Harnessing the Power of Patience: How to Properly Introduce a Dog and Cat

A tortishell cat laying near a white dog at the top of a stairway.

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It’s a common scenario: you bring home a new puppy, and you already have a cat.

While it may seem like the two are doomed to never get along, there are actually a few things you can do to help them become friends, or at least to peacefully coexist.

With a bit of patience and some careful planning, you can successfully introduce your puppy to your cat and give them both the companionship they deserve. 

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How to Introduce Your Puppy to Your Cat

Whether you have a resident cat and are adding a new dog, or a resident dog and adding a new cat, the introduction process is the same.

And either way, it will take time and patience to get the new pet and the old pet to peacefully coexist.

The process may be even longer if you are introducing an older dog or an adult cat to a younger pet as the older pets may be more set in their ways.

Separate them at first

Cats and dogs do best with slow introductions, so start with them separated in their own space for at least a week or so.

Keep the cat in a separate room that the puppy can’t get into. Make sure that this room has a place for the cat’s litter box, food, and water.

During this time you want them to start to get used to each other’s scents. To do this, allow the dog to sniff around the closed door to the cat’s room.

You can also do scent swapping by bringing the cat’s scent into the dog’s area and the dog’s scent into the cat’s area. Do this by giving each of them a towel or blanket to lie on. After each animal has had time to lay on their blanket/towel, swap them.

Put the cat’s blanket where the puppy can sniff it, and put the puppy’s blanket where the cat can sniff it.

Teach your dog basic commands

It’s important to use the separation time to teach your dog basic commands such as “sit” and “stay”. This will help you control your puppy when they are around the cat.

Practice these commands multiple times a day during the week or so that they are separated. The better your puppy is at these commands before adding in the distraction of your cat, the more likely they are to listen around the cat.

Introduce face to face

A black cat sniffing a white dog while a hand pets the dog.

Once you feel that the two animals have become used to each other’s scents, it is time to start face-to-face meetings.

For the first introduction keep the puppy on a leash and bring them into the room with the cat. Make sure to always hold on to the dog’s leash, you DO NOT want your dog to be able to chase the cat at this time.

You want this first meeting to be as calm as possible. The more positive experiences they have, the easier the introduction process will be.

Let the cat set the pace of these first interactions. And make sure that they have several escape routes away from your dog in case they get scared.

Observe both animals

Pay close attention to both animals. If either one appears uncomfortable or shows signs of aggressive behavior, take a step back. Give them time to adjust before proceeding.

If your puppy starts to get too excited, it’s time to end the introduction. You want to try to keep your puppy as calm as possible to reduce the risk of scaring your cat.

Continue this process until both animals feel comfortable with each other in their presence. The time it takes for your pets to become comfortable with each other will depend on their personalities and how much time you spend exposing them to each other.

Reward positive behavior

When you are introducing your cat and dog, reward any positive interactions. The best way to do this is to use treats for both animals. This is easier if you have another family member to help you.

Then one person can give the puppy treats for being calm around the cat. And the other person can give the cat treats for being calm around the dog.

At this point, it doesn’t matter if they are on opposite sides of the room, the goal is for calm behavior from both the cat and the dog.

Using positive reinforcement for calm behavior helps to reinforce that behavior and will encourage them to continue being calm.

Aim for short sessions and frequent breaks

Introducing a puppy to a cat should be done in short sessions, with frequent breaks.

It can take days or even weeks for them to get used to each other, so don’t rush the process.

The goal is for both animals to be comfortable with one another and form positive associations with each other.

Let your cat out of the room

After multiple successful controlled meetings, it is time to let your cat out of the room and let them start interacting with your dog in the rest of the house.

When you first let the cat out of the room you want to keep your puppy on a leash attached to you, at all times. This allows your cat to move around the house and get used to your dog while staying out of your dog’s reach.

It also makes it easier for you to immediately correct your dog if they try to chase your cat or get too excited seeing them move around the house.

Let your dog off the lead

A black cat showing her belly to a German Shepherd.

Once the puppy is able to have a loose lead when the cat is around, you can try letting them off the leash. Doing this gives the puppy more freedom, but it also means that you won’t be able to correct them as easily if they start chasing the cat.

To limit this, it may be best to keep the leash attached to them, but just dragging on the floor. This allows for a slightly better chance of you being able to grab your dog if they do decide to chase your cat.

During this stage, pay close attention to both animals. If either one appears uncomfortable, or your puppy is unable to not chase the cat, take a step back.

Go back to keeping the leash attached to you and give them more time to adjust before proceeding.

If your puppy is able to not chase the cat and neither seems too stressed, you can try removing the leash completely.

Allow unsupervised interactions

Once your puppy and cat are used to each other with supervision, the next step is to begin allowing unsupervised interactions. Start by being in the same room, but just don’t keep as close an eye on them as you have been.

If they continue to coexist peacefully without you paying attention to them in a room together for short periods of time. Just stay close by so you can hear them.

Check on them frequently to make sure they are still getting along all right.

Provide a safe place for your cat

Even with a successful introduction, it is important to provide your cat with a safe space away from the dog in the home. These are places where the puppy can’t get to that the cat can.

A safe area for your cat could be a room that is blocked off from the dog with a pet gate or cat flap or high places where the cat can jump to.

My house has a bedroom that the dogs can’t get into during the day and the laundry room is always blocked off from the dogs.

The cats also have a cat tree that gets them higher than Luna can get. Plus the cats can get under more furniture than Luna can. I also try to keep both dogs with me during the day but allow the cats to be anywhere in the home.

Take your time

It is important to remember that introducing a puppy to a cat can be a lengthy process. Depending on the animals’ personalities, it could take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months or longer.

There is no set timetable for when your cat and dog will get along. Just remember to take it slow with a gradual introduction. And go at their pace, not yours.

Have realistic expectations

A tabby cat laying with a German Shepherd Dog.

Another key thing to do is set realistic expectations. Besides the time aspect, there is a good possibility that your cat and dog will never become best friends. But with careful introductions, you can take these mortal enemies and get them to accept their new roommate.

They may always dislike each other, but as long as you can get them to coexist peacefully, you have been successful.

Keep the puppy out of the litter box

One important thing to remember when introducing your cat and dog is that cats and dogs view the litter box very differently. Cats view it as a place to go to the bathroom. And some dogs are very tempted to eat from the litter box.

Unfortunately, your dog’s interest in the litter tray could make your cat feel uncomfortable or stressed out.

To prevent this, you should always keep the puppy away from the litterbox.

You can do this by using a baby gate in the doorway to the room with the litterbox, or by using the door buddy.

I personally prefer the door buddy, but it doesn’t work for every situation.

The door buddy is a strap that attaches to your door so that it can only open far enough for your cat. It also has a foam piece that you put on the door so it can’t close all the way preventing your cat from getting in.

Because of how it works, if your puppy is smaller than your cat, the door buddy will not work for you.

Also, if your puppy is willing to ram itself against the door, it may pop the strap loose. The strap is attached with a sticky piece of foam tape, and while it’s pretty strong, a big dog that runs into the door may pop it off.

It works for me because Luna forgets she’s big and won’t push on the door, even when chasing the cats.

My experience introducing cats and dogs

A tortishell cat sniffing a German Shepherds ear.
This is the only picture I have of Allie ever sniffing Luna. It took almost 4 years for them to get to this point. Sadly Allie passed away about 4 months later.

I’ve introduced two dogs to my home with a cat already living there. I’ve also introduced two cats (not including several foster cats) to my home with two dogs already living there.

Each introduction, including the foster cats, has had different results in different amounts of time.

Allie was 4 when Morgan joined our family and she was 10 when Luna joined the family. Morgan was born in a foster home that had several cats that were used to dogs. She learned from a very young age to respect cats and to leave them alone.

Allie tolerated Morgan fairly quickly, partly because Morgan knew that the sounds Allie made meant “leave me alone.” Morgan left Allie alone, and Allie stopped caring if Morgan was near her.

Luna, on the other hand, had never seen a cat when we brought her home. Luna just couldn’t understand that Allie didn’t want to play with her. Allie ended up spending most of her time in the Luna-free zones of the house.

Eventually, Luna started to calm down and understand that Allie didn’t like her. Unfortunately, it took a few years before Allie would allow Luna to be near her for more than a few seconds. She didn’t really start letting Luna lay near her until the last year or so of her life, over three years after Luna came home.

Two new cats came to live with us in the middle of November (about 3 weeks after Allie passed away). They are much more accepting of Luna and Morgan. Howl was just over 4 months old when I got him and he will play with Luna and occasionally lay with her.

Tsuki, about a year old when she came here, is a little more cautious with Luna and alternates between rubbing against Luna’s legs to clawing at her, depending on what Luna is doing.

Tsuki and Howl adjusted to Luna and Morgan much more quickly than Allie did.

Both of these introductions I call a success. I have also had some failures. I didn’t keep track of how many foster cats have come through my house, but there are two that did not stay very long.

The first one, no matter what I did, would attack Morgan on the steps. The cat had no problem with Morgan anywhere else in the house, but if they met on the steps she went full attack mode.

After multiple tries of her being completely calm around Morgan until on the stairs, I returned her to the shelter.

The second foster cat that didn’t work did fine while separated and did ok with the Morgan one on one. She even did ok with Luna on the leash across the room.

But once we got to letting the dogs and the cat be around each other, not leashed, she couldn’t handle it. She started refusing to leave the bedroom, her safe zone from the dogs.

I made the decision to return her to the shelter and decided there would be no more fostering with Luna.

Unfortunately, there is never a guarantee that a cat will get along with a dog. The best you can do is follow the above advice and take it slow.

Follow your pets’ cues and be patient.

Good luck with introducing your cat and dog to each other!

Related posts

How to Introduce Your Puppy to Your Dog

The First 10+ Things To Teach Your Puppy

How To Make Your Home Safe For A New Puppy

Pin image for how to succeed at introducing your cat to a new dog with a cat sniffing the ear of a German Shepherd.

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