Introducing cats to dogs: some tips

The first steps
How your cat reacts to being in a strange environment among strange people will depend entirely on his character, genetics and previous experience. The following is a guide to introducing your cat to his new home and family. Take one step at a time and be patient, and always work at the cat’s pace before moving onto the next stage.

When you arrive home, leave your cat alone to explore his room for an hour or so before introducing yourself, although some cats may need longer. When you go in to see him, get down to his level, put out your hand and call his name softly – let him come to you.

If your cat chooses to hide, just sit quietly in the same room and occasionally talk to him gently in low tones – do not force him to come out. Give him plenty of time to adjust and continue to visit him so he can get used to your presence. As long as he is eating and using the litter tray, there is no cause for alarm. If your cat is very timid, he may not want to come out to eat.  In this case, try moving the food bowl closer to his hiding place and leaving the room.

You may want to try offering a small treat or using an interactive toy, such as a fishing rod toy with feathers on the end to tempt your cat from his hiding place. Play is a good bonding tool because it is less intimidating than physical contact, relieves stress, and provides mental stimulation and an outlet for pent-up energy. You may find it is easier to encourage play at dawn and dusk when cats are naturally more active.

Meeting the family
Once your cat seems confident with you, introduce other (human) family members, one by one. Children are likely to be excited about the new arrival, but it is important to keep them calm. Let the cat come to them and when he does, show the children the correct way to gently stroke him and interact with him.

Children, particularly young children with little experience of cats, need to learn how to treat cats appropriately. Even the friendliest cat will defend himself if he is pushed or pulled too much. Make sure they understand he is not a toy, and avoid picking your cat up in the early stages, while he becomes familiar with his new home and learns that you are not a threat.

Introducing cats to dogs
An appropriate, gradual introduction programme can make all the difference when introducing a cat and a dog to each other.

First exchange the dog’s and cat’s scent by over a period of several days or weeks, depending on how they react.
  • stroking them with a soft cloth and dabbing it around your home and furniture or leaving the cloth in the cat’s environment to sniff when the cat is ready to investigate
  • stroking each animal in turn without washing your hands

Keep mixing scents until both the cat and the dog are showing no reaction to the smell and the cat has settled in. Then you can progress to allowing them to see each other, but not able to touch or meet one another. Try placing a glass or mesh door between the cat and the dog, and allow the cat to approach or hide as he chooses.

Provide the cat with plenty of hiding places, elevated places to get up high and escape routes so that he feels safe.  Do not progress to a face to face introduction until the cat either ignores the dog or show affiliative behaviour (such as sniffing the glass with the cat’s tail up) and vice versa.

Then, when making face-to-face introductions: 

  • train your dog to show relaxed, non-threatening behaviour around the cat and ensure you are in control at all times. For  information on dog training, speak to a suitably qualified trainer that uses gentle, positive reward-based training techniques, such as the Association of Pet Dog Trainers;    
  • keep your dog on the lead and keep him calm – it may help to take your dog for a vigorous walk first.
  • ensure your cat doesn’t feel cornered, he should be somewhere where he feels relaxed and must have a safe escape route, preferably a high ledge he can retreat to, where the dog can’t reach him should he slip his lead, but with external doors and windows closed to avoid the cat bolting.
  • ignore the cat – your dog will feel the cat is more important if you are focussed on it, and do training tasks with your dog to keep his attention, using treats and praise to reward good behaviour.  Alternatively distract the dog with a something like a food puzzle or toy that will keep him calm and occupied.
  • don’t force the cat to approach the dog – let him explore the room, do what he likes and choose to come over to the dog if he wants – don’t restrain the cat or place the cat in a cat basket, and let him leave the room whenever he wishes.
  • don’t allow your dog to chase if the cat runs away – praise and treat the dog for remaining calm and then return the cat back to his own room.
  • repeat short and sweet introductions until the dog is showing little or no interest in the cat and the cat is not fearful of the dog.  Progress to the dog being on a long line which can be picked up if necessary.
  • give the cat a treat so he associates the dog with something positive.

When your cat and dog are unconcerned with each other’s presence you can take your dog off the lead, but make sure your cat can escape onto high ledges or furniture.

Never leave the dog and cat together unattended until you are absolutely sure they are happy and secure in each other’s company. Cat food and litter trays can be appealing for dogs, so ensure they are not accessible and allow the cat to eat, sleep and toilet in peace.