Friend or foe? It is well known that dogs and cats have a long-standing rivalry; with stark differences between the two species often causing unpleasant interactions ending in hissing and growling, possibly with some blood drawn and a bruised ego. Yet, on the other hand, some households seem to have perfected the dog and cat co-existence formula, with both parties happily tolerating each other, even becoming best friends. Introducing a new cat to your dog or vice versa can quickly spiral out of control and become unsafe if not done with adequate planning and preparation. So make sure you follow the process!

The key to success

Deciding to bring a new cat or dog into your home should not be a spontaneous thing; especially if there is already a cat or dog you live with. Introducing the two species without prior preparation can result in the two fighting and leave them both stressed or even injured! Imagine their perspective: if you were a cat used to lazing about on the sofa and claiming the house as your territory, how would you feel if a big bounding dog were to suddenly appear? Not very pleased I’d imagine! Most cats if confronted by a dog would become stressed or aggressive. Whereas a dog may react by chasing the cat and maybe playing a little too rough with them. The situation can escalate very quickly and may result in some serious wounds. It is important to prevent this by planning ahead for the introduction of the two animals.

Prior to meeting

A lot of the work comes before the two animals meet. Scent plays a major role in animal interaction and recognition. So it is important to get them used to each other using their sense of smell before they physically meet. Think of it like online dating – the chat has to be good before you agree to meeting for a drink! You can take the bedding and blankets from both animals and do a ‘swap’. This is so that the other one can start to familiarise themselves with the scent; letting them take their time with investigating the scented item.

You should also set up your home so that it is ready for the introduction. Both cat and dog should be kept separated initially, so make sure you have two separate areas for them. The areas should contain food, water, bedding, and everything the dog or cat in it requires to feel safe and comfortable. In particular, make sure the cat’s area has plenty of hiding spaces!

Early days

In the first week or so after bringing home your new pet, allow them to settle into their own designated area and do not try to let the animals interact. Instead, continue swapping their scents by exchanging bedding. And gradually mixing it in the household by petting the new animal with a cloth and rubbing this along furniture. It is important not to rush this process: the aim is to familiarise them with the new scent. They are not ready to meet if they react poorly to the other scent (fearful, aggressive, defensive) and more time should be taken to slowly continue the process, with the use of treats if that helps.

The next step is to allow them to meet while a physical barrier is still in place. Baby gates or crates work well, as this allows them to stick to their own space while still being able to see each other. Make sure the dog is leashed and that you are there to control them, with treats at the ready to reward calm behaviour in the presence of the cat. The cat should be allowed to explore the space for a bit, while having full access back to their own area, as well as plenty of hiding places nearby. 

Continue to have these supervised sessions, making sure each interaction is positive, safe and kept short. Remember no interaction is also a good interaction! The most important thing is to make sure both animals aren’t showing signs of fear or aggression, in which case the interactions need to be scaled back (for example keeping them separate for a few days again) until you reattempt. 

Maintaining the bond

With some patience, you will hopefully find that both animals have decided they like each other, will be friends forever, and it’s as if the initial apprehension or rivalry never happened. This bond can, however, be quite precarious, and steps should be taken to make sure it stays positive. For example, always provide hiding spaces for the cat, especially at a height where the dog cannot reach. For resources such as food, water and bedding, keep them separate for each animal and ideally in different spaces. Living with another being can be difficult, and we all like our alone time and personal space!

Final tips

It can be exciting to bring home a new dog or cat, but make sure not to rush the introduction process. The slower and more gradual you go, the more likely it is that they accept each other and become friends. If there are any repeated setbacks or continued aggression, it might be worth seeking advice from a veterinarian, who might refer you to a behaviourist that can help.

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