Getting your cat and dog used to each other

Can dogs and cats live together? Contrary to widespread belief, cats and dogs can live happily together and even form close friendships. The basic prerequisite for this is a controlled period of familiarisation, with patience in allowing the animals to get used to one another slowly.

The difference in body language between cats and dogs

Most animal lovers will be aware that cats and dogs communicate differently. When a dog wags its tail happily, it can put a cat on alert. This is because a whipping tail is a sign of aggression in communication between cats. This is just one of many examples of the different ways cats and dogs communicate.

For a harmonious coexistence, it is therefore essential that our four-legged friends get to know each other’s body language and get used to it. 
Cat and dog meet and get used to each other Getting a cat and a dog used to each other: differences in body language

Getting your cat and dog used to each other: How it works

At the beginning of the relationship between the two four-legged friends, there should be a period in which they get to know each other in a controlled way. This is an important building block in getting the dog used to the cat and vice versa.

When is the best time to get your cat and dog used to each other?

The best time to socialise these two very different species is when they are still young. If puppy and kitten are about the same age and play together freely, close friendships often develop. They also learn to interpret each other’s body language directly. 

Puppy and kitten get to know each other to get used to each other A cat and a dog will get to know each other best when they are young
But even if it is not possible to get cats and dogs used to each other at the same age, all is not lost. Even if you bring a cat and dog together as adults, it can be successful if you follow a few rules.

Tips for preparing the first meeting between a cat and a dog

It is especially important that there is no time pressure when you bring a cat and a dog together. The first meeting of the two pets in particular shapes their subsequent relationship and is crucial in determining how quickly the cat and the dog become accustomed to each other.

It is best to set up a room to which only the cat has access and which it can use as a retreat. This “cat room” should also be the place where the litter tray is set up so that the cat can use it in peace. Its food bowl should be kept in this room or in an elevated position that the dog cannot reach. 

Getting a cat and a dog used to each other gradually

1. Getting a cat and a dog used to each other’s smell

It is advisable to give the newcomer a blanket or something similar to sleep on so that it takes on the smell of the animal. With the help of this blanket, your other pet can get used to the smell of the new arrival. You can also play a recording of barking or other dog noises to a cat before they get to know the dog, so that it is used to them.

2. Carry out the first meeting between the cat and the dog in a controlled way

The next step is the first meeting between the cat and the dog. This contact should take place under controlled conditions. It is best for two people to be present when the cat and the dog meet, so that one familiar person can focus on each pet. It is also advisable to let the meeting take place in a calm and relaxed situation and environment. 

3. Keep a lead on the dog and provide a retreat for the cat

During the first encounter, the dog should be kept on a lead to avoid a possible chase. This could frighten the cat. Even if the dog is on its lead, you should still provide the cat with opportunities to retreat. A tall scratching post, a den or an open door to another room can serve this purpose.

4. Limit the initial meetings

It is advisable to keep the first encounter short so that neither the cat nor the dog is overwhelmed and to allow them to process the experience afterwards. Praise your dog and your cat after their first encounter and spend time with them separately. 

5. Repeat the meetings

You should now follow up with more short meetings until the excitement has subsided. Only then is it advisable to extend the time that the two animals are in the same room. Once all the strong emotions have gone, you can let your dog off its lead. The cat and the dog can now move around within your four walls under supervision for the time being.

Tips for getting cats and dogs used to each other: step by step The cat and dog should be introduced to one another gradually

How long does it take to get cats and dogs used to each other?

Even if a cat and a dog have already become so used to each other that they can move around freely in a room under supervision, this does not necessarily mean that you can leave the animals alone at home. It is important that you do not increase the stakes too early, otherwise you can quickly go backwards at this stage. It can take several weeks before the animals can be left alone together. 

More tips on how cats and dogs can live together

  • Offer the cat a raised feeding place
  • Unlike cats, dogs are scavengers and usually eat up their food completely. Cats, on the other hand, like to snack and eat their food more frequently and in smaller portions. Some cats divide their food up themselves throughout the day and therefore like to leave some in their bowl. To prevent your dog from eating the cat food, you should position it in such a way that it is only accessible to your cat. This also allows your cat to eat in a more relaxed way.

  • Provide retreats for both cat and dog
  • Cats love sleeping in places where they have a good view and which offer them a safe retreat. A tall scratching post or a climbing wall that leads up to a chest of drawers or a cupboard is suitable for this. At the same time, the dog’s basket should be out of bounds for the cat, so that it too has its own area as a place of retreat. 

  • Do not shut the cat and dog in
  • We now know how important retreats are for both animals as they are getting to know each other and living together, so they should always be available to them. Locking a cat or dog in a box to give the other animal a “safe” free run is therefore not advisable. The cat might feel threatened and restricted, while the dog could feel it is competing with the cat.

Which first, cat or dog?

Since dogs are pack animals, it is usually easier if the dog is already living in the home and the cat is the new addition. As a rule, dogs are more open to new pack members than cats and they are easier to train. In contrast, cats are very sensitive, especially to changes in their everyday life and environment. They are also more sceptical of new family members and often see a dog as a threat to their own territory or are simply afraid of it.

Depending on the experiences the dog has had with cats previously, this may not be the case. It is therefore best to get animals used to each other when they are young. They are usually curious and have not yet had any bad experiences. The character traits of the individual animals also have an influence on how well cats and dogs get used to each other.

Can you get any dog used to cats?

As already mentioned, the dog’s previous experience with cats plays a role. If your dog has often been put in its place by a neighbourhood cat, it is quite possible that it will generally be sceptical of felines and will adopt a defensive attitude. This can make it difficult to bring cats and dogs together.

Getting cat and dog used to each other despite bad experiences Previous experience plays a role in cat and dog integration

What if a cat and a dog cannot get used to each other?

The fact is that bringing cats and dogs together requires a lot of patience and time. As the pace varies, you have to rely on your instincts, as you know your animals best. If you are unsure whether it is possible for your cat and dog to live together, you can consult an animal behaviour therapist.

Important: A harmonious life does not necessarily mean that the cat and dog have to cuddle up together or play with each other. Both animals should simply be able to follow a relaxed daily routine so that neither dog nor cat experiences stress. As long as the animals accept each other, do not chase or attack each other and, if necessary, stay out of each other’s way, all is well. Do not try to force them to be close: your four-legged friends must be ready for this step and take it on their own initiative. What begins with them merely tolerating one another may well turn into an intimate, cuddly friendship over several years.

If you do not see any progress after several months and notice that one of the animals is not enjoying the situation or even that injuries are occurring, it is advisable to look for alternatives. Sometimes one of the animals may become jealous or refuse to eat due to stress. If such behaviour does not change even with professional help, you need to be fair to yourself, your family and your animals and make a personal decision. This might not be easy, but the welfare of the animals should always come first.