When introducing pets who don’t know each other, patience is definitely a virtue. Without proper planning, they can quickly become hostile and antagonistic, reducing your home to chaos. By following gradual steps, making good choices and taking practical steps, you can make their introduction relatively stress-free.
Help your pets live in harmony
Introduce them when they are young
It’s not always possible, but the best time to start a bond between your pets is when they are young. As they grow together they will form a natural friendship, however it is important that you keep an eye on them so that their relationship develops positively and that they do not injure or frighten one another.
Get your pet used to the other species
If your pet has never encountered the opposite species, it is sensible to introduce your pet to several animals and associate these introductions with positive things (like treats, toys, attention and games) before you bring a new family member home.
Do you already own a cat? If so, ask friends and family if they can bring their pooches around to your home so that your cat can get used to strange dogs. Cats are territorial, so they should not be taken to meet the dog. It will cause the cat unnecessary stress to go somewhere unfamiliar.
If you have a dog, monitor how they react around the cats that you encounter on your walks. Associate meeting feline friends with a reward or treat when your dog interacts properly with cats. Keep them on a leash at all times, but don’t punish the dog for reacting negatively (such a barking or growling), instead reinforce positive responses like sniffing or gentle pawing. You can then move on to visiting friends with dog-friendly cats – keeping your dog on a leash of course.
Your pets’ personalities
Matching your animals’ temperaments is a good place to start. It can be difficult, but if you have the option to do this, it is worth trying in order to prevent confrontation. Get as much information as possible about your potential pets’ characters from the shelter, the breeder or the vet. Putting together a boisterous, fun-loving dog with a quiet cat is a recipe for stress and anxiety.
Both cats and dogs get to know one another via scent, rather than face to face. Get them familiar with each other before they meet by placing a blanket next to the other’s bed. This way when they meet face to face they will know the other’s smell and the encounter will be less stressful.
A gradual start
Slow and steady wins the race. The first time that you introduce your pets it should be in a neutral and calm space and both animals should be gently restrained, either with leashes or in individual crates. Gradually, the time that they spend near each other can be slowly increased. Follow their lead and monitor their responses at all times.
It is important to have full control of your dog when they meet for the first time. When you are out of the house they should be separated in different rooms. Start with long distance introductions for short periods and build up gradually and reward your dog with treats for behaving well around their new furry friend. Look for signs that the dog is uncomfortable with the cat. These can be lip-licking, yawning and refusing to make eye contact. If this is the case, give the animals a bit more space from each other. Let them see and smell each other from behind a gate.
It can take a few days, but it depends on the pair and how they respond to their new roommate.
Give them their own safe haven
As previously mentioned, cats are by nature territorial. They like being in high places – away from any playful advances from the dog. They like seeing dangers from on high. Dogs are happy in a crate. As long as they have their own personal space. Make sure the cat can get down from its high place comfortably though, without an eager pooch always waiting at the bottom to play. Escape routes are important to make your cat feel safe, especially if you are not always at home.
Learn from your pets’ attitude and responses. And remember – patience is a virtue.