There are those of us who are dog people, those of us who are cat people, and then some people who are both! Having both a dog and a cat in your home can be a wonderful experience, giving you the best of both worlds when it comes to pet ownership. Still, it’s not always easy to have two opposing species living under the same roof. Introducing your dog to your cat can be a delicate process, and should be handled with the utmost caution, however, with patience and proper training you may even find your pets becoming friends.
Every animal is different
While there are many dogs and cats that have lived long and happy lives together, it’s important to note that some pets simply can’t cohabitate. Before bringing a new dog or cat into your home consider whether your dog has a history of being aggressive towards cats or if your cat has a history of becoming defensive around dogs. If either of these is true, then it may not be safe to have multiple species in your home. Cats and dogs have the ability to cause serious damage to one another, and your pets’ safety should always be at the forefront of these decisions.
That being said, there are still plenty of cats and dogs that are able to coexist peacefully. Still, just because a cat has lived comfortably with dogs before or vice versa doesn’t mean that the same will be true for your new pet. These decisions should be handled on an individual basis.
Bringing home a new pet
The safest way to introduce your pets is to keep them separate for the first 3-4 days. Give your cat a room they can use that has everything they need: litterbox, food, water, toys, bed, etc. This should be a room that your dog has no access to. This allows your pets to hear and smell each other before they meet, letting them become desensitized to each other. When you feed your pets, place their bowls close enough to the door that they can smell one another, but not close enough that they fixate on each other. Gradually move their bowls closer and closer to the door until they are able to eat calmly on either side. This helps them associate each other’s smell with something positive, like dinner time.
Another way to familiarize your pets with each other’s scent is to let them take turns roaming around the house. When your dog is loose your cat should be in their safe room, and when your cat is loose your dog should be similarly put up, either in a room or in their kennel. This also lets your new pet explore their new home. Some pet owners will even spend some time with the door to their cat’s room open, but with a barrier put up, like a baby gate, that allows their pets to see one another but not reach each other. If your dog becomes aggressive you should immediately shut the door.
Once your pets are comfortable and relaxed when they can smell and hear one another you can progress to face-to-face meetings. This should be done in a neutral area of the house, not in either animal’s safe place. Ideally, there should be at least two people present, one to intervene with each animal if necessary. Neither animal should be held in someone’s arms in order to avoid potential injury.
So long as your cat is comfortable and not defensive around your dog then they should be allowed to roam freely about the room, sniffing your dog and leaving if they wish. Your dog should be held closely on a harness or leash. If they know commands get them to sit or lie down. Your dog should be closely monitored at all times, as having a smaller animal nearby may trigger their instinct to hunt and chase. If they begin to bark, whine, or fixate on your cat then do your best to distract them, and if that doesn’t work remove them from the room and return to the previous step. Reward and praise your dog for successfully ignoring your cat. Repeat these sessions daily and save your pets’ favorite treats for this time.
The next step
After your pets have had a number of successful face-to-face meetings you can begin letting them spend time freely in a room together. These interactions should still be closely monitored and limited to a certain period of time each day. Keep your dog on a leash but allow it to drag along the ground behind them, this way you can step on it if they begin to chase your cat. Any interactions between your dog and cat should be monitored until there has been at least a month without incident.
Some dogs and cats can be comfortable around each other in just a few hours, while others can take months of training. If you’re having trouble, don’t be afraid to contact a professional. Your pets’ safety should always be at the forefront of this process, but with patience and persistent training, it is possible to have a happy, multi-species home.