How to Introduce a Cat and Dog

Black dog looks at a light-striped cat while both sit on a couch.

If you’ve only ever watched Saturday morning cartoons, you’re probably under the impression that cats and dogs are natural enemies. Thankfully, that is not even remotely true. Each year households across the US add another furry member to their family, and many of these include both cats and dogs peacefully coexisting. So, if you’re looking to add a cat to your dog household, or a dog to your cat household, there are some steps you can take to make sure your cat and dog don’t end up fighting like cats and dogs.

1. Separate the Cat and Dog

When first bringing the new animal home, it is best to keep them initially separated and introduce them to each other gradually. Create a safe room for the cat. This space should have a secure door and contain everything your cat would need to live comfortably (litter box, toys, water, food etc.). At times you’ll want to crate or confine the dog to a separate room, allowing your cat to roam free and investigate the dog’s presence without actually coming face-to-face with your pooch.

The goal behind this first step is to get your pets used to each other’s presence in the same area without them actually meeting. Even though they are unable to see each other, they can still smell and hear the other. This will potentially help the first face-to-face meeting between the cat and dog go much smoother if they’ve already grown somewhat accustomed to the other. It is also not a bad idea to introduce some of each animal’s personal items into each other’s space during this time. This can help each pet grow acclimated to the other.

2. The First Meeting Should Be Short

Once your cat and dog are calm with the other in the house, it’s time to make the first face-to-face introduction. Make sure your dog is on leash, and you have control. Do not allow the dog to roam free just yet. Release the cat from its safe room and allow it to roam freely around the house. Give the dog treats and make sure to reinforce positive behavior during this time. After about 10 minutes return the cat to the safe space and let the dog off of its leash. Keep repeating this process, slightly increasing the amount of time the cat is free in the house.

During these initial meetings, you will want to keep your dog secured on its leash, and keep repeating these heavily supervised meetings daily until both animals seem relatively happy and are at ease around each other. Try to save their favorite treats/toys to use when they are together to reinforce positive behavior from both your cat and dog.

3. Release the Hound

After several face-to-face meetings and only after both the dog and cat seem happy and relaxed around each other, you can start letting your dog loose while the cat is around. If possible keep your dog’s leash attached and dragging on the floor, just in case anything happens you will want to be able to gain control of the situation ASAP. Just like with step 2, start this new process slowly. Only allow the dog to roam free for short periods of time, gradually increasing as both animals grow accustomed to each other. Again, you’re almost repeating the previous step just with the added twist of a dog that has been let off its leash. During this time keep a close lookout for any signs of aggression, anxiety or hostility from either animal and do not allow any unsupervised interactions between them just yet.

Cat and dog snuggling together on couch.

4. Begin Unsupervised Interactions

This is the final step, and without a doubt the one that will potentially cause you the most stress. Only proceed to this step once you’re able to keep both animals loose and supervised for significant periods of time. Moving from step 3 to step 4 may take upwards of a month or more before both you and the animals are truly comfortable with this last step. Start with low increments of time, maybe just 10 minutes or so. Simply just step outside the room for 10 minutes to begin with. Stay close and if possible within earshot. That way if you hear anything that sounds problematic, you’re able to make a quick entrance.

If everything goes well for this first time, begin gradually increasing your time away. Start going for a walk or a quick trip to the store and attempt to gauge the reactions of both animals once you return. Do they seem afraid of each other? Are there any signs of conflict between them? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is best to return to step 3, and potentially bring in an outside trainer to assist.