How Do I Introduce Cats and Dogs Safely?

by Britt
Photo credit: Gladskikh Tatiana /

There has long been a stereotype of dogs and cats as mortal enemies, constantly at one another’s throats. While becoming a two-pet household can sometimes be overwhelming, there is something so magical about watching your pets form their special bond.

Introducing dogs and cats can be a nerve-racking process, but it doesn’t have to be.

This post will guide you through a step-by-step approach to introducing your pets safely and carefully, laying the foundation for a positive relationship. Plus, you’ll find tips to ensure a smooth transition for both pets.

How to Introduce a Cat and Dog Together: 5 Easy Steps

If you already have one pet in your home, introducing a second involves planning, preparation, and a lot of patience. While there are ways to overcome a rough first meeting, the best possible scenario is to ensure your pets start off on the right foot (or should I say paw).

Here is a step-by-step walk-through of how to approach an introduction with the best chance of success.

However, it’s important to note that there are some situations where this simply won’t work. For example, if you have a pet with previous negative interactions with other animals, they may be more nervous or anxious, requiring a slightly different approach. Use this as a starting point, but be prepared to be flexible and offer more care and consideration where needed.

Step One: Consider Personalities

You may be surprised to learn that the first step starts as early as selecting the right pets. Just as some people mesh better than others, the same can be said for our animals. When adopting a second pet, take the time to try to match personalities.

A few important things to consider include:

  • Energy Levels: If you have a laid-back or senior pet, adding a high-energy pet to the mix could be stressful and frustrating. Alternatively, a calm, quiet pet may struggle to settle into your home if your current pet is rambunctious.
  • Outgoing vs. Shy: Some pets show more interest in playing and connecting with other pets, like an extroverted person who jumps right into wanting an interaction. On the other end of the spectrum, a shy pet (or introverted person) will want their space.
  • Play Style: Some pets will play rougher than others. If you have a dog, for example, who plays rougher, a delicate kitten isn’t a good match as they could be injured. Instead, a playful adult cat who shares that play style would be a better match.
  • Previous Interactions: Sometimes, a pet’s previous experiences can offer a glimpse of whether they will mesh well together. A dog that has shown they will chase cats who run wouldn’t mesh well with a cat who tends to run the moment they see a dog.

Step Two: Start At a Distance

Before bringing the two pets together, you must start introducing them at a distance. This means introducing them to one another’s scents while keeping them confined in their own safe spaces. The best way to do this is by keeping your pets in separate rooms and rotating them into a common living area where they can investigate one another’s scent.

For example, if you have two bedrooms, you can place a pet in each bedroom. If not, consider blocking off a dining room, laundry room, or bathroom to keep one of your pets safely contained. Alternatively, a crate can be used to keep one of the pets in a hallway or space the other doesn’t have access to.

Note: Allowing the pet moving freely in the home to tease or bother the crated pet can create frustration and anxiety. This could destroy any chance that your pets can coexist happily.

We have always used the MidWest Homes for Pets Double Door Dog Crate when crate training our dogs. Its dual front and side doors ensure that the crate can easily fit into any space. For containing our cats, we prefer to use enclosures with multiple levels, like the MidWest Homes for Pets Cat Playpen, which allows them to climb and explore.

Another great approach to introducing pets to one another’s scent is scent-swapping with blankets. Allow your pets to each sleep with a blanket, then place them in the other pet’s room or space.

Step Three: Through a Gate

Next, you can try “introducing” your pets through a gate to keep everyone safe. For some pets, this can go smoothly with just a safety gate in place, like the Regalo Easy Step Extra Tall Walk Thru Baby Gate. However, if you see that the pets are getting anxious or nervous, try placing a sheet or blanket over the gate to restrict their ability to see one another while allowing them to hear and smell the other pet.

One often recommended approach is to feed your pets on each side of the gate each mealtime until you can see that they are comfortable being that close to one another without showing signs of nervousness, fear, or over-excitement.

Step Four: Leash Introductions

When removing the gate from the equation, you want to ensure that you still have control to prevent any accidents or injuries. Allow the two pets into the same room but on leash. At the bare minimum, this means keeping the dog on a leash while the cat moves freely. However, the best scenario would be introducing the cat to a leash and harness before taking this step so they are both leashed safely.

You will need a friend or family member to help you with this step. Take the pets to opposite ends of the room, offering them affection and treats and encouraging them to pay attention to the person who is with them and ignore the other pet. This could take time—even multiple days of repeating this process until you are ready to move closer.

In between leash introduction sessions, continue to keep the pets separated.

As you see the pets becoming comfortable, move a little closer together. Repeat the process until they are calm at this new distance, then move closer once again. Before long, you will be able to sit with the two pets right next to one another while they both stay calm and relaxed.

Step Five: Supervised Interactions

The first time your pets are allowed to interact with one another off-leash, they should be under careful supervision. Be prepared to step in and separate them if needed. Pay careful attention to the body language of both the dog and the cat throughout this meeting. If you see either pet showing signs of nervousness or over-excitement, consider it a warning sign that things may break down.

All interactions between the pets should be supervised in the beginning. Some pets will never be allowed to be alone together. However, if you are interested in taking that step, wait until they can spend time together without any incidents regularly for at least a month or longer.

We prefer to keep our pets separated when we’re not home. After all, at the end of the day, they are still animals with animal instincts. Why risk it?

Photo credit: VP Photo Studio /

What Should You Avoid Doing When Introducing a Cat to a Dog?

The most important thing to avoid when introducing two pets is moving too quickly. Bringing a new cat or dog into your home and giving them free rein to meet off-leash immediately creates a stressful and potentially dangerous situation.

Remove any “valuable” items from the community space before bringing them together. If your current pet is focused on protecting their prized possessions from a newcomer, this could lead to trouble. This includes a favorite bed, toy, chew, or other item.

Additionally, pay careful attention to pets who may be possessive or overprotective of a family member. For example, many dogs become very protective of children, meaning the best first meeting would be without your kids in the room.

If you notice the meeting going downhill or entering a potentially dangerous territory, don’t be afraid to call it off. Don’t stand back and let them “sort it out.” This could lead to a fight, resulting in injuries (sometimes severe). It is your job to act as the mediator and referee, protecting both pets, even if that means ending the meeting and trying again on another day.

Finally, if you notice red flags that suggest these pets will not be safe to meet, trust your gut.

There are some situations where it’s simply not in anyone’s best interest to bring two pets together, and that’s okay! It’s better to recognize this now and prevent problems from happening than to be faced with the heartbreak of navigating a tragedy later.

How Can I Tell if a Dog is Aggressive Towards Cats?

Predicting how a dog will act when being introduced to a cat is not always possible. However, there are some red flags you should be aware of. This includes behaviors that you’ve noticed before the introduction as well as in the first moments that they see one another:

  • Prey drive towards other smaller animals, like squirrels and rabbits
  • Obsession or hyperfixation on cats
  • Whining or barking uncontrollably
  • Growling or baring teeth
  • Lip licking
  • Still, stiff body posture

Take note if you have a dog showing any of these signs. It doesn’t necessarily mean that these dogs can’t be taught to accept cats safely into their world—but they likely aren’t ready to meet a cat without first doing work to change their response to smaller animals.

That being said, some dogs will never warm up to accepting a cat in their lives.

Can a Dog with High Prey Drive Live with a Cat?

If your dog has a strong prey drive, you may wonder if you can bring a cat into your home.

Technically, you can manage a home environment with a dog with a high prey drive and a cat, but it will be a lot of work and commitment. This includes never leaving your pets alone together. In more severe cases, the two pets will always have to be kept separate—setting each pet up with their own safe space and rotating them into your main living area for time with the rest of the family.

This isn’t recommended. Even if you take all precautions and do everything right, accidents happen. It only takes a split second for something to happen.

How Do I Train My Dog Not to Go After Cats?

While I don’t recommend taking chances with a dog with a high prey drive, some dogs simply haven’t been taught how to interact appropriately with a cat. These dogs can be trained to respond to their presence differently.

To begin, try telling your dog to “stop” or “leave it” when they show they are going to chase or play rough with a cat. If they listen, be sure to reward them.

If they don’t listen when told to leave a cat alone, separate the two pets immediately. Give the dog a chance to calm down before trying again. Repeat this process until you don’t even have to give a command as, upon seeing a cat, the dog turns to you, anticipating a treat. Eventually, you can phase the treat out of the equation.

Final Thoughts: Introducing Cats and Dogs

While dogs and cats can become close friends and companions, it starts with a carefully planned and executed introduction. This allows the pets to meet and interact while supervised to keep everyone safe.

When selecting a new pet for your family, carefully consider both pets’ personalities. Some pets are better suited to coexist than others. When you believe you have found the “right” pet, be prepared to slowly work through the stages of introduction, with your pets setting the pace.

Proper introductions can take weeks or months. Be patient! Your work today is setting your whole family up for long-term success.

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Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs – Indiana and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.

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