Introducing a puppy to a cat can be a breeze if you get the steps right from the start. Laying down the correct foundations can make a world of difference. If it’s done tactfully, a good introduction can mean best friends forever.
Done wrong, it might be more like bites, scratches, and serious sibling rivalry. We know which one we’d prefer.
So, we’ve put together these tips to get you started.
Introducing a puppy to a cat: do your research first
As part of your prep, consider what type of dog to get. This means thinking about breeds, personality, and your home environment.
As a starting point, read our article on why dogs and cats fight and how to help. Some dogs chase cats because it’s in their nature. Happily, with a bit of puppy training, almost every pooch can learn to overcome this.
Some dogs are also better with cats than others. And then there’s the question of your puppy and cat’s personalities. Just like in human sibling relationships, you want the personalities to mesh. If you’ve a super chilled cat, you probably have more leeway with the type of dog you get.
Introducing a puppy to a cat: the first meeting
Made your decision on the perfect pooch and ready to begin the process of introducing a puppy to a cat?
Here’s a step-by-step process to help your pets become best mates.
1. Set up base camps
Set up two separate spaces or ‘base camps’. Your cat gets one, and so does your puppy. They need to be private and away from one another.
It’s important that your cat can still move about freely, but its base camp is not accessible by pup. This will stop it from intruding on your cat.
Use separate rooms, if possible. If you don’t have spare rooms, you can use a baby gate or fold out play pen as a barrier to set up boundaries.
Each base camp needs to be kitted out nicely. Think a nice a snug place to relax and catch a snooze, a place to do their business, and a place for water or food.
2. Let the sniffing begin
When your puppy first comes home, let your cat stay safely in their base camp. Let your puppy acclimatise to their new surroundings – remember, it’s a big change for them!
They can wander around the house getting a sense of the sights and smells until they seem comfortable. Then switch things up and put your new puppy in their base camp while letting your cat roam around for a while.
Your cat will pick up on your puppy’s scent. So even before there’s been a face-to-face introduction, your pets are getting to know one another. Peacefully, at that.
After this, start feeding them on either side of a closed door. They won’t be able to see each other, but they’ll still know they’re there. This will help with positive reinforcement as they begin to associate the presence of the other pet with their mealtimes.
3. Progress to sight
You might want to stick around in the sniffing stage for some time. At the very least, until you feel confident about bringing your puppy and cat into the same room. A visual meeting might be something you only get to after a few weeks. Or a few days. It’s up to you and your furkids.
Cats are often reserved during first-time meetings. But a young energetic puppy might not be. So before introducing a puppy to a cat, it’s a good idea to get some exercise in. Play some of these puppy games to help your puppy stay calm and collected when they first meet the resident feline.
Treats and a friend will come in handy
The point where you actually introduce your puppy and your cat can sometimes be a two person job. Rope in an extra person so that each of the pets can be held, stroked, and given treats while the initial meeting happens.
Keep the puppy on a lead so that if the chasing instinct does kick in, you’ve got them under control.
If either (or both) of the pets seem unhappy or stressed out during the first face-to-face, take a break and get back to it later. It’s easier on everyone if you’re able to reward good behaviour and avoid conflict.
4. Moving the relationship along
Onto the next stage… which is physical contact.
Repeat the process of having playtime beforehand so your puppy is relaxed and content. Bring them into the same room. But this time, we’re hoping for some supervised interaction.
Make the setting as conducive to a good time as possible. Keep the space large and open. Make sure there’s a high-up place your cat can get away to if they want to. A windowsill or even a table will work fine, as long as your puppy can’t reach it.
Start the process with pup on the lead. If all goes well, you can remove it. Keep these introductory sessions short: 10 minutes or so.
Watch their body language for tell tale hints of aggression, fear, or anxiety. Not sure what those are? Read our article Is My Dog Afraid? for some signs.
Tips for a long-lasting friendship after introducing your puppy and cat
Remember there’s no set timeframe for the introduction process.
Whether they reach the best friends stage in few days or a few months depends on the household and the pets. Your main focus should be on controlled introductions with positive reinforcement.
The initial introduction of your puppy and your cat will set the tone for the rest of their lives, so it’s worthwhile going slowly and getting it right.
Some extra tips are:
- Train your puppy: Teaching basic obedience and and impulse control will help your puppy (and dog, eventually) be a better companion for your cat
- Set up base camp early: This way, your cat has some time to get familiar with base camp before the puppy arrives.
- Use pheromones: Pet pheromone sprays mimic the smell of mother cats and dogs and can help pets feel calm and safe. Using them for the first few meetings might be a good idea.
Although you want your pets to share nicely and be besties fur-ever, they may also share some slightly less fur-tastic things – like fleas or worms. Or the occasional boxing match.
Happily, there’s pet insurance for your cat and dog, which can reimburse you for illnesses, accidents, allergies and more, even third party liability costs if your pet doesn’t have a history of aggression.