Bringing a Dog into Your Cat-Ruled Home

By Jessica Beganski

If your home is currently ruled by a cat or cats and you want to add a dog to your family, Marie Joyner, Our Companions Canine Operations Director, offers some important advice.

Before even considering adoption, Marie advises that cat owners first ask themselves, “Am I willing to alter my cat’s universe in order to have a dog?” Cats and dogs don’t always get along; the idiom “fight like cats and dogs” exists for a reason. Some dogs have a strong prey drive and cannot be around cats safely. Other dogs can tolerate one cat but not another; and some cats and dogs develop close, loving friendships. You may not know how your new dog will behave until you bring him home, so it’s best to take precautions to ensure everyone’s safety.

If you are not willing to modify your cat’s life, then adding a dog to your family is not a good idea. If you are willing to make changes, Marie suggests the following steps for bringing a new dog into your cat-ruled home.

  1. Create a sanctuary space. If your cat doesn’t already have a refuge that can be closed off with a door, you should make one in advance of bringing a dog into your home. The area should have all the things a cat needs to live happily: a litter box, food and water, beds, scratching posts, toys, and should be accessible only to you and your cat.
  2. Do not allow direct contact initially. Until you can ensure your cat’s safety, your cat and dog should be kept completely separate. Your cat should be contained in her sanctuary space while your new dog gets acquainted with you and your home. They will still smell each other and be aware of the other’s presence – they just shouldn’t see each other face-to-face yet.
  3. Introduce your cat and dog slowly and safely. Place your dog on a leash and keep him under control at all times. Some cat owners choose to put their cat in a hardcover carrier when letting the pets meet for the first few times, so that the cat feels safe. If you choose to let your cat explore freely outside his sanctuary space, it’s very important to maintain control over your dog and curb his instinct to chase.
  4. Observe. It’s natural for your dog to show curiosity, but if curiosity turns to obsession, lunging, or chasing, get the dog’s attention and redirect him. If he remains excited or tries to go after your cat, stop the visit and try again later. Try to end each session on a positive note or before anyone shows aggression.
  5. Repeat. Repeat this safe interaction as many times as it takes for your dog and cat to get used to one another and eventually become disinterested in one another.
  6. Drop the leash but stay close. Once they are a little more accustomed to one another, you may allow them to interact but keep the leash on your dog and stay close by. If you see that your dog is behaving obsessively, tracking or chasing the cat, you must put a stop to it immediately – grab or step on the leash and create distance between the cat and dog.
  7. It’s OK if your cat takes a swipe at your dog. It’s the cat’s way of correcting your dog. But be watchful that the dog takes the correction and doesn’t see that as a challenge, leading to a chase or to violence.

Marie warns that your dog and cat should never be left alone together without your supervision. When you get to the point where your dog and cat can be loose together in the house, always ensure that your cat has safe and easy access to high perching areas, as well as their sanctuary space. Our Companions has trainers that can offer support and advice. We’d be happy to help if you are considering bringing a new addition to your animal family.