How to introduce your dog to cats

Dogs and cats can live quite happily together – in fact, some develop a very strong bond and become firm friends. However, this is not always the case. Introducing a new cat to your dog at home must be done slowly and with great care. And remember, some dogs have strong predatory instincts and may never be able to live safely with cats.

If you already have a dog and are interested rehoming a cat, here’s some information to help you.

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What type of cat should I rehome?

Wherever possible, we suggest you choose a cat that has previously lived happily with dogs. When you don’t know this, we suggest you consider the following before rehoming:

  • Is your dog used to living with cats?
  • Is your dog elderly? Will he have the ability to get away if the cat does decide to pester him?
  • Can you provide the cat with a retreat or ‘safe area’ where the dog cannot reach him, (i.e. upstairs or in a bedroom)?
  • Will the cat have an access route to the garden without having to pass the dog?

How to introduce you new cat to your dog

Dog and cat introductions must be done slowly and with great care. This is to help ensure the safety of both animals, but especially the cat – who may not take kindly to sharing their new territory with a strange smelling, looking and sounding animal.

Make sure you don’t force the animals together, for example by carrying the cat towards the dog. Not only will this terrify the cat, but you could be bitten or scratched by them as they struggle to get away. Instead, let them investigate each other in their own time.

Preparing for the introduction

Introductions with cats are best done indoors. Your dog should be on a secure lead whenever the cat is present until you’re sure they are comfortable together. Make sure you actively reward your dog for not chasing or being overly bold towards the cat, you may also want to walk them beforehand so they’re more relaxed.

Make sure you’re there when your dog and the cat meet – never leave them in a room together unattended. Place a barrier such as a baby gate between the dog and the cat’s safe area, so that the cat can come and go at will without the dog being able to follow.

Using food in the introduction

Use food to get your dog and cat used to each other. Place a bowl of cat food in reach of the cat but out of your dog’s reach. At the same time, give the dog a stuffed Kong or chew. Eating is a pleasurable experience and so the association between the other animal and food may help smooth any relationship problems.

When can I let them live together normally?

Gradually, as the cat becomes more used to the dog, you can allow more interaction. Keep your dog on the lead and let them approach the cat for a sniff and then call them away. Give your dog a tasty treat every time they look away from the cat and towards you.

Try to ensure that your dog is never allowed to chase your cat. Dogs can find this very exciting and it can be difficult to stop once this behaviour has started. Reward your dog for ignoring or turning away from the cat.

After a couple of weeks you’ll have a good idea if it’s safe to let your dog off the lead when the cat is present. If the cat is a very shy or timid cat, it may take longer. Try to be patient and do things slowly and with care. Even the most cat-friendly dogs can sometimes take time to accept a new cat’s arrival.