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the Dog Blog

Growing Your Furry Family: How to Introduce Dogs to Cats

A family introducing a cat to a dog for the first time.

The debate of dogs vs. cats has raged on for a long time, but that doesn’t mean you have to choose one side or the other. Despite what Hollywood may have you believe, the two species can live together in harmony. What matters is that you take the right steps when your dog meets your cat.

While cats and dogs get a bad rep for cohabitating, the introduction process is not as complicated as you may expect. According to Professional Animal Trainer and TV Show Host Joel Silverman, introducing a dog to a cat can be a simpler process than having two dogs meet for the first time. However, it’s still critical to make sure that your pets meet on good terms. Here’s what you can do to help make your four-legged friends start off on the right paw.

Make the First Few Meetings Count

It’s important to make sure that your dog makes a good first impression on your cat. According to Silverman, the dog will generally be the aggressor when the two pets meet, whether the dog is the newest family member or not. A bad first impression can be a deal breaker for one or both of your four-legged friends.

“There are a lot of dogs that could have been good with other pets, but they were introduced the wrong way,” Silverman says. “The best way to avoid bad situations from happening is to not give them the opportunity to happen. If the dog goes after the cat – whether it’s play in the dog’s mind or aggression – all bets are off because the dog is going to scare the cat.”

Because of these natural tendencies, it’s crucial that you take some precautions for when your dog and cat meet.

Control the situation

When it’s time to introduce a dog to a cat, Silverman suggests having the two meet in a controlled situation where the cat is free to roam and the dog is on a leash. The leash will allow you to hold your dog back in case he has the urge to go after the cat.

“When you get in a controlled environment, you see how the dog reacts,” Silverman says. “If he’s pulling and lunging and wants to go over to where the cat is, that’s not a good time to let the dog go.”

It’s important to note that a dog may be fine at first, but you should keep a hold on the leash just in case something triggers the dog to lunge at the cat. All dogs are different, but the leash gives you a sense of security. If your dog repeatedly pulls on the leash, Silverman suggests using some light corrections to help teach him that pulling is not okay and to not to chase after the cat.

Use small sessions to introduce your dog and cat

Once you’ve made sure the first impression went well, you’re going to want to replicate those results over multiple sessions. Over time, you can start to relax your restrictions on your dog. If he’s behaving well, you can let him get a little closer to the cat while keeping him on a leash.

Eventually, you can let your dog stay two or three feet away and let the cat take it upon himself to come up to the dog and explore each other nose to nose. Sometimes they’ll meet each other and just go in different directions, which is great. This is a sign that the two are comfortable with each other.

If your dog is showing enough progress, you can begin to loosen your restrictions with the leash. After two or three 15-to-20-minute sessions without any issues, let the leash drag on the ground. This will still allow you to grab the leash if your dog gets too excited. When you feel your dog is consistent with his behavior, you can take him off the leash.

Give Them Time to Get to Know Each Other

It’s important to note that there is no set amount of time that it takes for a dog and a cat to meet and get comfortable with one another. Every four-legged friend is different, so it all depends on your pets’ personalities.

“Things like this take time,” Silverman says. “A lot of people are impatient and want a quick fix, but certain cats and dogs need more time to adjust than others. It’s not necessarily like training your dog to sit or lie down.”

For example, high-prey drive dogs will likely need more time than others. These dogs tend to be more excitable where sights, sounds, and odors are elevated, so they’ll be more driven by other animals and movement. In this case, the introduction is going to be challenging for your dog, so prepare yourself for multiple sessions to help your dog adjust to having a cat in the house. On the flipside, a cat that tends to hide can actually make your job easier. In this case, hiding is something that’s natural to that cat, so you can still take the same steps with the leash and turn the dog loose a little sooner if the dog behaves.

Of course, there are times where a dog and a cat may just not get along. If you bring the new dog or cat home and either of the animals are continuously aggressive toward the other, that dog or cat may require separate quarters altogether or may not be a good fit for your family. Fortunately, most animal shelters and humane societies will inform you if an animal that’s up for adoption is good with other dogs or cats, so pay attention to those signs when you’re looking to add another member to your family.

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The preparation doesn’t stop once your dog acclimates to your cat. Not only do you need a litany of supplies to make sure your dog is ready for his new home, you also need to plan for the future. Join our Best Friends Club today to receive special training tips, informative articles, and members-only discounts on Bil-Jac products to stay up-to-date on what you can do to make sure your precious pooch is ready for a long, happy life.