Introducing Cats and Dogs

August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

With time, many cats and dogs can live together in peace. The key is to have carefully managed introductions. Don't rush your pets into anything that they are not comfortable with.

It is important to know whether the cat and dog you are considering introducing are suited to living with each other. The best indicator is if the dog has successfully lived with cats before and vice versa. If there is no history of successful cohabitation, do a trial before committing to a lifetime of cohabitation. We do not recommend dog and cat introductions at an adoption center. This is a stressful environment and does not accurately tell us how the animals will get along at home.

Dogs who listen well, gentle, relaxed, friendly are more likely to develop a good relationship with cats. Dogs who like to chase cats and/or small animals must be supervised and managed at all times when they are around cats. If not constantly managed, this could be dangerous or even deadly for your cat.

During initial introductions, your dog should be on a short leash. This will eliminate any chasing and allow you to remove your dog immediately if your cat is showing signs of fear or distress. A positive interaction will include cautious investigation from both cat and dog -- a wagging tail from your dog, and your dog backing off if your cat becomes defensive. Signs that the interaction needs to be stopped immediately include attempts to chase, out-of-control pulling on the leash, whining, barking, and agitation.

If your dog is behaving in a friendly and cautious way, try not to intervene in their interactions. Simply praise and reward the dog for their good manners. Interrupt any attempts to chase and redirect your dog's attention to another activity. The length of this phase varies from one pair to another. Carefully watch both pets' body language for clues before you increase their time together.

Cats who have not been socialized to dogs will almost always behave defensively the first time they encounter a dog. This behavior includes either fleeing or demonstrating an aggressive display such as puffed fur, arched back, and hissing. It is important that your dog ignore your cat, and that your cat is given dog-free zones to retreat to. Many cats will gradually get used to dogs and sometimes even become bonded. Setting the stage before introduction is important. Your cat should have access to food, water, and litter in their dog-free area so they can choose whether or not they want to interact with your dog. Dogs should not have access to the cat litter box. It is very stressful for your cat, and the dog may eat cat litter. Most dogs will eat cat food that is left unattended. Feeding your cat in their "safe" room or on a high surface.

Never force your cat and dog into proximity by holding, caging, or otherwise restricting their desire to escape. This is stressful and does not help the process. Aside from being inhumane, stress is a common reason for behavior problems in cats, including litter box avoidance.

This document created by the San Francisco SPCA with a grant from Maddie's Fund®.

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