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Introducing Dogs and Cats: A Step-By-Step Guide

Introducing Dogs and Cats: A Step-By-Step Guide

By Leena Chitnis, Founder, Timberdog

Before I plunge into this controversial topic, let me first say, I don't prefer the idea of bringing a dog into the home of a cat who 1) has a fear of dogs (as most cats do), and 2) has acclimatized to a space for a number of years where she is the only pet and thus feels safe. In an ideal world, we would bring a new puppy and kitten home together at the same time. 


The pandemic saw a record number of dog adoptions, some of which I can only assume were happening in families that already owned pets, such as cats. There are also instances where couples with different types of pets move in together. And finally, sometimes you just have to get that dog, and can't say no to those pathetic puppy eyes! So, I feel compelled to say something on the matter.

Bringing a new dog into your home can be an exciting experience, but introducing your new dog to your resident cat requires a delicate dance of sorts, where great care must taken to acclimatize both pets to one another. By taking some steps and allowing time for adjustment, you can help foster a harmonious relationship between your pets. Here are some tips to make the introduction smooth and enjoyable for everyone involved.

Step 1: Preparing the Space
Before the grand introduction, ensure both your dog and cat have their respective safe spaces. Set up a cozy area with familiar toys, bedding, and scratching posts for your cat. Likewise, create a designated spot for your dog, complete with a comfy bed and some of their favorite toys. This separation will help each pet feel secure while getting accustomed to each other's scent.

Step 2: Scent Introduction
Animals heavily rely on their sense of smell to understand their surroundings. Gently introduce your new dog and cat's scents to each other before they meet in person. Rub a soft cloth or sock on each pet and place it in the other's area. This will allow them to become familiar with each other's scent gradually.

Step 3: Controlled Visual Contact
Next, arrange a controlled visual encounter. Place a pet gate or use a cracked door to allow your dog and cat to see each other without direct contact. Keep a leash on your dog during this process for added control. Observe their reactions carefully, and if either pet seems stressed or aggressive, separate them and try again later. Remember not to get too pushy here, or you can do irreversible damage whereby the cat is traumatized and will never really fully take to your new dog. For me, the goal isn't just wariness and toleration, it's friendship (hopefully)!

Step 4: Positive Reinforcement
When it's time for the face-to-face meeting, keep the mood upbeat and relaxed. Have treats handy for both your dog and cat, rewarding them for calm behavior. Use positive reinforcement to associate the presence of the other pet with something enjoyable. Watch for food aggression. If this is the case, do not use treats as a positive enforcement, and definitely seek a professional's help immediately. Food aggression is serious and not something to mess with.

Step 5: Short and Sweet Meetings
In the beginning, keep the interactions brief to prevent overwhelming either animal. Gradually increase the time they spend together as they become more comfortable. Remember, patience is key during this process. Even if things seem fine, continue to separate your pets quickly at first and then very gradually lengthen their visits. 

Step 6: Supervised Playtime
As the bond between your dog and cat grows, allow them to engage in supervised playtime. Be present to intervene if any rough play or aggressive behavior occurs. Over time, they will likely learn to coexist and even enjoy each other's company.

Introducing a new dog to your cat may require time and effort, but with a keen eye and expert touch, you can facilitate a successful relationship. Be patient, provide positive reinforcement, and celebrate the small victories along the way. With love, care, and understanding, your furry companions will soon be friends, filling your home with even more warmth and joy.

Photo credit: Krista Mangulsone

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