Introducing dogs and cats

apbc cat dog

This article is aimed at people adopting a cat who already have a dog (or dogs) at home. The information is also useful for people bringing a dog into a home with a resident cat (or cats). In my experience, having a resident cat first makes for an easier introduction. Cats and dogs can learn to get along but may not ever be best friends! Don’t expect too much, too fast and eventually they should be able to at least tolerate each other. 

It is important to consider the personality of both the cat and dog you are hoping to introduce. Confident cats that stand their ground when faced with something frightening are more likely to cope with a dog than very fearful cats, who run away from everything. The breed and personality of the dog is important too. Breeds of dog used for chasing small animals (e.g. greyhounds, terriers) may never settle with a cat around, especially if they haven’t been socialised with them from a young age. Laid-back dogs are best to introduce a cat to, and don’t forget, the staff at the re-homing centre may be able to recommend cats they know have successfully lived with dogs in the past. If you have more than one dog, please be aware that they may get each other over excited, making an attack on the cat more likely.
Cats feel safer when they are in an elevated position. Provide elevated beds for your cat to sleep in, elevated walkways so they can get past dogs without getting too close (e.g. consider allowing your cat on the furniture) and make sure you have an elevated spot to feed your cat (e.g. on a kitchen counter). Make sure your cat has access to litter trays where the dog cannot disturb toileting! Cats require privacy and quiet when toileting, so make sure you are providing this facility.
Using scent
The sense of smell is very good in both dogs and cats. Both species use scent to recognise members of their social group. This means that once you have chosen the new member of your family, you can introduce them to existing pets via their scent. Stroke the cat and dog with separate pieces of cloth and store each in a separate bag. You can then use this to help your pets get to know one another in advance of actually meeting. Present the cloth with the dog’s scent to your cat before something nice happens, like they have dinner, or play a game. With repeated exposures, this will mean that the scent of the other pet becomes associated with good things, and may help your pets get along better once they are in the same home. When you bring your new cat or dog home, you can rub the scent from one onto the other, so a group scent begins to form. This will help your pets to accept each other as members of the same social group.
When your cat arrives
If the first few encounters between your new pets are negative, this could mean they will never settle together. Expect to supervise all encounters for the first few months. Allowing the dog too much freedom initially can result in the cat becoming too scared to ever trust the dog again. To make this easier, consider giving the cat and dog separate areas that are only theirs e.g. the cat can have exclusive access upstairs in a house, the dog downstairs. This means if the cat feels threatened, he knows he can go upstairs and be safe. If your dog is not trained to remain downstairs, use a baby gate on the stairs or on the door of the room your dog spends most of their time, to keep the animals separate. 
Cats that are allowed to observe dogs from a safe distance are more likely to progress quickly than those forced into encounters with no escape. So, initially, allow your cat free access to the room the dog is normally in without closing them in. Always have your dog on the lead and be in control to prevent any negative experiences. Reward your dog for ignoring/remaining calm when your cat is nearby.
After the cat has had opportunity to investigate the room, you can set up encounters. Again, with the dog on the lead, encourage your cat into the room, with treats. Do not force this. Make sure your dog does not jump around or give chase. Do some fun training with your dog, so their attention is on you, not the cat. Most of these encounters should be uneventful. When your dog is showing no interest in the cat, you can allow him more freedom but do be ready to step in if anyone gets overexcited! Consider using a house line- a longer, light-weight lead that your dog can have on his collar all the time that is much easier to get a hold of (or stand on) if a chase happens. Be sure to reward calm behaviour from your dog with treats and praise. Extra tasty treats can be saved to give to your cat when the dog is around and the cat behaves calmly. Make sure both pets know that the presence of the other is a sign nice things will happen if they are calm.
Do not punish either pet for not behaving as you would like them to. Punishment damages the relationship between pet and owner, and will not help your cat and dog feel positive about each other either!
Do not force things between your cat and dog. They are from two different species after all. Let them take things at their own pace. Never leave cats and dogs unattended if you are at all worried.     
Pheromones may also help. Plug in a Feliway diffuser to help relax your cat, and an Adaptil diffuser to help relax your dog.
If you are having problems, don’t forget help is at hand in the form of pet behaviour counsellors.
Dr Sarah Millsopp Ph.D. B.Sc. (HONS)