We’ve recently had quite a few people ask us how best to introduce a dog to a cat home. For us cat people, a dog may seem a little like a furry alien. Or maybe just another fabulous fur friend. Either way, there are some important things to consider when thinking about opening our homes and hearts to a canine companion.
First, dogs are not cats. They are an entirely different species. They have different instincts and mentalities and these are very important factors to understand when preparing to introduce a dog to a cat home. Experts agree that the introduction can be much smoother if both were exposed to the other species during their ‘critical development’ – the first 2 months of life. If you’re dealing with rescued animals, it will be hard to know if there is already a foundation for sociability.
Below are a few basic tips for this process, regardless of experience.
Prepare a Safe Zone
Make sure you have a place in your home that is dog-proof. A place that only your cat can get to – it might be the top tier of a cat tree or an entire room. Some dogs have a very strong prey instinct (this can be especially influenced by their breed). Make sure your cat has the ability to escape. The danger of the wrong combination of dog and cat is a horrifying thought I won’t expound upon – just be sure you prepare a fail-safe, completely dog-proof safe zone.
It is also important to make sure your cat’s food and litter have a ‘safe zone’ as well. Dogs are infamous for eating cat food… and cat poop. Litter is a very significant part of a cat’s territory and should at no time be violated by a dog. Not only would this be a betrayal of your cat’s trust, they may just decide to start using other, very inconvenient places to do their business. Likewise, don’t let your cat steal your dog’s food. Not only is it not good for them, it’s also an intrusion on a dogs territory. Even if a dog and cat seems to love one another, this kind of violation can spark bad (and even dangerous) behavior.
Begin this process by allowing the two animals to become familiar with each other’s scent. Do this by placing your cat in a safe, comfortable room alone. Then allow the new dog to explore the rest of your home. Positively reinforce the scent intro by giving the dog a treat as he sniffs all the new cat smells. This is also a good time to practice basic commands (like sit and stay) to make sure your dog is attentive to instruction even while exploring. Then remove the dog from your home and allow the cat to explore ‘the intruder’ aromas. Have your cat’s favorite treat ready so she also associates a positive experience with the new smell.
You may want to repeat this step a few times depending on your comfort level – and theirs. It’s also a good idea to let the two share a meal ‘together’. Place their foods on either side of a closed door so they can smell each other while enjoying something delicious.
Start by making sure your new canine companion is on a leash. A short one. You want to make sure that you keep absolute control during this step. Ideally (and perhaps necessarily) you will have a friend or family member to assist during the moment you introduce a dog to a cat. Both animals can be unpredictable, and a little back-up is a good idea.
This visual introduction should take place in the largest room in your home. This way, both animals will be able to acknowledge the presence of the other without feeling confined or trapped. You should also pack plenty of treats for both so that this intro is associated with something positive. Treats are also a great distraction for dogs that tend to fixate on a new cat. Don’t allow your dog to chase or hyper focus on your cat. In turn, your cat may seem completely oblivious of this furry alien… or she could arch her back and start hopping sideways in attack mode.
Trust your gut during this process. It may take several days (or even weeks) to feel like the two are comfortable and safe together. It may be a match made in heaven, or an adventure in expensive behavioral specialists. Welcoming a new addition to your family can be an incredibly rewarding experience, and the more effort you make to understand and appreciate the special difference of these two species, the faster you’ll all be one big happy family.