How To Introduce A Puppy To A Cat: 10 Tips For A Positive Experience
It’s time to bring a new puppy into the family, and everyone seems so excited! But what about your cat? Do you know how to introduce a puppy to a cat, so it’s a positive experience for everyone involved?
Cats can sometimes be wonderfully aloof and unperturbed about much. So, of course, you would imagine the cat will be just as happy as you are about this new family member! Or will she?
Sometimes, the sweetest kitty can show tiger-sized displeasure about the new “invader” in her home. The best way to solve that is to avoid it right from the beginning, the moment your puppy comes in the door.
How to Introduce A Puppy to A Cat
1. Start With Separation.
It’s important to ensure puppy and cat stay separated for a while because putting them together right away without careful planning and orchestrating their introductions will most likely make it difficult for them to ever feel comfortable around each other.
Make sure your cat has plenty of high places where he can quickly and safely get away from your puppy if he chooses. Also, ensure that your cat’s food, water, litter tray, and toys are safely away from puppy for your cat’s comfort and to prevent your puppy from getting into mischief or worse.
2. Manage The Space.
Gradual introduction with lots of safe spaces for cats, like cat trees and barriers where kitty can climb to escape a persistent puppy, will give each pet the chance to feel safe and curious about the other, not fearful or defensive.
Plan ahead! Set up your kitty’s private area several weeks before puppy’s arrival. You want your cat to have time to adjust to the changes and be comfortable in her environment so she isn’t stressed when puppy arrives.
Knowing she has a safe place to eat, drink, and use the litter box when puppy does arrive will help the introduction process.
3. Enlist the Help of A Training Buddy.
Introductions and desensitization sessions go much better when there is someone who can focus on your puppy and another person who can focus on your cat. This is definitely not a process you want to attempt by yourself.
4. Pay Attention to Body Language.
Learn to read both your cat and puppy. Animals have very different ways of greeting and getting to know each other, and they don’t shake hands! Did you know that a wagging tail on a puppy can mean she is happy, excited, overwhelmed, or fearful?
Misinterpreting the signals your puppy or cat is giving you could allow the situation to escalate into something more serious, like a bite or scratch. For example, if a cat feels cornered, he can injure the puppy with a bite or a swipe – not the pathway toward a lasting friendship!
(We love the book by Lili Chin, “Doggie Language” as a great start to understanding what your puppy is trying to communicate!)
Teach pup to follow redirection cues to prevent fixation on the cat. Redirection cues are a way to change unwanted behavior before it has a chance to escalate into a problem.
We like to use redirection games to keep pup’s focus on you so your curious puppy’s behavior doesn’t escalate into a challenge or threat from which your cat feels she needs to protect herself.
6. Gradually Desensitize.
When you bring your dog home, secure your cat in his private space with his bedding, water, food, and litter. Walk your puppy through the rest of the house, and then secure the pup in her own space with a playpen, crate, water, and a treat. While your dog settles down, allow your cat to explore the rest of the house and become familiar with your dog’s scent.
Repeat this over the next few days, allowing each animal their turn to access rooms in the house without ever encountering or confronting one another.
7. Supervise Every Interaction.
It is best to supervise interactions between your puppy and your cat until they mostly ignore each other. During walk-through visits and when introducing the puppy to your cat, a leash gives you control over your pets to quickly separate them if a problem arises.
8. Reward the Desired Behavior.
Starting on day 1, reward your puppy for being calm and quiet. And, when you allow your puppy and cat to actually see each other, keep enough distance that the puppy stays calm and reward his good behavior.
Prevent your puppy from chasing, harassing, or otherwise tormenting your cat. Your puppy must learn that he is rewarded for good behavior when your cat is around. And these rewards help him make a positive association with being around your cat.
Instead of punishing bad behavior, separate your pets by moving them to separate rooms if they get overly excited or their behavior becomes threatening or aggressive. In this way, you teach them the behavior you want – distance yourself and calm down – without creating a negative association about being around each other.
Then, when you resume their supervised visits, leave more distance between your pets until they can mostly ignore each other. And continue working on gradual desensitization.
9. Never Force Interaction.
You want to provide safe opportunities for your pets to become acquainted gradually, at a comfortable pace for them. According to the RSPCA, you should plan for this to take a few weeks.
Once you feel that the puppy and the cat are ready to see each other, it’s time to set up a training session. It’s best if the puppy is well-rested, is on a leash, and you have on your treat pouch. The other person should also have treats for the cat. Keep the animals at a distance and just allow them to see each other.
Be aware that your cat may hiss or growl and swish her tail when she first sees your puppy, but your cat is unlikely to advance or make an aggressive advance if you don’t force the introduction. And this fear response should settle down after a few days.
To keep the visit positive, be sure to give your cat attention and something they love – such as grooming, a favorite toy, and treats.
The goal is simply to allow the puppy and cat to adjust to each other’s presence. If either pet becomes overly excited or aggressive, it’s time to end the visit and separate them.
10. Keep Visits Short and Sweet.
It is better to have a 30-second visit that is calm and pleasant than a 1-minute visit that escalates into unwanted behavior. For this reason, we recommend keeping the introductions short at first and repeating them several times a day to keep stress to a minimum.
Then you can gradually increase the length of each visit as your pets become more comfortable being in the same room.
When to Introduce a Puppy to A Cat
We see new puppy owners make a big mistake in trying to introduce their pets too soon. They don’t realize that coming into a new home with a new family can be overwhelming for a puppy – putting puppy’s stress levels and threat perception at an all-time high.
Your puppy needs some time to adjust to his new environment and feel safe and calm before introducing your pets.
It’s ideal if your puppy is crate trained before introductions begin, so your puppy will be calm and comfortable inside the crate when your cat enters the room. You may also want to take your pup for a walk and have him go potty before introductions begin, so pent-up energy or an insistent bladder don’t prevent your puppy from being at his best.
Your puppy needs at least a week to adjust to his new surroundings.
Then, add a few weeks for crate training before introducing your puppy to your cat.
Puppy should remain in the crate during the initial kitty visits until he can remain calm and mostly ignore your cat. Then you can advance to puppy on-leash with the cat able to roam free in the room during supervised visits.
Allow a few weeks of having your puppy on the leash with the cat around before you try off-leash visits.
You will still need to supervise these visits closely.
When you advance to on-leash visits, it’s helpful to:
- First, choose a room where your cat can easily escape to a safe place – like a multi-tiered cat tree, high window sill, shelves, or another appropriate tall piece of furniture above puppy’s reach – if they want to.
- Start with some distance (opposite ends of the room or hallway)
- Watch the body language of both pets, and end each session before any trouble can begin.
- Have another person with you during this time if possible so each animal can be praised and rewarded at the same time.
- Use valued treats each pet will work for, and be as calm as possible.
- Arrange pet visits only when your puppy is calm and her energy is balanced. You may wish to take her for a decompression walk beforehand.
- Gradually bring pets closer together over subsequent visits.
- Never let either animal feel cornered!
Finally, you should know that your pets may never be best friends. A realistic and achievable goal is for your pets to learn to live happily in the same house.
Even if your cat does not come to like your puppy or dog over the long term, they may still be able to peacefully co-exist by seeking out their own space and spending most of their time apart.
Pets often find a balance and share territory. Having access to different rooms can help them feel secure and happy. Feeding the cat and dog in separate spaces is crucial for a harmonious home. Ensuring your cat has a private area to go to the toilet and a safe sleeping spot is essential.
While we always hope that our kitty and puppy will become best buddies, what is most important is that each feels loved by us, protected by us, and safe to live comfortably in the house with each other! Of course, if they choose to nap together, that is undoubtedly the icing on the cake!
About the trainer
After spending 20 years helping families with their dogs face to face as a professional dog trainer, Michele realized that so much of what she knows could be shared with families everywhere - in a way that actually works. People sometimes think their dog is just SUPER difficult because the advice they’ve gotten was incomplete, confusing or just wrong. So she set out to help. Michele loves training dogs because of the impact that it has on the families she gets to help. The peace and joy they get from being able to enjoy their dog LISTENING. Besides teaching classes, helping private clients and running seminars, Michele is also a foodie and fantasizes about being a food critic or secret shopper for restaurants. Talk to her about food and your instant best friends.