Safely Introducing a New Cat to Your Dog

November 20, 2022by petpal0

It’s a popular notion that dogs and cats share a distinct rivalry with each other, but it’s not always the case. Although kitties aren’t as social as the ever-energetic pup, dogs and cats can get along quite well in some households. 

If you’re adopting a new cat and are worried that it’ll fight with the dog that already lives in your home, you’re not alone. In many cases, it’s possible to help them get along. The key is a safe and gradual introduction between the animals.

In this article, we’ll explore how to introduce a new cat to your dog. Read on to learn helpful methods of doing so!

Knowing What to Expect When Introducing Cats and Dogs
cute cat and dog snuggling together
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If you want to introduce a new cat to your dog, it’s crucial to have realistic expectations. They’re not going to be best friends right away. In fact, there’s a chance that they might not get along at all. This is especially likely if you’re adopting an older cat who grew up not used to other animals or have a dog who has a strong prey drive. Both animals are territorial and will need a lot of time to adjust to a new resident.

Taking it slow is crucial when introducing your animals, as this can help reduce the fear, aggression, and negative experiences that cats and dogs may experience. It will also help acclimate your new cat to its surroundings better.

Even if you’re sure that your dog can handle being around other animals and that the cat has lived with other dogs before, it’s best to stay cautious. There’s no telling how they’ll react around each other. You wouldn’t want their first meeting to be a cat-astrophe, would you? 

Be ready to intervene at any moment, and get a friend or family member to help you out in case the animals act aggressively toward each other. 

It’s also important to note that your dog and cat may not get along entirely. If you don’t think you can trust your pup around your cat, don’t take the risk of leaving them alone with each other. One or both of them may be seriously injured quickly if left unsupervised. With that said, let’s get into how you can introduce your pets safely.

Paw-sitive Introductions: Getting Started

Before you start the introduction, ensure that your cat has a comfortable dog-free space it can hide in when it feels scared and stressed out. Some climbing spaces like shelves and cat condos that dogs can’t reach can also help. Also, if you have multiple dogs, introduce them separately to your new cat.

It’s best to separate your pets for the first few days. Have the animals checked by vets and ensure they don’t have any contagious illnesses or parasites. Cats and dogs both have a keen sense of smell, and despite being separate, they can start getting used to each other’s scents and sounds.

Desensitizing Your Dog
dog and cat getting to know each other
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When your dog first sees your cat, the odds are that it’ll be super excited to encounter a new animal. They may bark aggressively or lunge toward the cat, which may scare your new feline friend. Because of this, you must desensitize your dog. This means getting it used to the presence of your cat by gradually increasing their exposure to each other.

To start the process, let your dog see your cat through a kennel, pet gate, or another barrier that allows the animals to see each other. Your dog will likely be fixated on your cat, but it’s crucial to shift its focus to something else. You may practice cues or give it a fun toy to play with, then praise it when it doesn’t concentrate on the kitty. Do this throughout the day in short intervals.

You can let your pets grow accustomed to each other’s scents by feeding them on both sides of the same door. They won’t see each other, but they will smell each other without being overstimulated.

Your dog may slowly get used to your new cat’s presence. This rarely happens within a day, and in some cases, it may take weeks or months for dogs to be desensitized to other animals. It’s crucial to be patient, as the pace will depend on your individual pets.

Meeting Face-to-Face

Having your cat and dog meet face-to-face can help you gauge their reactions to each other. Hold your dog on a loose leash, then have someone else watch your cat’s reactions. If the dog is calm and listens to commands, you should praise it. If not, you may need more time to desensitize the pup.

The new cat’s reactions are also vital. If it’s not hissing or raising its back, you likely can trust it to run around freely. However, some cats can attack and injure dogs, so you may want to supervise the pets as well.

Playing “Look at That”

This method is a more structured way to desensitize your pup and teach it that it’s better not to pay attention to the kitty. 

cats and dogs chilling
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To play “Look at That” (LAT), grab your dog’s favorite treats, put it on a leash, and go to a calm area wherein you can easily move away from your cat. Then, determine the point at which your pup notices the cat but can still respond to you. This is your dog’s “threshold.”

It’s important not to go above the threshold (i.e., when your dog starts barking, pulling toward the cat, or otherwise showing tense behavior), as your pup likely won’t respond to training when it’s in fight-or-flight mode. 

Get a clicker. If you don’t have one, you can use a verbal marker (like the words “yes,” “good,” or “okay”). Every time your dog looks at the cat, you must click or give the verbal cue, then follow it up with a treat. Continue doing so ten times.

By the 11th time, check if your dog looks at your cat and looks back at you. If so, click or use the verbal cue and offer a treat. When your dog reliably looks at you after looking at the cat, you can move closer to the kitty (without going above the threshold). 

Your dog’s threshold will decrease with each LAT session. Eventually, you can move your dog next to the cat with no problems.

The Takeaway

It’s possible for cats and dogs to get along; the key is a safe and gradual introduction. It may take weeks or months before your pets become accustomed to each other, so it’s vital to be patient and set realistic expectations. Keep this guide in mind as you welcome a new member of the family!

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