When you bring a new pet into an environment where another pet has already staked a claim, it can feel like you’re flirting with disaster. The truth is that learning how to introduce a cat to a dog isn’t too tough if you have the right strategy in place. Here are three effective strategies to help you learn how to introduce a cat to a dog without wrecking your house or your relationships with your four-legged friends.

Desensitize Your Pets to One Another Slowly

When you bring your new dog home, your cat may want nothing to do with them. It’s also possible that both pets will become aggravated by each other or that one pet will not be able to leave the other alone. Either way, this is a recipe for an injured animal and a trip to your veterinarian. If you want to avoid injuries or overwhelmed pets, try desensitizing them gradually. The goal of this type of introduction is to reduce your dog’s reaction to your cat (and vice versa) so they can eventually coexist calmly. The steps you’ll need to take for successful desensitization are as follows.

  • Keep your dog and your cat in separate spaces, separated by a gate your cat can’t jump over.
  • Swap blankets and bedding between your pets’ spaces so they can smell one another.
  • Keep your dog on a leash and allow them to glimpse the cat before distracting them with a toy or treat.
  • Continue allowing short viewings and getting each pet acclimated to the other’s scent and appearance.
  • Once you feel safe doing so, allow your pets to share space for a short period of time while leashed.
  • Increase the amount of time they spend in a shared space until you can let them roam freely in the house together.

Face-to-Face Introduction

If you think that your cat is sociable enough to handle a more fast-paced introduction, go for a simple face-to-face strategy. If you choose this option, make sure you have your dog on a leash. Keep a loose hold on that leash and watch your dog’s movements and body language carefully while you’re introducing your pets. If your dog remains calm, you can try giving them a few basic commands while your cat is allowed to approach, sniff, and feel out their new companion. If your dog is too fixated on the cat and displays stiff body language or tries to lunge at the cat, you might want to try a slower introductory approach. Having treats or toys on hand to distract your dog while your cat approaches and sniffs around is also a good technique to employ here.

Look at That!

When desensitization isn’t working or just isn’t going as quickly as you’d like, it’s possible to use structured training exercises with your dog. Most veterinarians will likely recommend doing this if there are signs that your pets aren’t getting along to avoid injury. The training exercise, look at that, involves teaching your dog to look at the cat (look at that!) and then to look back at you for a reward. Try to figure out what your dog’s favorite kind of treat is before you start this training — it may help increase their motivation during training.

Learning how to introduce a cat to a dog can feel tricky at first. But when there are almost 94 million pet cats and 90 million pet dogs in the U.S., some of them are going to co-habitate. With these three strategies, you should be on your way to having two four-legged peas in a pod in no time.

At Southern Arizona Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center we are happy to provide a wide range of veterinary specialty and emergency services. It is important to have a “primary care” veterinarian to keep your new family member healthy and happy with routine vaccinations and health checks. But if you find yourself in the midst of a veterinary emergency, our team of experienced veterinarians is here to help. When it comes to visiting animal hospitals, we understand that the experience can be full of stress and worry, so we aim to make things as simple as possible. For more information, get in touch with one of our experts today.