How to Introduce a Dog to a Cat and Other Small Animals

Behavior & training
gray cat and Golden Retriever

Every dog has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to social manners and prey drive, and it’s normal for most dogs to be curious about cats and smaller animals the first time they meet. First impressions can make or break the long-term relationship.  But there are a few things you can do to increase the chances that your dog and cat will get along, and it also works with pet rabbits, guinea pig, or other pocket pets as well.

Before introductions begin, here are a few notes to encourage good behavior and set them up for success:

  • If you’re adopting a new cat, try to adopt one that has prior positive experience with dogs. It’s not uncommon for shelters or rescues to have this information in their records, so don’t hesitate to ask

  • If your dog has no prior experience with cats, ask if any friends who have dog-friendly cats will let you visit

  • Don’t be stingy with the treats. If your dog seems overly focused during any of these training activities, distract them with a toy, treat, or play time. After your dog has a good introduction session with the cat, give them a high-value prize to build a positive association.

  • Tire your dog out before you do an introduction. No dog is at their best when they haven’t had exercise to burn off obnoxious energy. Take them for a long walk or play fetch before sniffing time

Introduce Them Slowly

Don’t rush introductions, especially if you plan for them to cohabite for a long time. The best way to introduce a dog to a cat is to start by keeping them separated by at least a closed door, if not an entire floor. Let them smell each other through the air or under the door, but don’t let them see each other for a few days, or even a week, depending on how interested they seem to be in each other.

Give Each of Them Their Alone Time

Give your cat some time to roam around while the dog is outside so that the dog can smell all the good new smells when they come back inside. This also gives your cat a chance to explore their new space and smell their new buddy too.

Reduce the Size of the Divider

Once your dog seems used to the new smells, try letting them see and sniff each other through a kennel door or baby gate. Go a little at a time, increasing by a few minutes every day until your dog is chill around the cat, maybe even ignoring it in the kennel.

Try a Face-to-face Meeting

After a few long weeks or even months – remember to go at their pace –  here’s a chance to make progress. If your dog is not leash reactive, leash them in a large, neutral room in your home and let the cat out of the kennel.

Don’t push anyone together or get involved. Let them sniff each other and keep yourself at ease. If there are any hiccups (hissing, growling, etc.) separate them and go back to doing kennel meet-and-greets. If it goes smoothly, let them have more leashed introductions until you feel comfortable letting your dog off leash.

Allow Supervised Visitation

Continue supervised visits for about a month before leaving them alone together, just to make sure no one gets hurt while you’re gone.

What to Watch Out For

If your dog is lunging, growling, or snapping at a calm cat, their prey drive may be too high to make them a safe match with the cat. If you have any concerns, call in a professional and go back to the prior step in the meantime.

A rule of thumb for introductions is to take it slower than slow, and keep a calm, positive attitude. Hopefully you’ll find your pets are best pals for a long, long time.