In the media, cats and dogs are frequently presented as sworn foes that can never get along without fighting, chasing, and generally upsetting one another.
Please know that this isn’t always the case if you already have a dog and cat or are planning to get one of them. Peaceful harmony is possible with the proper people, careful planning, and a leisurely introduction.
Dealing with an unruly household right now? Are you ready to introduce a new species and are unclear about the best course of action? Concerned about your other pets and considering getting a cat, dog, or both? You should read this article. Continue reading for all the details and our best tips for pet harmony.
1. Develop a Plan
If you have yet to receive your new arrival, there are some ways to make the introduction smoother, for both you, the resident pet, and the new arrival. Making sure you are well prepared will set you up for success.
Here are some simple steps to consider before you bring your new family member home.
a. Consider your living space.
It’s important to remember that although the overall aim is to have a cat and dog who bond well and spend time together, they will likely need their own space, at least to start with. Think about your current pets. Where are their favorite places? Where do they spend most of their time?
Whether you’re introducing a new cat to a resident dog who likes to hang around in the kitchen with the family, or bringing home a new dog to a resident cat who mostly lounges around upstairs, it is important to keep some boundaries for the comfort of your resident cat or dog.
Both pets will need their own safe spaces, so try and design your home environment so that the different species have their own resources in their own areas so that they don’t have to cross paths too much, at least to begin with.
b. Avoid Making Radical Changes
There is always a certain amount of “stuff” included with new animals, including food bowls, bedding, a litter box, toys, scratching posts, and more. A new pet may feel anxious when a house is filled with a lot of new things, so introduce them gradually and one at a time.
Try to be ready and implement these changes a few weeks beforehand so that your pet feels confident and at ease once more when the truly exciting addition materialises. It can be helpful to have some pleasant experiences with these new pieces of pet equipment, such as adding some new cat bowls around mealtime and giving your current pet an extra treat for supper, as an example. Since pets enjoy routines, try to adhere to them throughout this disconcerting time.
c. Favorable Experiences
New pets take up a lot of time and attention, which can cause some anxiety in your resident pets. It seems obvious, but this trick is an easy one to miss. It is important to make time for your resident pet, especially if they are now having to share space with the new addition, or perhaps are being kept out of certain areas of the house.
Extra playtime, praise, and positive interactions such as cuddles and strokes are all very important. Of course, your new pet will need lots of attention, too, so investing in some boredom-busting games or puzzle feeders may be helpful when you can’t be in two places at once!
2. The Process of Introduction
Your new pet should be kept in confinement initially, to avoid any negative experiences with the resident pets, and to have some peace and quiet to recover from their journey and new experiences.
Once your new cat or dog has had some time to assimilate into their new surroundings, it is time to start thinking about the first introductions. This is a process that is best done very gradually, with time and patience.
A new pet is a huge event in family life, and rushing the introduction process can end in tears. Behavior such as aggression can occur, but even minor hazards, such as barks and growls from a dog, or hisses and scratches from a cat, can leave a negative impression and make the whole process harder.
Here is a suggested schedule. This is applicable for both introducing a puppy or kitten, or for bonding adult animals. If you have two pets who don’t get along, you can always go back to stage one and start the process from the beginning, which may improve a struggling relationship.
a. Scent Swap
Scent is a key component of communication for both dogs and cats. The various species will still have strong tendencies to communicate by smell and be able to learn a lot about one another by simply sniffing at each other’s odours. Start by covering the new pet with a towel or cloth and placing it in the resident pet’s space, and vice versa.
In order to avoid stress and preventing the pet from meeting its demands for food and water, try not to place the scented object too close to these important resources. When one pet expresses interest in the fragrance of the other, treat them, and keep doing this regularly until they cease to do so.
b. Investigating each other’s domain
The next stage from scent swapping is allowing each animal to explore the area of your home where the other pet is currently living. This is best done with the other animal well out of the way to void the potential for a disastrous fight or chase.
Once they have returned to their own area, the resident pet can then return and investigate where the new pet has been. Do this both ways, so that both animals can explore each other’s home turf.
c. Visual Interaction
If all seems to be going well, the next step is to let the pets see each other. This would ideally happen when both pets are calm, with neither overly restrained, and with them both having the opportunity to escape. It is not recommended to place one animal in a crate and allow the other to approach—this can be very threatening and stressful.
The best method is to use a barrier such as a baby gate, which allows eyesight of each other but not direct contact. This can be partially covered with a blanket or towel to start with.
Use gentle restraint of the dog, such as a leash or harness, and allow the cat an escape route. In the beginning, have plenty of space between the two, and watch the cat and dog’s body language closely for signs that they are uncomfortable.
As they become more confident with this, gradually allow them closer to each other, relaxing your dog’s leash but still keeping sessions short and calm. Plenty of praise and reward will hopefully make these sessions positive.
d. Explicit Contact
Eventually, your time and patience will have paid off, and it will be time to allow your pets to meet each other. This process can take a variable amount of time, which can depend on your animals’ breed and personality.
Some dog breeds have a high prey drive, some pups struggle to respond to basic commands, whereas others are naturally calmer and more tolerant. Some cats are shy and prone to anxiety and yet some are very sociable. Remember to take your time, listen to your pets’ cues, and approach the process slowly.
The first few sessions should be closely supervised, short, and only attempted when both pets are calm and relaxed. Keep the dog on a leash to start with, and ensure both pets have exits available.
Try not to intervene if there is some initial tension, but watch body language carefully and cut sessions short if things seem tense. Use treats, toys, and distractions initially to ease your pets into the sensation of closer contact.
Once this hurdle is complete, gradually build the time that your pets spend together until you are confident that they are safe to be left unsupervised.