Introducing Cats And Dogs

Many people like to have both cats and dogs in their house.  Introducing cats and dogs requires great care and patience.  Please take every precaution to insure the safety of the cat (and dog too). 

PHASE 1:  Establish a safe dog-free zone for the cat that contains food, water and a litter box.  The cat must be able to access this room at all times!  Cats need “safe rooms” and escape routes to get there.  Hardware stores sell a chain lock that works well for this.  Attach the device to the top of the door.  The chain allows the door to open wide enough for a cat to pass through but not wide enough for a larger dog.  

At the same time, work with the dog on their obedience skills.  In addition to down, sit and stay, teach them the ‘leave it’ command.  When the dog approaches something you do not want it to have say ‘leave it’.  Reward the dog when it backs off.  Make sure the dog responds to all of these commands without hesitation before moving on to the next phase.

PHASE 2:  Place the cat in a carrier for Phase 2.  Spray the inside with Feliway to make the cat more comfortable.  Position the carrier on a counter or table that is higher than the dog’s head.  Station one person by the cat during the introduction.    Attach a leash to the dog’s collar.  The second person brings the dog into the room with the cat.  Keep the dog several feet from the carrier and watch how it reacts.  If the dog stands with its tail and ears up, hair on end and whines, tell the dog to ‘leave it’ and reward it when it does.  After the reward, order the dog to lie down and stay.  Again reward it for calm behavior.  If the cat shows any signs of anxiety such as hissing, dilated pupils, increased respirations or cowering in the corner of the carrier, stop the introduction at once.  When both animals are comfortable, slowly let the dog move closer and closer to the carrier.  Stop immediately and back the dog up if either one becomes aggressive or fearful.  When they ignore each other, and only then, it is time to move onto phase 3.

PHASE 3:  For this phase, place a muzzle on the dog to protect the cat.  I also recommend a head collar (Halti or Gentle Leader) instead of a traditional collar to give the handler better control of the dog.  Place the dog on a down stay in the center of the room.  Allow the cat to enter.  I usually put a leash on them as well to make sure they do not wander too close to the dog.  Keep the dog and cat at least fifteen feet apart.  When both animals are calm, slowly decrease the distance between them over time until they sniff each other.  Reward both of them for calm behavior.  Repeat this step over many days and watch for signs of aggression.  There must be no inclination toward aggression prior to starting the next phase.

PHASE 4:  Allow the dog and cat supervised together time.  Muzzle the dog for extra protection.  Attach a leash to the dog’s collar and let it trail behind them.  Keep a broom, blanket and/or Super Soaker handy just in case a fight ensues.  Start with short periods of time and build-up based on their behavior.  Do not leave an unsupervised dog with a cat until you are absolutely sure that the dog will not hurt the cat.  Always keep the safe room available to the cat just in case the dog changes its mind!  

BONUS TIPS:  In veterinary school I was taught that a tired dog does not get into trouble.  Exercise your dog prior to working on the cat introduction to stack the odds in your favor.  If you want to introduce more than one dog to the cat, work with each dog individually to prevent pack behavior.  The best time to introduce a dog to a cat is during their formative years.  Introduce puppies to cats when they are young.  I know of many wonderful cat/dog relationships that started this way.  The most interesting was a Basset hound and a kitten who grew up together.  The cat taught the dog how to lay on the back of the sofa for a great view through the picture window.  They were a great, if somewhat odd couple.

Sadly, not all dogs and cats get along with each other.  But of course, the same is true of us humans.  I have seen some horrible injuries when a dog decides to go after the resident cat.  Although rules are seldom universal, some breeds are worse than others.  Be very careful with Australian Cattle dogs, Catahoulas, German Shepherds, Pit Bulls, Border Collies and Rottweilers.  In my experience, these are the most common breeds involved in cat maulings.  Although there are some individual exceptions, many will never live peacefully with a feline in their home.  Their high prey drive motivates many of them to attack.  

Again, I want to caution all pet owners to proceed with great care when introducing dogs and cats to each other.  Just because a dog will live with one cat does not mean it will tolerate another.  Please take every possible precaution to ensure the safety of the cat during introductions.  If a fight does occur, remember to use an inanimate object to break it up.  Never ever break up an altercation with your bare hands.  I have seen horrible injuries when people do this.  Remember, safety first for all involved.  Hopefully, your cat and dog will form a wonderful symbiotic relationship.  

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.