The best way to integrate a new dog into our cat-only household

August 10 |
Cat and Dog
Photo by Rob Wiss. Used under Creative Commons license.

Adrienne has a quandary:

My boyfriend and I are moving into a new home; one large enough to bring a dog into.

Right now we've got a cat. We're wondering if the Homies have suggestions on how to help Rosa, our cat, become comfortable with a new dog.

We aren't looking for a puppy, but probably an older dog, on the calm side. Thanks!

Homies, what can Adrienne do to peacefully integrate a dog with an already-settled cat?

  1. I highly recommend picking up a cat phermone spray to help the cats stay mellow. I have one dog and three cats. I use it to help the felines behave, especially the nervous fur-puller and Mr. Attacko.

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  2. 1. Be patient. It may take many long months before your new doggie and your kitty become best pals.
    2. Plan ahead. If you are able, get a blanket or pillow that your new dog has slept on for a day or two, and bring it home so that kitty can get used to the new scent before being confronted with an actual dog.
    3. Supervise. Set up a "cat zone" and a "dog zone" in your house. Make sure that they're able to be seperated when you're not at home, lest there be trouble.
    4. Patience. Again.

    Also, make sure you do proper obedience training with your dog. If you're a first time owner, I highly recommend taking some sort of "people training for dogs" class that teaches you how to use positive reinforcement to get the behavior you want from your new family member.

    Good luck!

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    • He came to us beautifully trained (plus of getting a senior large breed dog), so we lucked out there. We are planning on taking him to classes shortly as well, as they never hurt.

      Thankfully right now the two are getting lots of supervised time as I'm home between semesters of grad school. The cat has moved from hatred to wariness, though is most comfortable when the boyfriend is home.

      I'm seeing a common theme of patience and cat-only spaces, which all sound like perfect workable solutions.

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      • I'm glad things are going well! New animals are always an adventure. Best of luck!

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  3. As Bubbles said…I HIGHLY recommend a cat zone and a dog zone that is not only for when you are not home, but also when you are. When I brought a dog into our home, my one cat sat upstairs and growled and hissed at the world — even though the dog could not get up there. He was just not happy.

    Today they get along (not best friends) well and everyone is happy. It takes TIME, and patience is the key.

    Now in other news, when my boyfriend moved in with his dog many years ago, we were ready for WWIII. But that same cat (who was much younger at the time) slept with the dog the very first night. So you never know.

    PATIENCE and not forcing them together is the key. I also would highly recommend making sure that the litter box is in an area that the dog cannot get to or even bother the cat. Last thing you want is the cat freaked out while using the box as they could then stop using it.

    Good luck and lots of fun!

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  4. Dude, this post has freaky timing. My sister dropped her dog off last night for us to watch until Sunday while she's out of town. We have two cats, and I wasn't sure how they would react. One cat is of the 'flight' mentality, and the other is of the 'flight after fight' mentality. The dog hadn't been there 10 minutes before the second cat made her bleed on her snout (only flesh wounds, my sister wasn't concerned and they clotted very fast). I tried to get that cat into her carrier, and she bit both me and my husband pretty heartily on the hand. I think it has to do with the dog being young and a bit hyper, and this cat not being very sociable in the first place. Just be very sure your cat will be okay with the situation. See if one of your friends has a mild-mannered dog you can bring by to see how the cat would react initially to the new friend. Size may also be a factor in acceptance of Fido. A much larger dog will likely intimidate the heck out of Fluffy. I wish you the best!

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  5. Best advice I can give, if you'll pardon me for sounding a bit like a certain dog-whisperer we all know, is to make sure you've got your emotions/fears/anxieties about the moment of introduction in check. Dogs and cats are so incredibly attune to our emotions.

    I saw this in action one time, when a friend was trying to drag my new kitten out from under the bed. The kitten was scared and squealing but it wasn't until I got upset with my friend and raised my voice, that my other male cat came flying at him with his claws out.

    With that in mind, I've always found that most animals can get along providing they're introduced properly.

    However, to be on the safe side, ask your shelter for a cat test to be sure the dog is safe with cats.

    Once you get it home, start by having them on either side of a door and allow them to sniff at each other under the door. Then, leash the dog and have someone hold it, pick up the cat and open the door. Let them sniff one another from the safety of someone's arms. Finally, let the cat approach the dog on it's own and vice versa. Keep calm and scold any signs of aggression. I promise, the second you relax, they will too.

    Two things to be aware of: dogs on leashes can sometimes be more aggressive if the leash makes them feel trapped. Also, when you see signs of aggression, resist the urge to pet your dog or cat to calm it. Rather than viewing that as soothing, your animal may view it as reassurance that they're taking the correct precautions against this new creature in their territory.

    Also keep in mind that although any two animals can learn to live together, some dogs are bred to chase and hunt small things that move quickly. So while your dog and cat may get along indoors, the second your dog sees that same cat out in the yard, it may become a whole different story.

    Hope that's helpful and good luck!

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    • We did have a lot of his history and he was puppy, kitten and child tested. He's a supremely laid back dude. It was a necessity for us that what ever dog came home with us was not going to be cat-aggressive. Nor did we want to force the cat into doing anything, that under not so stressful circumstances leads to blood shed. Mainly human.

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    • Yes to sniffing under the door! Keeping them in adjoining rooms lets them get away from each other when needed, then when curiosity calls they can go back and stick a paw under and snuffle each other.

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  6. If you choose to adopt a dog, get as much background info as you possibly can on it before doing so. You can often find out with a surrendered dog or a fostered dog whether they are cat friendly. Strays are a wild card, although they can certainly work.
    Also, if you have any friends who have calmer dogs, invite them over for a cat "playdate" so that the cat has a good exposure to a calm dog first.

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  7. I'd recommend feeding your cats before the dog. Make the dog wait until the cat is done. This will establish dominants for the cat. You can also look on petfinder and check off that your house hold has cats so at least the dog will have experience with cats. My husband had to introduce a dog into his former home when there two cats already. He used that food trick to help.

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  8. As a couple others have said, making sure you have a "dog-free" zone for the cat is HUGE, as well as making sure that kitty's food, water, and litter box are in locations that puppy can't get to. A few years ago I had moved in with a friend (I had two cats, one of them elderly with a complex about dogs, the other a very nervous half-feral I was still socializing, she had a full grown, rambunctious golden retriever). Even though this could have been a spectacular disaster, we made it work with the combination of a baby gate in my bedroom doorway that the cats could jump over, but Orion couldn't, and their food, water, and litter box were kept in there, and careful supervision. (My room was huge, so it wasn't cramped, mercifully.) The first encounters with the four-foots were always supervised (minus the very first when my elder cat snuck down on his own and we had a small altercation when the dog ran to say hi, and learned that cats are sharp) to make sure that the dog learned not to run up on the cats, and the cats learned not to scratch the dog.

    After a while, everyone came to tolerate everyone else, and while they weren't best friends, they at least left each other alone.

    The only other advice I have is that when you get the dog, make absolutely sure that it is established to be cat-safe before you adopt it. A lot of dogs can be perfectly calm and friendly to humans, but viciously aggressive towards cats or other animals. Other than that, good luck!

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    • OMG I need some help!
      2 cats (2yrs,1yr) we've had since they were 10mths and 6wks respectively. We rescued a lab retriever from spca last wknd and utter chaos ensued. Cats won't venture out of our baby-gated bdrm. The younger one is hardly eating/drinking.
      Did we make a mistake or will they sort it out?
      Day 5 has me very very anxious :(

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  9. It all depends on your circumstances, but my very general advice would be to make it as NORMAL on the cat as possible.

    We did not put up any gates or close any doors for their first meeting – we knew this would alert our cat to a strange situation.

    First, bring your dog into the room or house on leash, treats in hand. Have the dog sit (if she knows how) or distract her with treats while the cat gets to check the dog out. As long as the cat does not seem aggressive then go with it – if the cat looks like it might injure the dog them put yourself between them, or block the cat's view of the dog.
    The main point of this exercise is to let the cat come to the dog – NOT the other way around.

    We were lucky – we have a tortie, complete with tortie 'tude – and with first sight of the dog she puffed up, walked right up to the dog and sniffed nose-to-nose which our new dog found very intimidating and set the tone of the relationship – hah!

    Also be prepared for the fact that the dog and cat might never be friends. Our cat merely tolerates the dogs and gets easily jealous. Something we've found that helps keep our cat feeling relaxed is a room or two that the dogs can never enter – we've gated off a room with litter and food. Make sure the dog never has access to these things. Would you want a dog nose shoved into your toilet as you're trying to poo? No. Hah.

    Also, I'd definitely suggest crate training. This is good for all animals involved and gives your cat dog-free run during the day which will emulate her old life and make her more relaxed about the situation.

    Most local kennel clubs will have new-dog classes (which might give you more bang for your buck then Petsmart) but as long as you show respect for both the cat and new dog you'll do just fine! Good luck!!

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    • Agree with most of this, however, I'd modify the "no new gates". Since you're moving into a new place it would be smart to move the cat in with the gates already established so the cat gets used to them along with the new house and never sees them as different. I'm not sure if it would be better to introduce the dog as part of the "new" as well, but I'm thinking not, let the cat get used to the house but not too established before you get the new dog.

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      • This is really what ended up happening. We weren't in the place long (think a day) before the dog came home. I definitely went with the cat-space-only line of thinking. She's got her space and he has his.

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  10. I don't have first-hand suggestions, but some years ago my sister brought a puppy into her home where two cats resided with her husband and her. This was a bouncy, excitable, young dog with a lot of energy to let out. They did not follow many of the suggestions here.

    One cat largely avoided the dog at first, but would occasionally come around to check her out; if the dog became too hyper, this cat would generally hiss, sometimes swipe, and then run off. Thankfully the dog was not skittish in any way, so this didn't faze her much.

    The other cat was afraid and hid in the basement (their food and litter tray are down there). This cat is generally more mellow than the other one (who is generally unwelcoming to people too), so my brother-in-law really wanted to introduce him to the dog. He let the cat be alone for several hours – but then eventually picked him up and carried him up the stairs to re-introduce him to the dog. This seemed to help, plus the fact that while the two were "getting to know each other" he was always nearby.

    The second cat eventually was more and more willing to be around the dog and now they love each other. The first cat, well, she doesn't really like anyone, but she is no longer taking swipes at the dog, so there is that.

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  11. Bookmarking this post! I've always been a cat person and have had my kitty for almost three years, but my husband keeps telling me that he wants a dog whenever we get a place with a yard. I saw my parents' cat turn into a mean, nasty thing with the introduction of a puppy, and I've been afraid that would happen to my cat. But this post has tons of good advice to make the transition smoother. Thank you!

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    • Glad to be of service! Do read animal profiles carefully on any adoption site, sometimes they don't list if they have a high "prey-drive" as being bad for cats. They can be though, as those are the dogs that tend to chase.

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  12. We definnitely did this.

    Get a dog that is CAT friendly–not just kid friendly. This is super important. My partner and I found a dog and took her in, trying to find her people. She flipped out trying to get our cats and scared the ever living poop out of the kitties. They both hated us for days.

    We later adopted a dog that was from a home with cats and it makes a WORLD of difference. He's 4 years and we've had him for about 6 months.

    When we brought our dog (a purebred yellow lab) into the home, we held him and let the cats sniff him and visa versa. Our cats don't have claws, but still poofed and hissed at him and proceeded to run away. We let Riley walk around the apartment and sniff and hang out. Eventually, the cats adapted to him. Now our one swats at him and he just rolls over and bats at him (gently) with his paw.

    I think the most important thing of integrating cats and dogs is having a dog that is either cat-friendly or young enough to be trained to leave the cats alone. Obedience school is a good thing for ALL dogs–I highly recommend it. It definitely takes a little work and a lot of patience but it's worth it.

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  13. If your cat is anything like mine, he or she is convinced that your home actually belongs to him/her and the humans are merely guests/servants in it. I recommend working to safeguard kitty's sense of superiority once the dog arrives to maintain feline happiness. Install a puppy gate in the door of at least one room so that the cat can have a dog-free chill zone. We found a GREAT puppy gate on Amazon that fits into any door, is high enough so that our yellow lab can't jump it, AND that has a wee kitty door in the bottom so the cat doesn't have to jump it. I also reinforce the cat's special place in our esteem by feeding him first in the morning and making a point of spending at least a few minutes each morning and evening being affectionate to only the cat. It's easy to fall in love and have starry eyes for your new family member, but make sure the existing ones know that just because they now have a fur-sibling doesn't mean they no longer have a special place in your heart and home.

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    • I totally agree with this too!
      Even if cats don't have a sense of pack mentality the dogs certainly notice the cat getting fed first, gets on the bed when they can't, etc, and are respectful of it.

      As for the gate – we have two 30lb dogs and they were able to fit right through that hole! I got suspicious when I kept finding cat litter in the hallway. Hah. We were able to adjust the gate off-center so only the cat can fit through the side slot.

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  14. Great timing for this post. I'm moving to a new house on friday with my three years old dog, Janis. Also I'm bringing a 3 months old cat, Coco, who I have been visiting for the last month at the shelter.

    Any suggestion in this case.

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    • I would think a lot of what you could apply to a cat-house adding a dog would still work for you. Mainly with the cat-only room and slow introductions.

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    • Coco and Janis are now living peacefully (almost) together.

      I just held Coco and took her in the house. Janis wasnt happy about it, but i gave her my attention while Coco explored. Then they got to smell each other while i tried to relax about it. After a couple of hours they were little siblings (fighting about everything in the house but loving each other -at least that's what i would like to think.

      The first night we all slept in the same bed.

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  15. I'll start by prefacing this with every cat has a different personality…but I was (pleasantly) surprised with the dynamic that formed between our cat and dog. The hubby and I adopted a 3 mo. shepherd/hound puppy when our cat was about a year and a half old. We live in a small apartment so we weren't sure how this would play out. But since we were adopting a puppy rather than an adult dog, we were hoping our adult cat could quickly establish his dominance. We introduced them with the puppy on his leash so our cat could sniff/run/hiss as he pleased without fear. We also have a lot of counter space and areas where the cat can escape if he so chooses. After a few paws to the face and commands from us, the dog quickly learned that he shouldn't bother the cat. Now, a year and a half later, they know their places within the household and can sometimes be caught sleeping next to each other on the couch! I think the most important thing is teaching your dog that the cat is higher on the totem pole than he is and make sure you are consistant with that attitude. It makes for a MUCH more peaceful household (even with a small space)!

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  16. We adopted an older, calmer dog with cat experience. She is still playful, but she knows that the cats have the upper hand in the house :) We did the cat-zone, dog-zone thing, which also applies to furniture. The dog is not allowed on all the furniture, but the cats are, so they are always perched above her. When they check each other out and stay calm, everybody gets treats – Treat party! Positive reinforcement works for cats, too. We also have to make sure that our super needy animals never feel neglected – if you're petting the dog, the cats will come up and demand attention. It makes for a super furry snuggle time, but isn't that what pets are all about? :)

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    • The cats-on-furniture thing is working pretty well, as long as the dog is napping/ laying down. He's a big dog. He's not allowed up on anything, so at least while we're on it, there are people in between too.

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  17. I have two cats that are now reaching 11 years of age. I brought one dog into the mix, thinking it was going to be a disaster. Back story – these cats hate all animals except each other and had to be banished to my house because they fought with my parents cats nonstop.

    We kept them apart for some days, a week maybe.. they didn't love our dog from the start but are now peaceful cohabitants. We recently added another puppy who they basically ignore because she is just obnoxious. I would say don't worry about it, just make sure you get the dog cat-tested before you bring it home if you get it from the shelter. Some dogs are very very prey driven and will eat your kitties.

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  18. Get a dog with cat experience. Seriously.

    We brought a cat into an established doggy house, but it worked beautifully, because Buddy (the dog) was raised by a cat. Buddy loooooves cats. Buddy and the kitty are adorable friends.

    We kept the new cat in the bathroom for a day, and let them get used to each other through the door. I cannot stress this enough. Let them get used to the smell through a door. With both introducing a dog to a new cat, and a cat to a new cat. Put the new cat in a small room, and let the sniffing begin!

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    • THIS! It's exactly what I was going to say. Some dogs (even old calm dogs) are hostile to cats and could chase or injure your cat. Find a dog who has cat experience or is kitty friendly.

      The bathroom trick has always been extreemly effective too, the only other thing I can reccomend is make the kitty some high up hidy-places. Maybe make a bookshelf level kitty friendly with a cubby hole so your kitty can get out or reach and feel safe. (a few years ago I converted a shelf on a bookshelf to do this for my darling kitties. I'm sad that it was dropped and shattered as it was darn near the most loved place my cats had. I had tacked a number of toys along and inside the shelf too so they had a total blast with it.)

      Seriously though cat experience and bathroom trick. Also make sure that when they are introduced face to face that there is one person per pet and you are READY for a freak-out. (aka have bandages/first aid kit handy and maybe gloves on. Once in a great while one of the group explodes like a bomb upon meeting and it's unpleasant. Just be prepared and calmly try again later.

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    • We were very careful to not even visit with or look too long at dogs that were not cat friendly. There is always supervision over their interactions and the cat always has a way out to a place the dog cannot go. Thankfully so far only one freak out has really occurred, when the cat decided to tread on a sleeping dog. Even then, it was all cat doing the freaking.

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  19. We have two dogs and a cat, and did have two cats at one stage. Certain breeds are a lot better with cats – I wouldn't recommend a Huntaway, for example, as they are basically bred to chase and herd smaller animals (they're New Zealand sheep herding dogs). However, our Lab x Collie is amazing with our wee cat, the cat thinks the dog is her mumma. Our German pointer not as great, but "plays" with the cat (cat doesn't enjoy so much). I've also heard that petting your dog, then the cat, then the dog again helps them to both realise that they aren't a threat to the other.
    Also, unfixed male cats are going to be hard to acclimatise — something encroaching on their territory is going to result in spraying and swiping at the dog (our loveable lab copped a few claws in the mouth). Good luck! Our animals are all a wee family, and it works amazingly well 99% of the time.

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  20. we have two cats and two cat-safe greyhounds.

    The cats were first in and only 8 months old when we brought home our first greyhound. They had never seen a dog close up before and the dog was super excited and bouncy to be in her new home.

    What I learned from this was that its best to take the dog for a big walk before bringing it into the house so its nice and tired and relaxed. Even a cat friendly dog may chase a cat in jest if its feeling excited. This worked great with our second dog. Post walk hopefully the dog will want to lie down somewhere and chill out. This is the time to let the cats in so they can wander around and check out the dog at their own pace.

    I ve seen intergrating cat/dog advice that suggests having the cat sit on your lap and then bring the dog in the room or up to it. Unless your cat is bomb proof, dont do this! If the cat freaks out you will probably get injured.

    Supervise at all times until you are 100% sure that the dog is cat friendly (of course duh). We keep our dogs in a separate area of the house to the cats when we go out just to make sure, mainly because our second dog only arrived two weeks ago. This is not enough time to really know the dog and its better not to risk it. Given more time though and judging the behaviour of everyone they will be fine.

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  21. P.S I caution specifically against Huntaways as we tried to adopt one before we had the second puppy we do now … it did NOT go down well with the cats. We tried *everything*. When my hubby had to pull one of the cats out of the jaws of the dog, had his arm ripped up from the cat, and then the cat was chased across the road and up a tree. From what I know, Huntaways WILL chase. Always.

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    • Honestly, until you posted about them I'd never heard of Huntaways. It's too bad they have such a high prey drive, they look like beautiful dogs. We ended up with a senior Rottweiler, who has legs problems, and has taken little interest in the cat. For better or worse.

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  22. I'm probably the worst pet owner ever when it comes to these sorts of things. I just let my animals hash it out amongst themselves. When we got our dog as a little puppy, the cats were like WHY DO YOU DO THESE THINGS TO US!? but now they all play together and groom each other. Same thing when we brought our second cat home to the first one. Of course there have been fights along the way but so far we've been pretty lucky.

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  23. Not sure if it has been said, but I did this not too long ago, only I have 3 cats. A couple things that really helped.

    Crate for the dog, (so they could see each other and the cat didn't feel threatened (not all the time but for introductions.

    Pet gate (baby gate really) but it has a small pet door in the bottom, in my case the cats could go through but the dog couldn't so if she chased them they could escape to an area of the house the dog couldn't go

    And finally I gave them separate sections of the house and then switched them so they could get use to each other's scents. It took a couple months but they adjusted.

    And make sure you teach your dog not to chase them.

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