If the introduction is done carefully, dogs and cats can learn to live happily together, even if they don't become 'best friends'.
The first few days
When you first bring your new pet home, keep the two pets separate from each other while they both adjust to the new situation. For example, allow your cat upstairs but not your dog.
Let your new pet settle into the home for at least three days before introductions. In the meantime let your dog and cat explore where the other has been when the other pet is not there. Your cat needs to be able to escape and/or get out of the way. Always provide an escape route for your cat – a high surface to go up on, a place to retreat to, be able to get out of the room, stair gate. Never contain your cat.
Before you start the introduction
- Always have your dog on a lead – your dog must not be able to get to your cat.
- Ideally have two people, one to work with each pet.
- Have a supply of very high value treats for both your dog and your cat, such as cooked chicken or sausages.
- Take it one step at a time!
Put your dog on the lead and make sure they are calm. Let your dog see your cat from as far away as possible, ideally with your cat safe behind a stairgate or similar. If your dog doesn't seem bothered with your cat, praise your dogand give a treat.
Be aware of how your cat reacts. Let them run away if she wants to, or get up onto a higher surface to get out of the way. If your cat seems calm, the other person can give them a treat.
If your dog does react with barking or lunging
Remove them immediately. This is a sign that your dog is too close to your cat, and you will need to find a larger space. If this does happen, wait for at least another two days before attempting it again, still letting your dog and cat explore where the other has been.
If your dog hasn't reacted, other than by just looking
Reward your dog a few times more for being calm around your cat, then take them away. And always reward your cat if they stay in the presence of your dog.
Repeat this controlled introduction as often as you can and eventually your dog and cat will be comfortable in each other's presence; ideally your dog will see your cat and be looking at you for treats instead of bothering about what your cat is doing.
The next step is to allow your dog to be off lead. Only do this when you are very confident that your dog will not chase your cat. Make sure your cat is behind a stairgate or similar. Always reward when your dog is calm around your cat.
If you repeat the introductions over at least three weeks you should find that your dog and cat are very relaxed when they are around each other, and this will progress to your cat having the confidence to walk around the house, but your cat must always know that they can escape the situation and get away from your dog at any time.
Cats are individuals
Some confident cats will accept a new dog readily, whereas other, more nervous ones will take a long time to settle. Try and keep your cats routine as normal as possible, and make sure there are plenty of places for them to get away from your dog.
Things to think about
Some dogs will think that a cat is like a dog and might want to play with it. This is not ideal – your cat will probably react with claws and hissing, and it might even cause one or both animals distress or harm.
Some breeds of dog have high prey instincts and will 'hunt' i.e. stare at or stalk your cat. This is where slow, repeated introductions and positive reinforcement (food and good things happening when your dog sees your cat) are very important in trying to work with this behaviour. Sometimes this instinct will be very difficult to break and you may never be able to leave your pets together unsupervised.
Sometimes your pets will just avoid each other. Although not a bad thing, this may mean that if forced to stay in the same room (overnight for example) one of your pets may become distressed.
Just because your dog is OK with your cat inside the house doesn't mean they'll be the same outdoors. Your dog might fixate on your cat and start chasing when they are outside together, so be especially watchful.
- Let your pets get used to each others' smell by swapping their bedding before they meet.
- Ensure your cat has somewhere completely away from your dog to eat and sleep.
- Make sure that your cat can always get away, providing high spaces and use a stairgate .
- Always allow your cat the choice to leave the situation – never confine your cat during training.
- Never let your dog chase your cat.
- Don't rush – it may take time for your dog and cat to accept each other.