Introducing Cats and Dogs (& Other Critters) - Cat Info Detective

Introducing Cats and Dogs (& Other Critters)

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Welcome frazzled friends! Skye Blake here with some tips and tricks about properly introducing cats, dogs, and other critters.

If not done with the needs of all animals in mind, it can quickly become a disaster!

Let’s discover more…

paw prints coming in from a distance

The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.

Who Is Skye Blake?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian or behaviorist) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you! 

Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page. 

All sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping… 

The Differences Between Dogs & Cats

white bull terrier dog, black cat looking at dog's tail

So, you’re adopting a dog and about to bring it home.

Or you’re bringing a new cat into a house that already has a dog.

How do you successfully introduce a dog and cat?

calico cat sniffing nose of terrier dog

Dogs and cats see the world differently and speak different languages, so when bringing them together, you have to be the interpreter.

Dogs see cats as either fun to chase and play with or prey to kill.

Cats see dogs as a potential threat and will run away in fear or stand and fight, because their natural relationship is predator and prey.

Black cat and cocker spaniel dog lounging together

Dogs are not territorial about the house the same way cats are, and cats don’t make friends instantly.

Dogs jump around and bow to indicate they want to play, which is way too much for most cats, so they run away.

tabby cat on window sill reaching paw down to a dog's nose

The dog thinks “oh boy, let’s play”, and chases a terrified cat around the house.

Dogs are eager to please people while cats decide if it’s to their benefit to cooperate.

Many a disaster has happened because a dog owner said “oh, my dog’s friendly… she won’t do that!”.

You’re the Interpreter

ginger white cat rubbing against white uncertain dog

Getting dogs and cats to live together safely and peacefully can be successful if you do it right.

You have to be the interpreter and work with both dog and cat, teaching the dog to respect the cat’s boundaries and the cat that the dog isn’t a threat.

golden retriever dog, ginger tabby, white cat sleeping together

Ask any pet owner who has successful dog and cat relationships, and they’ll tell you the joy and fun are worth the work.

How do you achieve a harmonious cat/dog relationship?

The short answer is to assess your situation, prepare, and take the training steps necessary.

Assessing Your Situation

lady working on laptop holding coffee mug

Before doing anything else, you must rationally and realistically look at your situation.

Think about these…

  • Your dog’s breed (some have a strong prey drive)
  • The individual dog’s personality and prey drive
  • Your time, strength, and ability to supervise and train your dog
dog training, school
  • Other family members’ time, interest, and ability to mirror the training you do
  • The history of the dog with cats (if known)
  • The experience of the cat with dogs (if known)
scared kitten meeting dog
  • Your understanding of cat behavior (family members as well)
  • Age and energy level of both animals
  • Any food guarding problems
English cocker spaniel dog next to dog food

If you’re not sure about your dog’s ability to live peacefully with cats and are serious about having both, consult a qualified dog behaviorist or trainer to evaluate your situation.

Once you’ve assessed the situation honestly and have concluded that everyone’s compatible, take these steps to introduce your dog and cat.

Preparing for the Newcomer

woman standing in front of shelves

Whether you’re bringing a dog into a cat’s home or vice versa, the key to having a successful introduction and future together is the preparation you do.

The Safe Space

bedroom with fan

Just as when introducing two cats, the importance of having a safe room (“basecamp”) can’t be emphasized enough.

Both the cat and the dog must have a safe room in your home they’re familiar with to go when necessary.

enclosed patio/sunroom

Having a place to escape to is vital for a cat since flight is what we instinctively choose when threatened.

Dogs also need a safe familiar place where they can be comfortable when you can’t supervise.

Discover more at “The Safe Space for Cats“.

Environmental Enrichment (“Catification”)

cat sleeping on a cat tree

If you’re bringing a dog into a cat’s home, be sure you already have it “catified”.

When somebody new comes into a cat’s territory, that cat immediately is wary, putting distance between herself and the newcomer.

She must determine if this creature is a threat to her territory and safety.

burmese cat sitting on cat tree shelf

Analyzing the new scents, sounds, movements, and behavior must be done from a safe distance.

Cat trees, tall furniture and shelves should already be set up where your cat can escape easily and watch, while being out of reach of the dog.

black, tabby cat walking on wall walkway

Having a cat superhighway allows a cat to go around a whole room and even turn corners and go to other rooms while staying up high and safe.

This is especially important if you have a large dog.

The cat should be able to be high enough that the dog can’t reach her even when standing on his hind legs.

silhouette of dog standing on back legs

You should also train the dog to leave cat trees and higher areas alone.

As Jackson Galaxy says, “The sky is owned by cats in the world of cats and dogs”1“Total Cat Mojo”, by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, penguinrandomhouse.com, New York, NY, 2017, pp. 193

Discover more at “Environmental Enrichment for Cats“.

Food Areas

cat eating from bowl with dog sniffing by it

Your cat’s food and water bowls are fair game in a dog’s mind, so giving your cat a quiet place to eat without interruption is vital.

Some dogs have food guarding problems, which makes it even more important that you train him, feed them separately, and be diligent about picking up food bowls.

This can be tricky because cats often don’t like change and moving a food bowl even a few inches away can be unacceptable to them.

automatic cat food feeder

If this becomes a problem, you can use the play routine to help her adjust.

Train your dog to stay away from the cat’s food area and, if possible, have a barrier between them so the cat can eat in peace.

You can use pet safety gates or simply close a door while the cat is eating, then pick up the food bowl when done.

Discover more at “How to Feed a Cat“.

Litter Boxes

tabby cat standing in litter box

Many dogs love to eat cat poop (yuk!) and harass cats at their most vulnerable… in the litter box.

This is a recipe for disaster because the cat will quickly decide not to use that box and go elsewhere.

To prevent this problem, set up barriers to keep your dog well away from all litter boxes.

safety baby gate

Baby or pet safety gates are often a good option… keeping the dog out but letting the cat walk through.

Discover more about locating boxes properly at “The Litter Box… Location, Location, Location“.

Training the Dog

spaniel dog walking, training, school

Dogs are curious and instinctively want to chase small furry critters… including cats.

Without training they don’t know their boundaries, creating dangerous situations for everyone.

This is why it’s so important for you to train any dog who will be with cats… before you introduce them.

german shepherd dog with trainer, school

Even if you don’t have a cat, dogs need training to understand what you do and don’t want them to do.

Teaching them to focus on you, along with basics like sit and stay, gives you control when a dog becomes too focused on a cat.

dachshund dog walking, training, school

Reinforcing the training is something you’ll be doing every day for the rest of the dog’s life.

This is a commitment to be considered while assessing your situation.

You must be committed to responsibly monitoring and working daily with your dog and cat.

Training Methods

dogs looking at trainer, school

There are various methods for training dogs and disagreements about which are best.

People agree that using positive rewards instead of punishment is best but disagree on what’s defined as “punishment”.

Some say the idea of the person being the alpha in the pack is outdated, while others say it’s the natural order that dogs need.

terrier focused on trainer, school

Some say that people do too much projection of themselves onto dogs, depriving the dogs of the leadership they need.

Hey, I’m a cat… I can’t recommend a method, so you should do some snooping and discover what’s best for you.

Contact a certified dog behaviorist and/or trainer and ask about their methods… watch them in action if you can.

Here’s an example of a trainer working with a client to train a dog to leave the cat alone…

“Victoria Stunned as Dog Bullies Owner and Her Cat”, It’s Me or the Dog, September 5, 2019

The Leash

dog, cat leash

There are a few important things to remember to keep your cat safe.

When you first introduce a dog into a cat’s home, you must, must, MUST leave the leash on him.

For everyone’s safety, you must be in control of the dog’s actions at all times.

dog wearing a harness, leash

The leash gives you that extra control you’ll be glad you have when the cat takes off and the dog suddenly lunges after it.

You can step on the leash, giving you that split second to pick it up and stop the dog.

A new dog has to build trust with you and the cat… and you need to get to know what might trigger the dog to go after the cat.

cat on table with dog looking up

Possible triggers are…

  • The cat investigating his food or water bowl
  • The cat being in close proximity to his tail, paws, or head
  • The cat walking or running
cat jumping down onto grass-front view

You should wait until you completely trust that the dog is completely obedient to voice commands before removing the leash in the house.

Even though you may not be holding it constantly, it gives you that extra ability to handle a sudden movement.

Once the dog has earned your complete trust, you can let him wander freely through the house.

Ohhh, That Barking!

barking golden doodle dog

One major difference between introducing cats to cats and cats to dogs… dogs bark when they get excited!

Whether it’s a low, deep ‘woof’ or high piercing ‘yip yap’, it will scare a cat out of his fur.

This will destroy all your efforts to introduce them, so it’s vital to keep the dog from becoming excited when smelling or seeing a cat.

barking spaniel dog

Training your dog to ignore or calmly approach a cat builds respect and trust between them.

As the cat becomes desensitized to the dog’s noise and realizes it’s not a threat, she won’t jump out of her fur anymore.

She might still decide to get up to the top of her cat tree and create some space between them… and that’s fine.

barking, baying beagle dog, introducing to cats

It’s always best for both cats and dogs to provide plenty of play/exercise, environmental enrichment and routine.

Tiring dogs with play and jobs to do, satisfies a dog’s natural “dogness”, and burns off energy.

This calms them down so when they’re around the cat they won’t be excited and barking.

Training the Cat

cat sniffing a finger - training treats

Yes, you can train cats… and it’s fun!

You want the cat to be relaxed and associate the dog with something pleasant rather than stress, fear, and confrontation.

If the cat feels threatened, she’ll either run away or attack the dog.

cat raising paw for treat - training, introducing dogs

This is why it’s so important to train the dog first and provide escape routes and a safe space for the cat.

Some dogs can be intimidated by cats, so if your cat begins to stalk, harass, and upset the dog, you can redirect her with play and treats.

Discover more at “How to Train a Cat“.

The Cat & Dog Introduction

black cat lounging on cat tree bed

Now that you’ve prepared yourself, your household, and trained the dog, you can start introducing him to the cat.

If you’re bringing a dog into the cat’s territory (your home), you may not have had the opportunity to train him.

In this case you should keep him in a safe space and work on training as you do the scent introduction steps.

small terrier dog walking in a room

He should learn not to bark or get excited about the cat’s scent, including rushing at the closed door.

If you’re bringing a cat into a dog’s home, take her immediately to the prepared safe room, shutting the door behind you.

Follow the introduction steps at “Introducing a New Cat – Step by Step“.

The Eating Ritual

elevated food bowls, introducing cats and dogs

If you’re free feeding either the dog or cat, stop and begin scheduled mealtimes.

This gives you leverage to help both of them associate the other with something good… food!

Follow the same feeding ritual as you would for a cat-to-cat introduction.

Protect the Bowls

cat eating from food bowl

Your cat’s food and water bowls are also fair game in a dog’s mind, so giving your cat a private place to eat is vital.

Even a dog being nearby can upset a cat while eating or using the litter box.

Chartreux cat eating from Automatic Cat Feeder

Some cats don’t like change and moving a food bowl even a few inches away can be unacceptable to them.

You can help her adjust by playing near the bowl and ending with a meal there.

Site Swapping for Cats vs. Dogs

modern living room, entryway

Site swapping is an important step in the introduction process as discussed in “Introducing a New Cat – Step by Step“.

There are differences between how a dog reacts to site swapping than a cat.

Cats need to be able to have ownership of all areas in order to feel safe.

orange tabby cat on cat tree, introducing dogs

Dogs enjoy site swapping because they can satisfy their curiosity about this new critter’s scent.

Once you’re satisfied that this introduction step is going well for both the dog and cat, move on to beginning the sight steps.

cat sitting by chihuahua dog

When they can co-exist calmly in the same room, you can switch to monitoring and redirecting as needed.

As long as your cat has escape routes and a safe space where the dog can’t go, you’ll be able to maintain a peaceful home.

Birds, Lizards, Hamsters… Oh My!

hamster eating broccoli, introducing cats and dogs

Your child has a hamster and now wants a cat too. Can that be successful?

Well, introducing cats and small animals isn’t the same as cats and dogs.

Whether you’re considering bringing a cat into a home with birds, hamsters, or lizards or vice versa, there are a few things to consider.

gecko, lizard, amphibian

Birds, amphibians, insects, and small mammals are a cat’s natural prey… bringing them together is asking for trouble.

Examples of prey animals are gerbils, fish, mice, rats, hamsters, snakes, birds, spiders, and lizards.

garden snake

Prey animals who can smell the cat will instinctively become agitated and want to escape.

If you can’t keep them entirely separate, experts recommend not to do it at all.

You’re In Charge

parrot on woman's hand, introducing cats and dogs

Consider this… you’re ultimately in charge of the situation, not your child.

Can you be sure you can keep the cat away from the other critters 100% of the time?

What if your child leaves a door open and disaster happens?

mouse-rodent

You might think it’ll all be fine because you have a secure lid on your tank, but cats can be surprisingly clever and determined to get to prey.

You’re putting temptation in front of your cat and expecting him not to respond accordingly.

Social Circles

rats looking out of cage gate, introducing cats and dogs

Small pets like rats and mice are social and will benefit most from being with other rats and mice, not a cat.

They communicate together, groom each other, and eat together.

There’s no benefit from trying to have them interact with cats and they’ll be stressed by a predator being near them.

iguana, lizard, green amphibian

If you think your mouse needs a friend, get another mouse, and…

Educate yourself on any species you keep in your home to decide what’s in their best interest.

This also helps children learn to make decisions based on the best care of the critters instead just what they want.

This is a helpful video about helping cats and dogs get along…

“Can Cats & Dogs Be Friends?”, Jackson Galaxy, April 7, 2021

Moving Forward

cartoon signpost, this way, that way, decision

Hopefully, you now have the info you need to work with whatever critters you bring into your home.

Set yourself up for success by making sure any dog you bring home has a low prey drive and will focus on you rather than the cat.

Understanding the nature of all your pets will give you the power to make sensible decisions.


Sources

Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.

However, sometimes they refer to primary sources.

When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

List of Sources

“Animal House”, Chapter 10, Cat Wise by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Penguin Books, Penguin Random House LLC, New York, pp. 184-8

“Cats and Dogs”, by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Total Cat Mojo, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, penguinrandomhouse.com, New York, NY, 2017, pp. 189-203

“Cats and Other Pets” by John Bradshaw and Dr. Sarah Ellis, The Trainable Cat, Basic Books, Hachette Group, New York, 2016, pp. 141-159

“How to Safely Own Cats and Small Pets” by Emiology, You Tube, November 25, 2020

“Life on the Wild Side, Cats Can Make Friends Too”, The Cat Whisperer by Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Bantam Books, The Random House Publishing Group, New York NY, 2013, www.bantamdell.com, pp. 50-64

“Social Butterflies” by Sharon Crowell-Davis, DVM, PhD, DACVB, Decoding Your Cat, by Editors, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., New York, hmhco.com, pp. 76-77

“Tips for Introducing Cats and Dogs” by Editors, Decoding Your Cat, Appendix C, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., New York, hmhco.com, pp. 301-303

“Unlocking the Feline Mind” by Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB, Decoding Your Cat, by Editors, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., New York, hmhco.com, p. 121

“Watch Out for That Hot Tin Roof” by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, New York, NY, 2000, 2011, p. 47

Updated December 29, 2023

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