. Watch both dog and cats body language for any signs of stress
  7. Keep sessions positive for both animals

14 top suggestions from dog and cat parents

Keep them separated for at least a month or two, let sniff on either side of a closed, solid door until both can coexist then graduate to a leashed dog and baby gate, reward the dog for calmness around the cat. Do not let the dog be unleashed in the home without at least 2 doors/gates between dog and cat.

We put the dog in the cage and then let the cats sniff him through the cage. That way they are safe and can see each other.

Put your dog in a crate and let the cat get used to him. Put the cat in a crate and let the dog get used to it. Then introduce on a leash. The introduction is key, even if the dog chases other cats he needs to know that this is his cat and off-limits. Unless the dog has a strong prey drive most will get along with a slow, controlled introduction.

We separate our cat into a different room. We’ll put a blanket that smells like to dog in the room or have the cat be a room the dog spent time in. Gates just like you do with dogs where the cat can feel safe. We let the cat be high up. The dog doesn’t get to sniff the cat. 

It seems to work to give them lots of time to get used to the smell of each other, if everything is new at once it can be super overwhelming to the dogs. Once they know their smell is a normal thing, then I bring in the seeing them and work from there. Then it’s just like training for anything else, lots of treats and praise for leaving them alone.

Keeping the dog in the crate and letting the cat roam — reward him for not reacting to the cat. Give a firm no when he barks.

dog and cat are best friends, laying in grass smiling at each other

You could also try keeping the dog on a leash inside while the cat is loose when you first introduce them again if you think you’d trust him/the cat enough for that. That has always worked well for introducing my dog to foster cats. 

I’ve had a lot of luck with a pheromone diffuser with cats when moving or introducing a new animal. It doesn’t work on every cat, but it’s a great de-stressor for the first couple of months. 

I have gates in doorways of rooms that have the little swinging kitty door in them. It keeps the dogs out but allows the cats to have a safe place but also the opportunity to come out if they want. I definitely suggest multiple litter boxes too.

I always recommend a baby gate so if the cat feels overwhelmed they have a safe space to escape to. If they’re really nervous they can leave his leash on in the home to help with corrections, and always reward with treats or praise if he’s getting too focused on kitty and they have to step in and distract him.

I’ve also worked a little bit with her on finding a toy when she is a little interested in the cats but not over threshold. A dog trainer podcast I listened to used that trick with his herding dog who was reactive to his other resident dog. Now the dog seeks the toy out on his own when he is bothered by other dogs. I thought that was a cool trick.

And when you’re sure they’re cool with each other, have plenty of elevated, cat only surfaces and hidey-holes. You’ll love being a dual-species family. Eventually. 

What to do if the dog is howling and whining – Start from a distance where that’s not happening and reward quiet/calm behavior. Do not allow your dog to just go into full prey drive with no boundaries or consequences. Practice calm behavior and put it on a cue so your dog knows when to chill out.

A good rule of thumb is it will take a year for a cat and a dog to be fully integrated, IF they can be, and you do it at their pace.

orange cat and big dog laying on bed together

How to tell if a dog is aggressive towards cats

Before you adopt a rescue dog, it’s a good idea to get him cat tested. Most shelters can test their dogs against a friendly shelter cat. But remember when dogs are in a stressful environment, they may not act their normal selves. And once you get home and enough time passes, his behavior toward the cat may change. 

If a dog has a high prey drive, then you may need to find a different dog to adopt. Prey drive can be controlled, but it’s a natural instinct for dogs to hunt. Some dogs have such a strong prey drive it’s impossible to control. 

If the dog is in foster care, ask the foster parent if they have cats or if they have a way to test the dog with another cat. 

Warning signs to watch for when introducing dogs and cats

  • The dog is intense and focused, does not take his eyes off the cat, lunges suddenly as soon as the cat moves
  • Dog chases prey in your backyard (squirrels, birds, bunnies)
  • The dog lunges toward, growls, snaps at or shows any aggression toward a calm, quiet, still cat
  • If the dog is aggressive toward other dogs, it is likely he will be aggressive towards cats also 

I’m confident dogs and cats can live together, it’s a matter of finding the right match. Some cats and some dogs prefer to be the only pet. Making sure they are both happy is important. So take it slow and find the right dog to adopt. 

Make sure to check out our adoption resources to help you find your perfect dog!

If you have any more suggestions to share with our community, please take a few minutes to leave a comment below. It could help someone else struggling with the dog and cat introductions. 

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About the Author Debi@RescueDogs101

Debi McKee is a mom of three kids, two dogs and the creator of Rescue Dogs 101... where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She also volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society.

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