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How to introduce your dog to your cat

Introduce dog to cat

So, you are hoping to adopt a dog, but you already have a cat in the house. For the safety and happiness of everyone, the transition to a multi-pet family with cats and dogs peacefully coexisting in the house together won’t likely happen overnight. Instead, it will take time and patience. But despite what we have learned from cartoons, dogs and cats are not always mortal enemies.  

Some pets become friends right away, others only coexist, and some have such tumultuous relationships that one animal ends up being returned to the shelter or rehomed. With careful instruction and diligent training, however, many cats and dogs can learn to peacefully live together. How can you help ensure your dog and cat get along? 

Table of contents 

Are your pets a match? 

Before thinking about how to introduce a dog to a cat, it’s important to consider your pets’ individual personalities, tendencies, and experiences to determine if introducing them is a good idea. Consider these factors: 

  • Breed – Some dog breeds, like Siberian Huskies and Jack Russell Terriers, have strong prey drives and are more likely to chase and “hunt” their feline siblings. Meanwhile, some breeds of cat are more sociable. Orange tabbies, tortoiseshell-patterned felines, and calicos are known for their big personalities, according to Fear Free. These cats may be more willing to stand up for themselves or challenge your dog, which can make for either a playful cat-dog relationship or some tension and even aggression. 
  • Size – Cats are often more comfortable with small dogs, notes certified dog trainer Irith Bloom. Larger dogs can more easily injure a cat while playing or running around the house. If you are concerned about your cat warming up to a canine sibling, consider getting a dog of a similar size. 
  • Energy levels – The energy and activity levels of your cat and dog should match as closely as possible. A lazy cat who likes to lounge on the couch all day will have a hard time getting along with a high-energy dog who wants to chase them nonstop. 
  • History – Does your cat have experience with dogs? Are they generally friendly or more on the fearful side? It is particularly important for introductions to be gradual and intentional if either pet is prone to stress or either does not have experience or has negative past experiences with other animals. They can be more unpredictable, and things can easily take a turn for the worse.  

If you are bringing home a dog or cat from a shelter or foster family, you may be able to gain insight into your new pet’s personality and experience with other animals. For example, shelters often conduct personality tests on cats and can give advice on which cats would be best with dogs. 

How to introduce your dog to your cat 

Conflicts between new pet siblings most commonly occur during the initial introduction phase. It is important for introductions to be gradual and promote positive associations between your pets. 

  1. Keep them separate – Give each pet their own safe space by confining your cat to a room behind a closed door for the first days. Be sure your cat is comfortable and has easy access to everything they need (food, water, litterbox, toys, bedding, etc.). Keeping them apart from one another and avoiding visual contact at first will help your pets establish a sense of security, which will help with a smooth introduction later. 
  1. Let them sniff it out – Have your pets cuddle up with towels or give them a good full-body scratching with a cloth, sock, or old T-shirt. Once these items have the scent of one pet on them, swap them out and let your pets get familiar with their new sibling’s smell. This allows your cat and dog to get used to each other’s presence without face-to-face contact.  
  1. Get them used to hearing each other – Once your pets have settled into their individual spaces and familiarized themselves with each other’s scent, you can work on getting them comfortable hearing each other through a closed door. Play tug of war with your dog or with a teaser toy with your cat near the closed door, or serve your pets’ meals on either side of the door. They should soon learn to enjoy themselves while also being able to hear each other. 
  1. Let them see each other – Your pets are now comfortable with each other’s scent and sounds. The next step of desensitization is to let them see one another while still being physically separated. Replace the solid door barrier with a tall gate. Make sure these experiences are positive for both pets—use treats as rewards for calm behavior and redirect their attention with games or toys.  
  1. Remove barriers – Once your cat and dog seem comfortable being able to see each other through a gate, remove the physical barrier to let them interact directly. Consider keeping your dog’s leash attached and dragging on the floor for safety. This way, you can step on the leash to intervene if the interaction gets out of hand.  

Body language: What to watch for 

Understanding your pets’ body language will help you spot signs of over-excitement, stress, or fear early, so you can step in with a distraction or separate the pets when necessary. Watch for: 

Cats:  

  • Crouching 
  • Arched back 
  • Tucked tail 
  • Ears flattened down 
  • Hissing 

Dogs: 

  • Lip licking 
  • Avoiding eye contact 
  • Yawning 
  • Tucked tail 
  • Ears back 
  • Growling or whining 

If the interaction is going well, your pets should both appear relaxed. They will likely express interest in each other, if perhaps cautious at first 

What not to do 

Just as important as learning what to do when you introduce your pets is knowing what not to do: 

  • Don’t rush it – Forcing interaction and coexistence before your pets are both ready can create setbacks that will actually extend the amount of time it takes for your pets to learn to love each other. It may lead to stress for either or both of your pets, which can have more serious, lasting consequences like fear and aggression. 
  • Don’t leave them alone – Until your pets are completely comfortable with one another, you should always supervise their interactions. Monitor for signs of stress, fear, excitement, and aggression.  
  • Don’t punish – Yelling at, punishing, and even ignoring your cat or dog when they are together can lead them to developing negative associations with each other. This can make them less likely to engage and bond, and more stressed when they do have to interact. 
  • Don’t panic – Our pets are very attuned to our emotions and mental states. Being anxious about your dog around your cat, or vice versa, can actually encourage them to be anxious as well. 
  • Don’t let your dog access cat-only areas – Cats usually need a safe, quiet space to get away from people and other pets. Make sure your dog does not have access to your cat’s safe spaces. Try providing a cat tree or other elevated surface like a shelf so your cat can perch above the chaos in peace. 

Leaving pets home alone together 

When you can leave your pets alone together depends on your individual pets. There is no standard timeframe for how long the introduction period should last. It could be days or weeks or even months. 

Every pair of pets is different, so there’s no definitive sign that your dog and cat are ready to spend time alone together. You may notice your cat doesn’t bolt out of the room when the dog enters, or your dog can stay focused on their toys while the cat is in the room. These can be good indicators that your pets are comfortable with each other. 

If you have any doubts about whether your pets are safe alone together, continue to separate them whenever you are not there to supervise. It’s an inconvenience, but you risk one or both of your pets getting injured if they are not ready to stay home alone together. 

How can ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA help pet introductions go smoothly? 

The introduction of a new pet—as well as the new routines, sounds, and scents that come along with it—can be overwhelming and stressful. Fortunately, ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA products can offer support for your cat and dog’s stress, helping them calmly settle into life in a multi-pet household. 

We recommend starting your dog on our soft gels or chews a few days ahead of their first interaction and continuing to give them the appropriate dose twice daily. CBD + CBDA calms without sedating, allowing cats and dogs to be more relaxed during stressful situations like bouts of barking or routine changes. This helps them experience reduced stress responses over time. 

For any questions about ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA products or how CBD can help your pets live their best lives, give us a call (844-673-7287) or send us an email ([email protected]). We are here to help.  

Take home message 

Welcoming a new pet into your family can be both exciting and stressful. While your dog and cat have the potential to form a loving bond, preparing them for all of the upcoming changes will help prevent fear and stress that can lead to aggression. Your pets will need time to adjust, so beginning the gradual process of desensitization early is essential to setting the entire household up for success. It can take a week to several months for relationships to develop, but when you see your cat and dog getting along and even playing together, it is well worth it! 

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