Cat-to-Dog Introductions: A Step-by-Step Guide

Learn about the importance of taking time to introduce your dog and cat to one another, and read about two very different cat-to-dog introduction stories. These steps are very similar to the steps in the cat-to-cat introduction process!

Why You Need to Bother with Introductions

Dogs and cats stereotypically never, ever get along. Obviously, I’m here to counteract that stereotype! But, it’s true that these two species rarely know how to interact with each other, particularly when they’re fully grown and when they don’t have any human intervention. Unfortunately, animals are sometimes returned to shelters because of reasons like, “My dog just didn’t like this cat” and “My cat doesn’t like puppies…oops.” By introducing your pets properly, you’re helping to keep the shelters clear and to keep animals in the loving homes that they deserve. 

Cats typically see dogs as large threats, or even predators. Imagine a strange, excitable creature that’s either the same size or much larger than you, approaching you without warning and wanting to do lord-knows-what with your personal space… To be fair, I’ve seen some very young kittens in this situation simply tilt their heads to the side and go with the flow, but most cats do not appreciate the great unknown canine. 

Dogs often see cats as prey, and if they don’t, they’ll likely start off viewing the cat as an object they really want to chase. Then, the dog’s prey drive will be in high gear. All of a sudden, even if your dog didn’t view cats as prey at first, they do now! Or, in some cases, you’ll have a dog who is nervous around cats and tries to aggressively defend themselves. Puppies, on the other hand, typically have simple relationships when raised with cats because they don’t know any different.

So, please know that in most cases, you’ll have to help your cat learn to trust your dog, and you’ll have to help your dog learn that your cat is not a toy or something to hunt. 

Getting Started with the Introduction Process

Take a moment to evaluate your dog’s personality, especially if you’ve had the dog in your home for a while or know their history. Things to think about are:

  • Prey drive
  • How well they’re trained
  • How loud they are
  • How do they play with toys *
  • How do they play with other dogs *(these might indicate how they’ll want to physically interact with your cat)
  • Have they ever seen a cat before? What happened?

If the dog is the newcomer in your case, the process is going to be much easier. It will be especially easier if they’re still a puppy that can be raised alongside your cat. 

Also take some time to think about your cat’s personality and/or history, if known. Things to think about are:

  • How confident they are – Are they a Napoleon, Mojito, or Wallflower?
  • Have they ever seen a dog before? What happened?
  • Are they food- or toy-motivated? *(this can indicate how easily you’ll be able to bribe them in the presence of the dog)

If the cat is the newcomer in your case, treat this process how you would a cat newcomer in a cat-to-cat introduction. If they are a young kitten, especially younger than 12 weeks old, you should mostly only have to worry about the dog’s behavior during this process. 

If both the cat and dog are adults, this can still be done! It may just take a bit more time. 


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Any contribution is greatly appreciated!

– $6.00 allows us to buy a bag of litter
– $25 helps us buy 12 cans of cat food
– $100+ allows us to fund general medical procedures for any felines that we foster on our own

Thank you so much for considering a donation! 🙂

Any contribution is greatly appreciated!

– $6.00 allows us to buy a bag of litter
– $25 helps us buy 12 cans of cat food
– $100+ allows us to fund general medical procedures for any felines that we foster on our own

Thank you so much for considering a donation! 🙂

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Let the Animals Get Used to the Energy

Dogs and cats bring very different types of energy into your home. It’s not instinctual for either species to understand the other’s energy, so your guidance is necessary.

Dogs can be boisterous, loud, and quick to react when compared to cats. Most cat’s don’t know how to speak that language, and it can overwhelm them easily. 

Cats can be cautious, fearful, and quick to run away…and all these behaviors have the potential to entice dogs into starting their chase mode. You don’t want your dog to think your cat is prey!

You have to do what works for your home and your pets, but I highly recommend keeping your dog and cat in separate rooms to start. Whoever the newcomer is, create a home base for them, but make sure your cat has their home base regardless if they are the newcomer or not. If your cat was the first resident, and they lose access to their home base when the dog shows up, their confidence will take a big hit. 

Let the Animals Get Used to New Smells

With time, your cat will adjust to the smell of the dog, especially if they’re not forced to share a space with the dog right away. This sense will help your cat get used to the idea that the suspicious-newcomer has a specific smell and that they’re becoming a permanent part of the home’s smells. 

Your dog, however, will likely be over-excited by the smell of the cat. Forcing your dog to adjust to the smell without access to the cat can help the dog let go of any associations they may have formed in the past. Or, if the dog is still a puppy, it can prevent certain associations from ever being formed, such as thinking cat smells = extreme excitement and chasing. 

Let the Animals Get Used to New Sounds

Meows, barks, the sounds of their food being prepared…you name it. These sounds will likely be new sounds for each animal. If, for instance, your resident pet was previously used to living with the other species, the sounds won’t be brand-new. However, the sounds that the new animal makes and causes will still be exciting because, well, they’re an individual who is brand-new to your home!

Give each animal time to habituate to the new sounds. This means that you need to give them enough time so they can get to the point where they either have small reactions or no reactions to the sounds. 

You’ll know when your dog and cat are ready for the next step when they’ve habituated to the sounds, for the most part…but of course, use your best judgment! An example of habituation is when your dog doesn’t react every time they hear your cat scratch the scratching post. Another example is when your cat doesn’t puff out their fur when your dog whines and sniffs at the door. 

Another important sign that they’re ready is when they’re able to be next to the door that separates them while staying calm and perhaps being only mildly interested. For dogs, this can look like sitting or lying down by the door with relaxed ears and tail. For cats, this can look like feeling safe enough to eat right next to the door or relaxing by the door with a bit of interest. 

Let the Animals Get Used to New Sights

Congratulations! You’ve been so patient, and you’re almost to the end of the process! 

For this step, consider using a transparent barrier. This will let your dog and cat get used to seeing each other without having physical access to one another. 

When you get to this step, only let your pets see each other in short sessions. It might feel silly at first, but I recommend that you start with less than a minute. Starting out longer than that may increase one or both of the animals’ fixation and frustration depending on their personalities. 

As they’re able to spend longer periods of time in view of each other, let your cat spend at least a few days getting used to seeing the size of your dog and observing how your dog moves. Letting your dog get used to seeing the cat move around without having physical access can help them process the cat’s different body movements in a calmer way, and the same goes for your cat.

You’ll know when they’re ready to spend time in the same place when there are no more signs of suspicion or caution from either animal. Similarly to cat-to-cat introductions, you can wait for your cat to get to the point of feeling comfortable while eating next to the transparent barrier.

Help Your Dog and Cat Share Space

Tosca and Maisy’s first time physically interacting with each other

Yay! You made it to the final step. 

This step in the process has SO many awesome benefits that will help your pets’ relationship blossom. 

Starting with very short sessions, set up a space where you’re going to let your dog and cat have physical access to each other. If you’re feeling nervous, your pets will know! I recommend putting your dog on a leash during the first couple of sessions, especially if you don’t have anyone there to help you. Be prepared to separate your pets if needed, and try to stay relaxed.

These increasingly longer sessions will help your dog form connections about what different cat postures or sounds mean. For example, when your cat hisses because your dog’s sudden movement scared them, you can give your dog the “leave it” command. If the cat puffs out their fur or puts their ears all the way back into airplane ears, you can give your dog the “stay” or “wait” command to hold until your cat calms down. Engage your cat in small play, such as pawing at a ball track, and let your dog process those movements. Don’t engage your cat in big play, like chasing the feather on a wand toy, because doing this too soon can activate your dog’s desire to chase. 

Let your cat observe the dog during these sessions, perhaps while the dog is on a leash at first. Having the dog on a leash will prevent sudden lunges, whether or not the lunges are intended to be harmful or not. Engage your dog in small play, like gentle tug-of-war, so your cat can learn that they’re still safe when the dog moves around excitedly. 

You can also try to help them share space by building a positive association to one another via treats or mealtimes. However, PLEASE use caution, because your cat’s food can cause a lot of frustration for your dog (especially if the food is out of reach, which I highly recommend). You don’t want your dog to associate your cat with a desperate desire for food. 

You’ll know your pets have reached a big milestone when they spend time physically interacting with each other through cuddling or play, or if they peacefully coexist and give each other enough space. Another big indicator is when YOU feel comfortable letting them spend lots of time in the same space. 

Don’t Rush the Process

Animals are resilient, but trust me, it takes one wrong move or one bad scare to cause a cat or dog to have a long-term fear of the other species. I’ve heard so many stories of dogs being scratched by cats and cats being chased by dogs. In almost all of the examples, the animal who was harmed or scared was afraid of the other species for the rest of their lives. 

Please take this introduction one step at a time, and just like cat-to-cat introductions (link to post), they’ll let you know what they’re ready for. 

However, don’t expect them to be ready at the same time. And, please remember that there is no shame in taking a step backwards if you need to. 

The Koop’s Residents’ Stories

Maisy and Finch’s Story

Finch and his littermates first met Maisy from within the safety of their playpen. Even though the kittens were gradually exposed to Maisy and the idea of dogs, Finch was not a fan of anything about Maisy. Her smells, her sounds, and eventually the sight of her really ticked him off. It was one step forward, two steps back the whole way. The rest of the kittens, however, quickly took to Maisy and accepted all of her annoying baths. 

Maisy surprised us all with many sweet, mother-like instincts. She became so concerned and gentle when she heard the kittens cry, and she constantly wanted to lie next to the playpen and just watch over them. She had never been around kittens that small, and I’m still surprised at how sweet she is with kittens. 

Once we decided to adopt Finch and he watched Minnie interact with Maisy, he warmed up to her a bit more. Overall, it took Finch a little over a month to feel comfortable around Maisy, and the quarantine period (link to post) definitely helped by giving him more time to adjust. 

Maisy and Minnie’s Story

I adopted Minnie when she was about 4 months old. Thinking I knew everything, I immediately set up an entire room for Minnie and planned to keep her completely separate from Maisy. I wanted to let them smell each other, while separated by a door, for at least a whole week. 

I found out almost immediately how silly my ideas were. 

My jaw dropped as I noticed that Maisy and Minnie immediately wanted to get at each other in such a calm and playful way. They gently played with each other’s feet under the door and made sweet little sounds at each other, and it was only day one…

I put Minnie in her carrier in her home base (link to post) and held Maisy on a leash as I walked into Minnie’s room. There was no hissing to be heard, and Maisy’s posture was indicative of pure curiosity. 

The thing is, we already knew Maisy loved cats, and that’s why we decided to adopt a cat at that time. But, Minnie came from a feral colony and I had just met her! I could tell they had very similar energy levels, but other than Minnie still being a moldable young kitten, I wasn’t sure how she would feel about Maisy.

They were telling me what they were ready for. I let Maisy approach the carrier, and Minnie softly pawed at Maisy’s face and meowed softly over and over again. She clearly wanted to be let out, and I was in shock. 

My fiancé held Maisy, leash still attached, in a “down stay” command while I let Minnie out of her carrier. Minnie took one whiff of Maisy’s paw and immediately snuggled against her side. 

Day one
Day two

Maisy needed some reminders here and there to be gentle while playing with Minnie, but they wrestled and played like they’d known each other all their lives. 

They’ve been snuggle pals ever since. 🙂

Hopefully these two examples illustrate the extremely different ways that cat-to-dog introductions can go. Unless you know something in your pets’ history that might be a significant barrier to a peaceful multi-species household, trust yourself and trust the process! And thank you for taking the time to introduce your pets properly! It’s such an important part of the commitment you made when you adopted them. 

References: and personal experiences

Exploring animal welfare one foster kitten at a time

One response to “Cat-to-Dog Introductions: A Step-by-Step Guide”

  1. […] Your resident pets may feel stressed for a number of reasons. For example, resident cats may feel stressed because their territory has been invaded by a tiny, unfamiliar kitten. Resident dogs and cats may also experience an increase in positive and negative stress levels due to the general excitement of interacting with a new animal. […]


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