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  • Molly Weinfurter

Introducing Cats And Dogs: Tips for Adopting a Dog if You Already Have a Cat

Updated: Jun 1

Dogs and cats aren’t always enemies like the movies make them out to be. Many animal lovers adore both cats and dogs, causing them to want both in their households. Some pet parents choose a cat over a dog because they’re lower-maintenance and can be left alone more often. However, when some cat parents have more time and money, they may consider adopting a dog too. If that happens, introducing cats and dogs is a process that should be taken seriously.

I have never had a cat of my own, but when I foster dogs, I need to be cautious about adopting them out to a household with a cat. I always want to be certain the dog is cat-friendly before letting someone with a cat bring them home. After all, I want to ensure both the dog and the cat are comfortable living together.

Do Cats and Dogs Get Along?

Yes, cats and dogs can get along, but every animal is different. Some dogs and cats love each other while others could be dangerous toward each other. If you want to adopt a dog and a cat, make sure both animals get along well with other pets. A dog who chases smaller animals or a cat who scratches other pets probably shouldn't live with a different species. So, think logically about your decision before having a dog and cat live in the same space.

cat looking at dog

Tips for Adopting a Dog if You Have Cats

Whenever you adopt a dog, you should always be patient and take the time to pick the dog that’s best for you. However, when you have cats, you have more things to consider than the average adopter, so here are some aspects to keep in mind.

Make Sure Your Cat is Dog-Friendly

First of all, you need to ensure your cat will behave well around a dog. If you’ve never seen your cat interact with a dog before, have them meet a friend’s dog that you trust. If your cat seems constantly stressed with the dog around, they may not be able to comfortably live with a dog.

Many cats can get used to having a dog around or even enjoy a canine’s company, but that’s not the case for every feline. If your cat keeps trying to attack dogs every time they see them, then that’s not a good environment for your cat or a new dog. 

As heartbreaking as it can be, sometimes you have to accept that getting a dog isn’t a good idea while you have your cat. You know your cat better than anyone else, so it’s up to you to make that call.

Make Sure The Dog is Cat-Friendly

When meeting adoptable dogs, you’ll need to make sure they’re cat-friendly before you even consider adopting them. Most shelters and rescues will be happy to conduct a “cat test” for you, which involves them having the dog meet a dog-friendly cat. They can let you know how the test went and potentially send you a video of the interaction. The rescue I volunteer for often has cats at their office space that foster dogs can meet.

If an organization determines a dog is cat-friendly, there’s a better chance that the dog will do well in your household. However, you should still make sure the dog checks all the other boxes you're looking for.

Have the Dog Meet Your Cats

Even if the organization doesn’t require dogs and cats to meet before adoption, it’s still a good idea. If your cat doesn’t do well traveling, ask if the foster parent or another volunteer is willing to bring the dog to you to meet your cat. There’s never a guarantee that volunteers will have time to do something like that, but many will if they’re able because they want to ensure the dog is going to the best home possible.

I'm always happy to bring my foster dogs to the adopter's cats because I want to be certain they'll get along. One of my fosters did well during his "cat test," but in a home environment, he was way too fixated on the cats and it didn't work out. So, it's always good for the person adopting the dog to see for themselves how the dog will interact with their cats.

By having the dog meet your cats before adoption, you can have some idea of how they’ll behave when they’re first introduced. Having that information upfront can help you feel more at ease with the adoption.

Trust Your Gut

If you’re unsure if the dog will get along with your cat, trust your gut. Even if you fall in love with the dog, you shouldn’t adopt them if there’s a chance they could hurt your cat or vice versa. If you adopt a dog with any uncertainty, you need to be prepared to potentially never leave the dog and cat alone together depending on how the introduction goes.

It’s always a good idea to be cautious and think logically when adopting a new pet. I've had adopters say no to dogs they love before because they weren't confident the dog would get along with their cats. It's a difficult decision, but it's better to be safe than sorry in situations like that.

Dog licking cat

Introducing Cats and Dogs: What to Expect

Learning how to introduce cats and dogs is all about patience. Even if you’re confident the two animals will get along, you should take it slow just in case.

Keep Pets Separate at First

If possible, keep your dog and cat separate for the first three to four days. Start with a closed door between them so the animals can smell each other without having to interact face-to-face.  Let your cat have as much space as possible so their routine isn’t interrupted.

To help them get used to each other, you can play with them and feed them close to the closed door. That way, both animals can associate positive things with the scent of their new sibling.

With your dog, work on basic training right away. That way, you can easily redirect your dog if introductions with your cat aren’t ideal.

Give Your Cat a Safe Space

Throughout the entire process, even when the dog is still in a separate room, make sure your cat has a safe space. The safe space should have all their necessities, such as a litter box and water bowl. It shouldn’t be accessible to the dog so your cat can run away and hide in their safe space whenever needed. Don’t force your cat to come out and interact with the dog if they don’t seem ready.

Monitor Behaviors Closely

After a few days of complete separation, you can transition to having the dog and cat meet with a gate or fence in between them. That way, they can see each other without being able to cause harm. 

If the dog and cat seem calm around each other, you can have them meet face-to-face, but keep the dog leashed just to be safe. Then, if the dog’s body language indicates that they’re fixated on the cat, redirect their attention.

Before letting the dog completely loose, keep a leash attached to them that they’ll drag behind them as they walk. That way, you can easily grab them if they bother the cat. When you’re not monitoring your pets, keep them separated.

Allow Pets Loose Together Once You’re Confident

Once you feel confident that the dog and cat will get along, they can let them both loose. It will usually be a few weeks before you get to this point, but it depends on the animal. For some dogs and cats, it could take months. So, make sure you’re willing to be patient before adopting a dog in a cat household.

Even after your dog and cat are used to each other, it’s still a good idea to separate them when you’re not home just to be safe.

cat and dog relaxing

Are These Tips Similar for Adopting a Cat if You Have a Dog?

If you’re adopting a cat in a household with dogs, you should proceed with the same caution. However, you’ll need to flip the roles around. Make sure your dog behaves well around cats and make sure you find a dog-savvy cat.

Even with the roles reversed, you’ll still want to be extremely patient and logical throughout the adoption process and the first few weeks after bringing the cat home.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I Introduce My Cat to a New Dog Right Away?

No, you shouldn’t introduce your cat and dog face-to-face right away. Instead, keep a closed door between them for the first few days so they can smell each other without being able to get close. Once both animals have had time to get used to each other’s scent, you can proceed with the next steps.

How Long Does Introducing Cats and Dogs Take?

Fully introducing dogs and cats could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. It all depends on the temperament of the pets involved. When in doubt, go slow and be patient.

How Can I Prevent Fights Between Cats and Dogs?

The best way to prevent fights between dogs and cats is to keep them separated whenever you can’t monitor them. When you’re in the same room as them, keep an eye on their body language and separate them if they seem defensive or offensive. 

Which Dog Breeds are the Most Cat-Friendly?

Any breed can do well with cats, but certain breeds are known for having a cat-friendly temperament. Golden Retrievers, Beagles, Basset Hounds, Pugs, Shih Tzus, and Chihuahuas are a few breeds that are generally good around cats. However, base your decision on the individual dog’s temperament, not just their breed.

Can Cats and Dogs Mate?

No, cats and dogs cannot mate. They’re biologically incompatible, so even if they mount each other, it’s impossible for them to reproduce.

cat sitting by dog

Cats and Dogs Can Coexist

Introducing cats and dogs can feel overwhelming at first, but luckily, many dogs and cats can coexist without any issues. Just make sure you take it slow and think logically when adopting a new family member. Being patient and cautious is the best way to set both pets up for success.


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