Top tips for introducing a new dog to your cat


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02 February 2021
Introducing a new dog to your cats, or a new cat to your dog, doesn’t need to cause mayhem. Alison Gallagher-Hughes puts her own experience in the spotlight.

Introducing a new dog to your cats, or a new cat to your dog, doesn’t need to cause mayhem. Alison Gallagher-Hughes puts her own experience in the spotlight.

I was approaching a significant birthday — one with a big fat 0 in it — when my mother asked me what I wanted for a gift. I didn’t have any real requirements but there was an idea that had long been at the back of my mind.

“I’d always wanted a dog,” I replied. As a continuous cat owner of more than 20 years — we currently have a feline family of four — you may put this down to a moment of middle-aged madness but it was also a long-harboured desire, thwarted only by practicalities of full-time work and not having anyone at home.

My birthday though coincided with my husband’s plan to step away from his University employment of 16 years and start his own business. The problem of canine companionship was no longer an issue. “Look into it,” she said, “and let me know.”

Straight away I knew the type of dog I was interested in: a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. As a child, I had met one of these adorable creatures, with big eyes and flaxen ears, while in a local park. The owner had invited me to ‘shake paws’ with the dog and the memory had remained with me in the ensuing years. With a dog now a possibility, my primary concern with any addition to the fold was the welfare of my cats. 

I have two female felines, then aged ten, and two males aged nine. Our house was their manor and having introduced new cats to the existing ones over the years, I knew it would need careful and gentle integration, time, and patience. Also, I had never owned a dog, never handled, or trained one.  It would be a learning  curve and require considerable patience.


I researched the breeds of dogs deemed most suitable to living with cats. Fortunately, Cavvies were high on the list. We sought out a reputable breeder and went to visit, prepared with a list of questions about its parents, testing, vaccinations, and socialisation, but equally prepared to walk away if anything seemed out of place. We were lucky and found a good one. The breeders reared the pups in their own home and they were given the best of starts. 

The pup I chose was the most chilled of the litter, playful but not rambunctious. I wanted a personality that would be the best fit for my household. Between selection and collection, I did my homework, read into the best methods of introduction and socialisation, and made necessary adaptations to the house and garden.

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This involved buying some essential kit, which included a crate for Blenheim pup Rufus, a baby gate to separate cat and dog zones, and a microchip animal flap for the back door.

Rufus was already used to a crate and saw it as his safe space. It also proved useful for travelling and an enclosed space for safe introductions. The cats got to witness him ‘behind bars’ before he bounded into their space. I think that it’s fair to say that they weren’t initially impressed but apart from a low rumbling growl from our ‘matriarch’ Smudge, it went without incident. They chose lofty perches and observed.

The baby gate allowed them to see each other in their sleeping quarters and made him sufficiently visible for the cats to slowly acclimatise to his presence.

Rufus and Tilly

Over the weeks, we trialled mutual space (usually the living room), minus the crate but with Rufus on a lead to curb any sudden lunging impulses. Occasionally, he got a bat on the nose but nothing too serious and over time they became more accustomed to each other.

Our neutered ginger tom, Wilf, was the first to strike an ‘entente cordiale’ sniffing noses with his fellow red-coated housemate — ginger boys united. It probably took three months to reach accepted co-existence and longer still for anything more companionable.

Changing dynamics 

Anyone who has a multi cat household will tell you that their cats have very different personality traits and change can result in a shift of dynamics. The social groupings of cats are complex and affected by external as well as internal (home) factors.

All our cats enjoy the outdoors, and in the summer, they inevitably spend more time in the garden. But our first summer of being a cat and dog household saw the ‘hotel factor’ come into play with three of our four felines. They would return home in the evening for bed and board and scoot off after breakfast not bothering to come home during the day. Our other cat, Tilly, applied a reverse strategy. Her close bond with me resulted in her shunning the outdoor life in favour of the duvet or sofa for a full year, until walking past the dog towards the back door was no longer an issue. Indeed, they are now the best of friends.

Three years on, we have a relatively harmonious household. Rufus and Tilly regularly cosy up together on the sofa and appear to enjoy each other’s company. Smudge will commandeer Rufus’ bed and in turn he will let her have it, most of the time, settling on the floor beside her rather than risk her chagrin. Our male cats are comfortable in his company and will happily share the living room in the evening despite Ziggy being of a slightly more nervous and less trusting disposition.

Over time, cats and dogs can become good companions.

Expert opinions

So, did I do all this the right way? I spoke with Your Cat experts Kim Houston of CAT-astrophes Feline Behaviour Consultancy and Clare Hemington, cat behaviourist. They both agreed that their greatest challenges were when clients introduced new cats into an existing cat household rather than dogs.

“I feel it’s much easier to introduce a dog to a cat, than a cat to another cat,” says Kim. “Cats are hugely territorial, so if you bring another cat into an existing cat household, it can leave cats feeling that they have to compete for key resources, such as litter trays and feed bowls, and that’s when you get conflict. When you bring in a dog, you just don’t get the same thing. Dogs don’t look at those resources in the same way.”

Asking the right questions about socialisation in the early stages can make the process a whole lot easier she insists: “I advise clients who are thinking of getting a new pet to ask the breeder if they have been socialised to the other species during the first few weeks of life. This is important to both cats and dogs because if they have met the other species in a calm environment during early development, they are more likely to accept one another in later life.

“Understanding your cat’s personality will also aid decision-making. Confident cats should fare better with a new dog compared to one that is timid or nervous. Also, cats with a ‘flight’ response are more likely to trigger the chase instinct within a dog. So, it is important to select a dog breed that is known for being better with cats and avoid those that have strong predatory drives, unless it is an individual dog known for having had positive associations with cats.”

Clare places great emphasis on a cat’s environment during the preparation phase.

“Ensuring that the cat has escape opportunities and hiding places before the dog arrives is key,” she advises. “One of the most important things to remember about cats is to let them be in control and allow them to determine their comings and goings.

“Depending on the layout of your house, installing baby gates can be a good idea to separate sections of the home. Microchip cat flaps can also be used on internal doors to provide access to sanctuary spaces where your cat can get peace if the dog’s attention becomes overwhelming.”

She also places importance on allowing a cat’s curiosity and sense of play to make it gradually more comfortable in the vicinity of a dog.

“Crating a dog in a separate room can allow the cat to venture in at its own pace. It will gradually become inquisitive about the dog. 

“It is useful to not place too much attention on the cat during these initial stages but keep a watch from the corner of your eye. In later sessions, you can use play as a distraction. If the dog is in the crate with its own toy or chew, you can put treats in a puzzle feeder or a ball and place them in the room for your cat. That will get the cat moving around the room. It will naturally go nearer towards the crate and positive associations between the animals will build,” adds Clare

I did my best to follow good practice but to be honest, there were times when I despaired. Would equilibrium ever be restored to the Gallagher-Hughes household? In time, it did. Rufus responded well to training, the cats chose to spend more time in his company and now all is well. 

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to introduce another four-legged friend!


Top tips for introducing a new cat or dog to an existing pet household

Ensure your cat has space to get away from your dog if they choose.

Do your research 

— select a dog breed that is known for living better with cats. Cavaliers, Labradors, and Retrievers are good options. Avoid breeds that have strong predatory drives such as sporting breeds, sight hounds, or terriers, unless they have had early associations
with cats.

When introducing a cat into a home with a dog, check out the background of the cat if possible. Find out if the cat has had any bad experiences with dogs.

ABSENT FRIENDS — get them used to each other before arrival. Take something with your cats’ scent on and leave it with the new pup and do the same for your cats. 

Begin socialisation as soon as possible. If acquiring a new kitten, check if the person you are getting it from has a dog, or if it is possible to introduce your dog to the kitten within its first nine weeks of life.

TAKE THINGS SLOWLY — manage the process and take it in stages to let your existing pets get used to the newcomer and supervise the sessions.

PROTECT YOUR CAT’S TERRITORY — preserve their space, provide them with elevated places where they can feel safe, and introduce ‘sanctuary’ spaces.

MAINTAIN THE EQUILIBRIUM — your cats will be used to a routine including space and times for feeding. Try to maintain these to keep things normal.Try using a pheromone diffuser or spray to reduce stress.

BEST BEHAVIOUR  — train your new dog with your cats in mind. Reward positive behaviour that thwarts any desire to chase the cats.
Be patient 

— progress will be incremental but extremely satisfying and worth it!
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