How To: Introducing a Puppy to a Cat
Have you ever wondered how to introduce a puppy to a cat? I am a cat person! There, I said it!
Actually, and ironically, I am more of a cat person than I am a dog person. But, I haven’t been able to figure out how to make a living training cats! Honestly, the time I spent working with big cats was one of my favorite experiences.
Cats have special needs. And, cats are not usually willing to openly embrace change, especially when that “change” comes in the form of a jumping, barking, and chasing ball of fur. I’m referring to adopting a doggy companion to go with your cat. If you don’t do things correctly, you could end up with a traumatized cat with health concerns (like UTI), or not using their cat box.
And, I know that as proud cat owners, we want to make sure our cats are as comfortable with the new transition as possible. The relationship between dog and cat is a delicate one. You don’t want your new pet to stir up bad behavior from the other! It’s also important to make sure that they understand that the general area of the house is shared territory in order to prevent aggression. Today, we’ll look at some of the most effective ways to keep your dog and cat happy when they’re together.
Pairing Your Pets
If you’re thinking of getting a cat for your dog or a dog for your cat, it’s important to consider both animals’ personalities.
It may be helpful to look for a companion that has already been exposed to the other species in the past.
If a dog or cat is elderly, laid back, quiet or anxious, then a calm counterpart would be best.
Avoid rambunctious companions who may annoy, frighten or otherwise bother the other pet.
If a dog plays roughly, it is best to avoid kittens or elderly cats who can easily be hurt. Instead, stick to playful adults who are interested in play, but are also confident enough to take care of themselves.
If a cat is rambunctious or playful, a dog that is playful, but gentle, could be a great option.
If a dog attempts to aggressively chase, pin, pick up or otherwise “manhandle” any cat, it is best to not even consider getting a cat — or at least to proceed with caution. Additionally, a dog who growls, lunges at or obsessively barks at a cat would probably do best in a cat-free environment. Likewise, a cat who growls, swats at, runs from or hides from dogs would probably prefer to not live with a dog.
If a dog loves chasing things, then a fearful, shy cat who runs away probably wouldn’t be the best choice, as it could trigger the dog to chase.
Similarly, an energetic cat who runs and pounces would fall into this same category. A better match here would be a calm, confident cat who will not run (in fear or play).
Most puppies sincerely lack good manners.
I think the average cat thinks that while humans lack good “cat” manners, puppies have abhorrent behavior!
I, personally, don’t want my puppy to realize that he is even capable of chasing my cat.
So, I put my puppy on a leash. Not only does this help to teach my puppy basic manners and impulse control, it prevents him from adopting a lot of bad behaviors.
Let’s face it, I am not going to allow my puppy to chase my cat!
And, by keeping the puppy on leash and with me in the house, it keeps the cat from feeling like his life has totally been turned upside down.
The adult cat can then feel less pressure and discomfort in what he has always known to be his home. This way, he can approach the puppy safely and on his terms.
And, although it seems overwhelming to keep your puppy on a leash in the house, it is the #1 way to keep a lot of bad puppy habits from ever forming.
So, How Do You Introduce Your New Puppy To Your Cat?
People commonly misunderstand the relationship between cats and dogs. They’re not sworn enemies; in fact, they can live pretty well together! Even though they can get along, though, introducing a puppy into a household with feline friends can take some serious planning and patience to make the transition smooth and easy for everyone involved. Introducing the pets to each other should be done slowly, in a step-by-step fashion. Below, we’ll look at how to introduce a puppy to a cat.
Step One: House Prep
Introducing a puppy to a cat is a careful process. First things first, make sure to give your cat a NO PUPPY ZONE.
This is likely to be your cat’s litter box, food, water, and a nice place to climb or sleep without the interruption of an annoying puppy.
These should be available to the kitty at all times. This is also important for your puppy’s health.
Cat food is bad for puppies!
Eating out of the cat box can be gross, but it’s also bad for their health. Clumping cat litter is not safe to consume.
Angry cats can also injure puppies by lashing out and scratching their face and eyes. It is in everyone’s best interests to give your cat his own space.
Preparing your home for the arrival of a new pet - especially a puppy - is very important, but even more so if you have an adult cat (or cats) and want to make the arrival as calm and harmonious as possible. Simply bringing your puppy home, popping him on the floor, and allowing him to chase (or be chased!) across the carpet is not the best first introduction! Indeed, in one fell swoop it can create anxiety and mistrust that can last for life.
Step Two: Scent Association
The first time that you bring your pet puppy to its new home, keep the puppy separated from the cat by putting both of them in adjoining or connecting rooms.
Make sure that both your puppy and cat have the essentials – food, water, toys, a litter box for the cat, etc.
Keep a door between the two of them, so that they can get used to the sounds and smells of each other. This can greatly mitigate the risk of bad experiences and negative associations with each other while the relationship is still young and sensitive.
Another method that can help make the transition easier is placing a blanket or towel with your puppy’s scent in the room with your cat.
Likewise, it’s also effective to introduce the pup to your cat’s scent by placing a blanket or towel with it in your pet puppy’s room. Pheromone products can help to ease both your puppy and your cat’s respective transitions.
Introducing a new puppy to an established cat really requires you to think about the world from your cat’s point of view.
Cats see the world in very different ways to humans – and to dogs!
While our world is full of vision and color, cats tend to gain much of their information from scent, which is why even a new piece of furniture in your home can be enough to upset a sensitive feline disposition! For this reason, accustoming your cat to the smell of your new dog, long before he or she even comes home, can be ideal.
This can be done by taking a cloth with you when you visit your new puppy at the breeder’s and stroking the puppy with it. You can then take this home and wipe it on your furniture, door frames, even your own hands, before stroking your cat. This way the smell of the new puppy will be transferred to all these areas and will be familiar to your cat before she ever lays eyes on the newcomer. Perhaps this is the cat version of seeing photographs of someone before you meet them – giving a much-needed sense of recognition in advance.
Once your pup is home, spend lots of time stroking your cat before immediately stroking your pup – he or she will then smell familiar and will be recognized as a part of your cat’s family.
Step Three: Adjustments and Attention
Make sure to give your puppy and cat plenty of individual attention.
You want to make this as positive of an experience as possible.
Think of it this way. What’s the thing that’s changing for your cat? The puppy is now in the house.
You don’t want the cat to associate the puppy with the negative experience of being banished to quarantine, or no longer receiving the attention that it craves.
For your puppy, it’s just coming to your house. You need to give it attention and bonding time to help it through this major change. Spend quality time with both of your pets individually.
As soon as both pets seem relaxed with the current situation, switch their positions. Allow for your puppy to occupy the room where your cat has been and your cat to occupy the room your puppy has vacated. You can switch rooms several times during the introductory period.
Step Four: Controlled Encounters
Once both the cat and your new puppy are pretty at ease with the scents and smells of one another, it’s time to introduce them directly to each other.
At first, it’s important to make sure to keep some sort of barrier between the two of them.
Place your cat in a large kennel / kitty crate or use a baby gate the cat cannot get over, under, or through.
It’s important to keep the puppy on a leash during the first encounters so that you can monitor and guide his attention until you’re certain that they can handle being around each other.
Praise and reward your puppy for being cool and quiet when it’s around your cat. Don’t let your puppy chase, harass or otherwise torment your cat.
The objective is to teach your pup that he is rewarded for good behavior when your cat is around. Bad behavior should not be encouraged or allowed to occur but should not be punished if lapses do occur accidentally, as this may create unwanted responses and issues between your puppy and your cat.
In most situations, with time, your new puppy and your cat will come to accept each other and may even become friends.
However, each situation is different and you should assess the reactions of both animals before you allow them to remain together unsupervised.
As in all situations, be sure your cat has perches at [human] eye-level or above where he can escape from the attentions of your pup if necessary. Your cat should also have a private area where the puppy is unable to follow for times when he feels the need to be alone. And don’t forget to spend plenty of alone time (without your puppy present) snuggling or playing with your cat.
Things To Look Out For
If the dog remains overly focused, does not take his eyes off the cat or the door, completely ignores you or lunges suddenly as soon as the cat moves, this is probably a dangerous match.
If you are looking for a dog for your resident cat, try another dog. If this is your dog, you should probably not get him a cat.
If at any time the dog lunges toward, growls, snaps at or shows any aggression toward a calm, quiet, still cat, this match will probably not work out.
The same holds true if a cat attacks a calm, quiet dog. If you are committed to make the relationship work, you will probably need a professional at this point.
If you are looking for a cat for your dog, and your dog displays questionable behavior around a cat who is growling, hissing and swatting, try again with another, calmer cat. If he continues to display questionable behavior around multiple cats, it is likely he should not live with cats.
If it is your cat who is growling, hissing or swatting, give the cat a break and try again on another day.
You might also need to try a different dog.
A cat who continually hisses and growls at all types of dogs will likely not want to live with dogs.
Your cat may tolerate a dog, but she probably won’t be happy — which is an unfair situation for her.
If the cat stops eating, drinking, using the litter box or visiting with family members, she is not happy. You might want to consider finding a better match or contacting a professional animal behaviorist for advice.
Things to Take Into Consideration
Bringing a new puppy home is an exciting event for humans, but for cats it can seem as if their world has just been torn apart.
Even if your cat has been used to living with a dog, the new puppy is nothing like their old, established friend, and can seriously disrupt the household order!
It’s also important to take some time to think about the positioning and type of litter tray that your cat uses. If this is in a place where the puppy can access, you need to be aware that cat poo is a doggie delicacy!
This might be a perfectly ‘normal’ canine behavior for untrained dogs, but clearly it’s unhygienic and pretty disgusting!
While eating cat litter might be gross, it’s far worse from your cat’s point of view if she’s constantly afraid that she might be ambushed by the puppy whilst using the tray!
Even if your puppy does this in play, this has got to be near the top of the list of kitty nightmares, and can lead to all kinds of messy behavior problems in the future if your cat no longer wants to use the tray. Of course, no one likes the thought of being surprised by the door suddenly opening while we’re exposed and vulnerable sitting on the toilet – the same goes for cats, as well.
In order to avoid this, you may need to reposition the tray somewhere that only your cat can access, whether it’s through a cat flap or the use of a baby gate or barrier that your cat can get through or jump over, but your pup cannot.
Various types of litter tray can also help to prevent canine interest in the contents – the type that are covered with a domed lid, and are accessed by a cat flap can be ideal, but it’s absolutely vital that you accustom your cat to using a new tray before the arrival of your new puppy, not after!
It's also important to keep an eye on your young pup. You don’t want it to get into any sort of mischief that can end with injury!
Keep a leash handy. Having your puppy on a leash will allow you to monitor your puppy and prevent it from going places that it shouldn’t!
Many cats are highly territorial, and very routine-oriented.
The central confines of their home is an important part of their security, and feeling that it has been ‘invaded’ in any way can be enough to trigger off a whole gamut of stress-related behaviors – including spraying urine on your furniture, leaving little surprises in your shoes, or the dog’s bed, or – at worst – leaving home altogether.
One of the main contributors to a harmonious cat and dog household undoubtedly is to ensure that your pup never gets a chance to chase your cat, either in the house or the yard.
The easiest way to do this is to create barriers in your home that your cat can traverse but your puppy can’t.
Baby gates (where the cat can slip through the bars, but your pup can’t) or low barriers positioned at doors or the bottom of the stairs where the cat can easily jump over, leaving your pup on the other side, are simple and practical.
Keeping your pup on a leash or training leash is also recommended when you are there to supervise interactions.
Combining this with training a ‘settle down’ command can work wonders to keep everyone calm and content.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.