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February 5, 2024

How to Introduce Cats and Dogs

  • Adoption
  • Fostering
  • Tips + Tricks
Two dogs on couch with cat

Learning how to introduce cats and dogs and cats you already own is key for a stress-free transition when bringing home a new cat or kitten. It's also important in order to reduce stress for your resident pets as they get to know their new roommate. 

A gentle and gradual introduction is key to minimizing stress and facilitating familiarization. This process yields numerous benefits including: 

  • Reduced stress through familiarity - When pets are accustomed to each other, it lowers their stress responses and fear around other animals in the home. They learn to associate the other pets with comfort and companionship. 

  • A more harmonious home environment - Introduced pets that get along will lead to less chaos, fighting, territorial behavior, etc. This makes for a more peaceful and relaxing home for both pets and owners. 

  • Improved socialization - Pets that accept each other gain social skills and relationship experience. This can lead to better manners, inter-pet communication, and sociability overall. 

Preparing for the Introduction 

Before introducing your new cat or kitten to your existing pets, you'll want to take some time to prepare. This will help set everyone up for success. 

First, set up a safe room for your new cat. This should be a spare room or bathroom in your home where you can keep the new cat separated from the other pets at first. Make sure the room has everything your new cat needs, like food and water bowls, a litter box, scratching post, bed, and toys. 

It's important that the new cat has their own dedicated items and that they are not sharing yet with your other pets. This will help prevent any conflicts over resources. 
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Another key part of preparation is allowing your pets to get used to each other's smells before they meet face to face. You can do this by keeping them separated by a door, but letting them smell each other under the door. Feed your pets on opposite sides of the door and allow them to sniff each other. This will help them start getting more comfortable with each other.

Taking these initial steps will create a solid foundation before you begin face-to-face introductions.

Letting Them See Each Other 

When first introducing a new cat to your resident pets, it's important to supervise their initial interactions closely. Allow short, positive encounters of 5-10 minutes at first to allow the animals to get accustomed to each other without feeling overwhelmed. 

Provide treats, toys, and other distractions during these initial meetings to redirect any overly rambunctious or aggressive behavior. Place toys and treats around the room so the pets associate something enjoyable with the presence of the new cat. Rotate which animal gets the private space and alone time with you, as opposed to forced proximity, to avoid territorial behavior. 

Praise and reward with treats any positive social behaviors like being in the same room together without negative reactions.

Let the pets set the pace and don't force interactions, allowing them to approach on their own terms.
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Go! Solutions TeamA Team of Dedicated Pet Parents + Nutrition Experts

The goal is to build up gradually from supervised, structured interactions to eventually letting the pets have free contact with each other around the home once they've built a social tolerance and even bond. Taking introductions slowly and positively will set everyone up for success.

Managing the Environment 

When introducing a new cat to your home, it's important to manage the environment carefully to reduce tension and allow the animals to adjust. Here are some tips: 

  • Provide vertical space with cat trees or shelves - Giving cats access to high perches allows them to observe each other from a safe distance and retreat if needed. Install cat trees, shelves, and window perches to create vertical territory. 

  • Use furniture to create additional vertical spaces - In addition to cat trees, place stools, chairs, and other furniture around your home so cats can jump up high. This allows them to avoid interactions if needed. 

  • Give pets "escape" areas - Create hiding spots for each animal so they can get away if they're feeling overwhelmed. Cardboard boxes, igloos, and covered cat beds can provide security. Also be sure each pet has access to "alone" spaces like separate rooms. 

  • Use baby gates - Baby gates allow the pets to see each other while limiting physical interactions. You can start by partitioning off parts of the home and swap who is on each side. 

Providing vertical territory, escape areas, and limited initial access are key for a smooth introduction between pets. Go slowly and give them space before allowing full access to the home. Be patient as they get to know each other.

Ragdoll cat sitting on cat tree

Warning Signs When Introducing Cats

Cats can sometimes react aggressively or territorially when a new cat is introduced into their environment. Here are some common warning signs to watch out for when introducing cats: 

  • Hissing, swatting, arched backs - These behaviors are indicators that a cat feels threatened by the presence of the new cat. Hissing and swatting are defensive maneuvers meant to scare off the intruder. An arched back displays the cat's discomfort. 

  • Blocking access to resources like food/litter - Resident cats may try to prevent the new cat from accessing resources like food bowls, water bowls, and litter boxes. They want to guard these resources and communicate that the new cat is not welcome. 

  • Stalking, chasing, ambushing - Sometimes cats will go on the offensive when a newcomer arrives. Stalking, chasing, and ambushing are aggressive behaviors aimed at intimidating the other cat. The resident cat is sending the message that this is their territory. 

If you observe these types of warning signs, take steps to more slowly acclimate the cats to each other's presence. Rushing an introduction can intensify negative reactions. Be patient and provide reassurance to ease the transition.

Warning Signs with Dogs

Dogs can sometimes get territorial and aggressive when a new cat is introduced to the home. Here are some behaviors to watch out for: 

  • Staring, stalking, chasing: Dogs have a strong prey drive and may instinctively want to chase the new cat. Staring intently, stalking, and chasing are concerning behaviors. Prevent opportunities for chasing by keeping the animals separated initially. You can even use a leash on your dog at first to prevent chasing. 

  • Guarding toys or food: Some dogs become possessive over their belongings like food bowls, beds, and toys when a new animal is around. Set your dog up for success by not forcing them to share.  

  • Growling, snapping, biting: More serious aggressive behaviors like growling, snapping jaws, and biting indicate your dog is very uncomfortable with the cat. Never leave them unsupervised together. Consider working with a professional trainer or behaviorist for help. 

If your dog displays any of these problematic behaviors, take introductions very slowly. Be sure to reward peaceful interactions with treats and praise. The animals will need time to adjust to each other. Don't force interactions that make the pets upset. With patience and proper techniques, dogs and cats can learn to get along safely.

Positive Reinforcement

Rewarding your pets for good behavior is key when introducing a new cat. Praise good behavior lavishly. Verbally praise pets when they are being gentle with the new arrival. Say things like "Good dog!" in an excited, happy voice when they co-exist peacefully.  Treats are another great way to reward peaceful interactions. Have tasty treats on hand and immediately give one to a pet that approaches the new cat calmly or sniffs politely. This reinforces good manners.

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Wet Cat Food Recipes

Rewarding your cat or kitten with treats is great for enforcing good behavior. Our wet cat food recipes are perfect as a complete and balanced meal, topper, or treat for your feline friend.

With patience and lots of positive reinforcement, your pets can learn to get along with the new cat. Consistent rewards for peaceful conduct works better than punishing bad interactions.

Ongoing Management

Once you have successfully introduced your new cat to your existing pets, you will need to continue managing the environment and interactions to maintain a harmonious home. Here's a summary of tips for ongoing management:

  • Provide Separate Resources: Be sure to provide separate food bowls, water bowls, beds, scratching posts, litter boxes, and toys to avoid competition over resources. This will help reduce stress and tension. 

  • Give Private Spaces: Ensure each pet has access to its own private space where it can retreat when it wants alone time. This could be a spare bedroom, crate, cat tower, or closet shelf. Providing an escape prevents fights. 

  • Monitor Body Language: Pay close attention to your pets' body language when interacting. Look for signs of tension like arched backs, growling, swatting, or staring. If you notice these, calmly separate the pets before a fight ensues. Staying vigilant prevents future conflicts. 

  • Reinforce Good Behavior: Reward peaceful interactions between your pets with treats, praise, or play. This positive reinforcement will encourage friendship. Make sure to supervise all interactions at first. 

With patience and proactive management, a multi-pet home can live in perfect harmony!

When to Get Help

Some anxiety and tension is normal when introducing new pets, but there are times when you may need to seek professional help. Signs that the introduction process is not working and may require assistance include: 

  • Prolonged aggression or fear: If your pets are constantly aggressive (hissing, growling, swatting, biting, etc.) or acting fearful (hiding, refusing to eat, shaking, etc.) when interacting, even after multiple slow introductions, it likely won't resolve without help. Persistent aggression or fear can cause long-term stress and be dangerous. 

  • Signs of stress like not eating: If your pet stops eating, stops grooming or over-grooms, or seems depressed, it could be a sign of severe stress about the new animal. This requires intervention as it risks your pet's health. 

  • Inappropriate marking/soiling: Cats who feel their territory is threatened may start urine marking or defecating outside the litter box. This territorial behavior may mean the pets aren't comfortable sharing space and professional guidance is needed. 

Don't hesitate to contact your veterinarian or an animal behavior specialist if the introduction isn't going smoothly. They can provide personalized advice or prescribe medication if needed. With some extra help, you can get your pets to coexist in harmony. 


Author

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Go! Solutions Team

A Team of Dedicated Pet Parents + Nutrition Experts

We all want our cats and dogs to lead happy, healthy lives. We’re here to help you, with easy-to-understand information about your pet's daily care and feeding.