Resources > Introducing your new cat to other pets
Having realistic expectations is essential when introducing a new pet to a resident pet. Some cats are more social than other cats. For example, an eight-year-old cat that has never been around other animals may never learn to share their territory (and their people) with other pets in the household. However, an eight-week-old kitten separated from their mom and littermates for the first time might prefer to have a cat or dog companion.
Cats are territorial and need to be introduced to other animals very slowly to give them time to get used to each other before a face-to-face confrontation. Slow introductions help prevent fearful and aggressive problems from developing.
PLEASE NOTE: When you introduce pets to each other, one of them may send “play” signals that the other pet can misinterpret. If one animal interprets those signals as aggression, you should handle the situation as “aggressive.”
Confine your new cat to one medium-sized room with their litter box, food, water and a bed. Feed your resident pets and the newcomer on each side of the door to this room. This will help them associate something enjoyable (eating!) with each other’s smells.
Don’t put the food so close to the door that the animals are upset by each other’s presence to eat. Gradually move the dishes closer to the door until your pets can eat calmly, directly on either side of the door.
Next, use two doorstops to prop open the door just enough to allow the animals to see each other and repeat the process.
Switch sleeping blankets or beds between your new cat and your resident animals, so they can become accustomed to each other’s scent.
Rub a towel on one animal and put it underneath the food dish of another animal. It would be best if you did this with each animal in the house.
Switch living areas
Once your new cat uses their litter box and regularly eats while confined, let them have free time in the house while confining your other animals to the new cat’s room.
This switch provides another way for the animals to experience each other’s scents without a face-to-face meeting. It also allows the newcomer to become familiar with her new surroundings without being frightened by the other animals.
Avoid fearful and aggressive meetings
Avoid any interactions between your pets that result in either fearful or aggressive behaviour. If these responses become a habit, they can be challenging to change.
It’s better to introduce your pets to each other so gradually that neither animal becomes afraid or aggressive. You can expect mild forms of these behaviours, but don’t allow them to intensify.
If either animal becomes fearful or aggressive, separate them, and start over with the introduction process in a series of tiny, gradual steps, as outlined above.
If one of your pets has a medical problem or is injured, this could stall the introduction process. Check with your veterinarian to be sure that all of your pets are healthy. You’ll also want to have at least one litter box per cat, and you’ll probably need to clean all of the litter boxes more frequently.
Make sure that none of the cats are being “ambushed” by another while trying to use the litter box. Try to keep your resident pets’ schedule as close as possible to what it was before the newcomer’s appearance. Cats can make lots of noise, pull each other’s hair, and roll around quite dramatically without either cat being injured.
If minor spats do occur between your cats, you shouldn’t attempt to intervene directly to separate the cats. Instead, make a loud noise, throw a pillow, or use a squirt bottle with water and vinegar to separate the cats. Give them a chance to calm down before re-introducing them to each other. Be sure each cat has a safe hiding place.
Cat to dog introductions
Dogs can kill a cat very quickly, even if only by playing. All it takes is one shake, and the cat’s neck can break. Some dogs have such a high prey drive they should always be supervised by a cat.
Dogs usually want to chase and play with cats, and cats typically become afraid and defensive. Use the techniques described above to introduce your new cat to your resident dog. In addition:
If your dog doesn’t already know the commands “sit,” “down,” “come,” and “stay,” you should begin working on them. Small pieces of food will increase your dog’s motivation to perform, which will be necessary for the presence of such a strong distraction as a new cat.
Even if your dog already knows these commands, work with obeying commands in return for a tidbit.
After your new cat and resident dog have become comfortable eating on opposite sides of the door and exposed to each other’s scents as described above. You can attempt a face-to-face introduction in a controlled manner.
Put your dog’s leash on, and using treats, have them sit or lie down and stay. Have another family member or friend enter the room and quietly sit down next to your new cat, but don’t have them physically restrain her. Have this person offer your cat some special pieces of food or catnip. At first, the cat and the dog should be on opposite sides of the room.
Lots of short visits are better than a few extended visits. Don’t drag out the visit so long that the dog becomes uncontrollable. Repeat this step several times until the cat and dog tolerate each other’s presence without fear, aggression or other undesirable behaviour.
Let your cat go next
Allow your cat freedom to explore your dog at her own pace, with the dog still on leash and in a “down-stay.” Meanwhile, keep giving your dog treats and praise for his calm behaviour.
If your dog gets up from his “stay” position, he should be repositioned with a treat lure and praised and rewarded for obeying the “stay” command. You’re progressing too fast if your cat runs away or becomes aggressive. Go back to the previous introduction steps.
While pet owners must teach their dogs that chasing or being rough with cats is unacceptable behaviour, they must also be taught how to behave appropriately, and be rewarded for doing so, such as sitting, coming when called, or lying down in return for a treat.
If your dog is always punished when your cat is around and never has “good things” happen in the cat’s presence, your dog may redirect aggression toward the cat.
Directly supervise all interactions between your dog and cat
You may want to keep your dog on a leash and with you whenever your cat is free in the house during the introduction process. Ensure your cat has an escape route and a place to hide.
Keep your dog and cat separated when you aren’t home until you’re sure your cat will be safe.
Dogs like to eat cat food. You should keep the cat food out of your dog’s reach (in a closet or on a high shelf). Eating cat feces is also a relatively common behaviour in dogs. Although there are no health hazards to your dog, it’s probably distasteful to you.
It’s also upsetting to your cat to have such an important object “invaded.” Unfortunately, attempts to keep your dog out of the litter box by “booby trapping” will also keep your cat away. Punishment after the fact will not change your dog’s behaviour. The best solution is to place the litter box where your dog can’t access it, for example: behind a baby gate; in a closet with the door anchored open from both sides and just wide enough for your cat; or inside a tall, topless cardboard box with easy access for your cat.
A word about kittens and puppies
Because they’re so much smaller, kittens are more likely to be injured or killed by a young, energetic dog or predatory dog. A kitten will need to be kept separate from an incredibly active dog until it is fully grown, and even then, it should never be left alone with the dog.
Usually, a well-socialized cat can keep a puppy in its place, but some cats need more confidence. If you have a timid cat, keep it separated from your puppy until it matures enough to have more self-control.
When to get help
If introductions don’t go smoothly, seek professional help immediately. Animals can be severely injured in fights, and the longer the problem continues, the harder it can be to resolve.
Conflicts between pets in the same family can often be resolved with professional help. Punishment won’t work, though, and could make things worse.