Whether you already have one pet and are considering adopting another, or you’re adopting two pets at once, knowing how to safely introduce two animals to each other is a critical first step toward your new family. This is especially true when introducing cats and dogs to one another.
What is the best way to introduce dogs and cats? How long does it take to introduce dogs and cats? How can you tell if your dog and cat get along? Can cats and dogs even be friends? If you feel overwhelmed with questions and concerns, you’ve come to the right place.
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What To Know First
When it comes to cats and dogs, many people are quick to sort them into stereotypes. Cats are described as finicky, grumpy, sneaky, and aloof, whereas dogs are called loyal, intelligent, playful, and loving.
Do some animals fall into those categories? Sure! But ask anyone who actually owns a dog or a cat, and they’ll probably have a different story to tell. Every animal is different. They each have their own personalities, temperaments, and levels of energy.
There’s a greater issue at play here, though. It’s the notion that dogs and cats are opposites. In reality, they’re completely different types of animals, each with their own needs and variations. We’re not comparing apples to oranges—we’re comparing apples and a loaf of bread.
Choosing the Right Animal
There are many things to consider when choosing the right pet for your life, and even more so when you choose an additional pet. It’s something that should be taken very seriously: animals are living things, and when we have them as pets, they depend on us to provide for them and keep them safe. Here are some of the most important things to think about when you adopt another pet:
When it comes to dogs, some breeds are more likely to try and ‘hunt’ cats than others. However, just because a dog comes from a hunting breed, that doesn’t mean it will definitely be aggressive toward a smaller animal. Dog breeds are not gospel: there are plenty of dogs who don’t match the specifics of their breed and plenty more dogs who are mixed breeds, to begin with.
If you already have a dog and are considering adopting a cat, take your dog’s breed into consideration, but focus primarily on your dog as an individual. If you already have a cat and are considering adopting a dog, we recommend choosing a breed that is not a hunter, or a dog of a small or medium sized breed.
Cat breeds often work a bit differently than dog breeds. Whereas dogs are often bred to combine both a certain temperament AND appearance, cat breeds have more to do with physical attributes than anything else. You are far more likely to encounter cats with a variety of temperaments and energy levels regardless of their breed, so a cat’s breed is not often an important factor in determining what kind of dog they would get along with.
Think about the size of a dog in comparison to a cat. With the exception of ‘toy’ and some miniature breeds, most dogs are significantly bigger than cats. Puppies can be closer in size to adult cats, but once they reach adulthood, that can change dramatically.
If you already have a dog, size is an important factor, but personality is far more important. A big dog that is a total sweetheart may get along fine with a cat—especially if the dog is well-trained. However, cats are afraid of animals that are larger than they are, and it doesn’t take much for a large dog to accidentally harm a cat. If you have a cat and are considering a dog, we recommend choosing a medium-sized or small dog.
Most cats are very aware of their size in comparison to the world around them. When they encounter a larger animal—humans included—they like to hide and observe the potential ‘threat’. Some cats will warm up to a larger dog once they’ve had this opportunity to make an assessment, especially if the dog in question is calm and quiet. The key factor here is that a cat’s first reaction to a dog will often be fear, regardless of the dog’s size compared to its own. The size of the cat itself is not much of a factor, if at all.
Puppies are little bundles of energy and joy, and most of them are smaller than or similar in size to an adult cat. Their size can make them less frightening to a cat than a large dog—however, their energy levels can quickly overwhelm a cat. Additionally, puppies lack the training and wisdom of an older dog: it is very easy for a puppy to accidentally harm a cat. A well-trained adult dog or an elderly dog is usually a better choice.
Adult cats will usually be fine alongside a dog, as long as they have the ability to ‘escape’ if they feel unsafe. If there are areas where the dog can not reach them—either in a separate room, or high on some kind of perch—most adult cats will choose to hide and observe the new animal. Once they’ve decided whether or not they’re safe, then they will greet the dog.
Kittens, on the other hand, may run headlong into danger—or, in this case, a dog—without realizing it. They also may scratch or bite a dog in an attempt to play. A dog might then become afraid of the kitten and attempt to ‘fight’ back. In most instances, putting a kitten and a dog of any age together is dangerous, even when supervised.
The energy level of a dog is often related to its age, i.e. puppies have lots of energy and elderly dogs do not. A high-energy dog is more likely to frighten a cat than a low-energy dog, and they will often need more attention from their owners. You need to consider your own lifestyle and schedule to see if a high-energy dog would need more attention than you can give.
If you have a high-energy dog, a cat is probably not the best companion. If you already have a cat and are thinking about bringing home a very active dog, make sure that your cat has ample, private space where it can relax/hide. Additionally, be warned that a high-energy dog can be very stressful for a cat; they may begin peeing to mark their territory, avoid socializing with your household, and in some cases become aggressive.
Contrary to popular belief, cats do more than just sleep all day (though they do sleep quite a lot, sometimes up to 18 hours a day). Cats can be incredibly energetic, especially at night, and they love to chase small bugs and toys. A high-energy cat can get along well with most dogs, though an older dog may struggle to keep up with them. However, low-energy cats can also make great companions for dogs, so long as the dog is not aggressive or too rough in their play.
For both dogs and cats, temperament is arguably the most important factor to consider when adopting a new pet. How does your dog act around new people or other animals? Is your dog prone to aggression? Does your dog like to snuggle all day, or are they more independent? These all play a key role in determining whether or not a dog will get along well with a cat. Dogs and cats can definitely get along in the right circumstances, but the reality is that some dogs will never get along with a cat. If your dog is aggressive, do not ever leave them alone with a cat.
Again, temperament is king here. Does your cat get scared easily? When they’re afraid, do they lash out, or do they hide? Does your cat take a long time to adjust to big changes, and do their behaviors regress (i.e. peeing outside the litterbox, ignoring food, etc)? Our pets rely on us to take care of them, and that includes their mental and emotional health. If you have a cat that becomes stressed easily, a dog is likely to exacerbate those issues.
Does your dog have experience meeting new animals, or sharing space with another pet? Has your dog ever been scratched by a cat? How do they act in places where they might encounter other animals, like a dog park or a vet’s office? Knowing these parts of your dog’s history is helpful when you’re deciding whether or not a new pet—especially a cat—will fit in with your family. These questions are also useful when you’re adopting a dog into a house with a cat, so be sure to ask your shelter, breeder, etc.
Has your cat ever been chased or harmed by a dog? Have they ever even seen a dog before? Cats tend to be fearful of change or ‘new’ things, so it’s good to keep your cat’s history in mind when you look for a dog. If you’re adopting a cat, be sure to ask about their past experiences, including if the cat has lived in a home previously. A stray or outdoor cat will have different experiences from a house cat, and may not be very friendly toward dogs or other animals. Additionally, a stray cat may not have experience using a litterbox and may require a lot of patience on your part while they figure it out.
If you’ve never owned a dog before, be sure to take into consideration the things you will need to buy for a dog—and how much money it can cost. Food, toys, bedding, and a leash are good places to start. Will you train the dog yourself, or will you need to pay for lessons? Does the dog have any medical issues that will require attention—and therefore medical bills to pay?
What do you need to buy for a cat? Dry food is a staple in any domestic cat’s diet, but wet food is a great option to mix-in as well. Cats are pretty good at entertaining themselves, but giving them toys and a scratching post can help prevent them from playing with things that they shouldn’t. A cat also needs a litterbox and litter, and you will need a scoop to clean the litterbox with. A bed can make a cat more comfortable, but most cats will find their own places to rest anyway. Cats love to perch and observe the world around them, so a cat tower can be a useful (albeit expensive) purchase. Finally, be aware of any medical issues the cat may have, and to what extent you will have to treat them.
Dogs will groom themselves in some capacity, but they still require regular baths and grooming. A dog’s dental health is very important, as well as taking care of its paws and claws. A dog with long fur will need more grooming than a dog with short hair, so be mindful. Do you already have a dog or cat that sheds constantly? Adding another pet to the mix will also mean adding more fur to your life.
In all but the rarest circumstances, cats will groom themselves. They can, however, shed quite a bit, and cat fur is a common allergen. Some cats do like to be brushed, and cats with long hair might need you to help them keep the tangles at bay.
Finally, consider your living space. Dogs tend to take up more room than cats, and they need outdoor time as well. You need to have adequate space for your dog to move around and play, as well as exercise and use the bathroom.
Cats may not be very big compared to dogs, but they do like to have privacy. If you already have a dog or are considering adopting one into a home with cats, it is crucial that your cat has its own space where it can get away from the dog. Additionally, a dog might try to eat cat food—or worse, poop. A baby/dog gate is one of the easiest ways to keep your dog out of your cat’s business.
Choosing the Right Cat or Dog
Once you’ve assessed whether or not you and your pets are ready for a new addition, it’s time to decide how you will safely introduce them. Introducing cats and dogs can be tricky and time-consuming, BUT it is definitely possible if you are willing to put the work in. In part 2, we will discuss our best tips for how to introduce cats and dogs, and what to do if it doesn’t go well.