Dog-to-Cat Introductions

Cat and dog lying in grass

*Information adapted from Best Friends Animal Society*

Some dogs are fine with cats, and others cannot safely live with them. Some dogs can live with certain cats, depending on age, activity level and temperament, but not others. Remember, each dog and cat is an individual and each introduction is different.

If introductions don’t go well, seek help from a professional behavior consultant.

Pay attention to body language

If the cat's ears are back or the tail is swishing back and forth, they aren't happy. If the dog becomes very focused, stiffens, stares, or starts barking or whining, they may view the cat as prey. Don't let the dog near the cat if you see any of these signs. It's OK if they pay attention to the cat, but they shouldn't fixate. Ideally, their body will be loose and relaxed.

Be aware that a dog may be OK with a cat in the home but not outdoors. Pay attention to body language in each new situation.

There are several different ways of introducing dogs to cats. If the first method doesn't work or you're uncomfortable with it, try another option. It's best to have two people present — one for each animal.

Option 1: Desensitization

If the dog is too fixated on the cat, you can gradually increasing their exposure to the cat. Keep the cat in a room with a tall baby gate across the door. It should be a room that the dog cannot access and doesn't need to access. Keep in mind that cats can squeeze through small gaps and are good climbers and jumpers, so make sure your cat can't get past the gate.

Let the dog briefly view the cat through the gate, and then get them to focus on something else. Having the dog on leash may help with redirecting their attention. Continue to give the dog short viewings of the cat throughout the day. If the dog is too excited upon seeing the cat, close the door and begin feeding each animal on their side. This will allow them to associate each other's smell with something good. You can also give the dog's bedding or blankets to the cat, and vice versa.

Sometimes the dog will lose interest in the cat within hours, but it may take days, weeks or months. Again, some dogs are unable to safely live with cats. If you don't think you can trust your dog with your cat, keep them apart.

Option 2: Face-to-face introduction

One person should hold the dog on a loose leash and watch their body language. The other person should watch the cat’s body language. If the cat is not raising their hair or hissing, they can be allowed to move around freely.

If the dog is calm around the cat, ask them to sit or lie down and stay while the cat moves around freely. If the dog ignores the cat, praise and reward them. If the dog stares, goes stiff, lunges or tries to chase the cat, try the desensitization option instead.

Introducing kittens or puppies

Keep in mind that kittens may not have any fear of dogs. Because kittens are small and like to run and play, some dogs may view them as prey and want to chase. Also, a young, high-energy dog could hurt or kill a kitten simply by trying to play. Even if your dog is good with adult cats, they may not be with a kitten. Play it safe by keeping the kitten and dog separate unless you're watching them.

A well-socialized adult cat may be OK with a rambunctious puppy. However, you must intervene if you have a shy cat that the puppy chases. Until the puppy is old enough to have gained self-control and had some training, monitor their interactions with the cat. Baby gates can keep the two safely and comfortably apart, and you can also have your puppy on a leash around the cat.