Safely Introducing Your Dog to a Cat or Small Animal

January 20, 2012  

We’ve been featuring furry friends all month, so we asked our Facebook fans, ’What are your best tips for safely introducing your dogs to a cat or small animal in the family?’

Taking it slow, gauging their interest, baby gate, reading body language and being patient and calm were all suggestions to having a happy, multi-species household.

Thanks everyone for sharing.

(photo by Simone Bur)

Baby gates!! Or something similar. I let them go into the area where the other pet has been for awhile before I ever let them see each other. Smell first, then sight. When I got a kitten I took a towel with my dog’s smell with me to visit the litter and brought home a towel of kitten smell. This way each family member had that smell to investigate before the kitten was even in my home.

~ Anke Roepke

First- I don’t let my dogs chase squirrels or other small animals while we walk, or they’re in my back yard. Since I have four pit bull rescues and two cats sharing a household, I want my animals to have respect for other animals. Three of my dogs were easy for me to establish a pack mentality with my cats. The other one I had to really work with, starting with when I first brought her home from the shelter and had her in her crate … she would react negatively when the cats would walk past her crate, I would verbally correct her, and when I started integrating her into the pack, (with the three dogs and two cats) we watched her closely around the cats and didn’t let her stare or fixate on them. We disciplined her by saying “no ma’am” in a deep voice when she showed prey activity with them, and after we were able to trust her, she is now laying right next to my male cat as I type!

~ Tiffany Bair Gillooly

BAD RAP‘s flirt pole! We’ve used this method to curb our Stubbydog Kylie’s prey drive that is sometimes ignited by our 18-pound mutt rescue dog, Pup. When his stomach rumbles, she thinks he’s a walking squeaky toy. Curbing that prey drive has helped with numerous smaller animals.

~ Sarah Richards

(photo, right, by Darreena Harding)

Ditto the slow! We’re also using treats for the pup as long as he remains calm around the rats. The rat boys are showing no fear, but Max seems a liiiiiiiiiitle too anxious to play with them so we’re being careful.

~ Shannon Coulter

We use baby gates to create boundaries, so our cats have a place away from the dogs. One of our dogs had never seen a cat until we brought him home. His encounters with our cats are supervised, so he doesn’t get too nosey and after seven months, he knows to “be nice” around the cats. We have never forced an encounter, it’s always been spontaneous. Our pit bull loves our cats and even sleeps next to some of them at night.

~ Sharon Wallace Shoemake

My cats ignore the pet rats, who are never in a locked cage. One cat accidently got locked in bedroom with them over a weekend, no food or water. Rats were fine, cat happy to get out. Since my cats rule the house, my mastiffs were always on leashes while inside, until they adjusted and they were told NO on many occasions. One mastiff no longer cares and the other (200 lbs. of baby), still thinks it is fun to chase them (only select ones), but they are faster and I think he wants to play, not hurt them.

~ Shari Wallach-Hays

Crate! Super high value treats whenever the dog is around the new animal. And, if you aren’t certain your dog will accept a small animal, never introduce them without all the help that you “might” need. It’s always better to have too many hands, than not enough.

~ Lori Jolly


When we introduced a foster who initially showed signs of not being kitty friendly, we took a good three weeks to acclimate everyone. First week was no visual contact, foster was crated in a ‘quiet room’ to settle in and could smell cats had lived there. Second week was limited visuals – we would redirect her attention when she fixated (on leash, at distance) and lots of praise. By the third week as she acted calmer and less focused on them, we tethered her on a short leash to our banister with loose cats. Lots of supervision – I was initially skeptical that we’d be able to all be out together, but by the fourth week, everyone fell into place. We didn’t have the foster for much longer — we did always supervise the interactions because sometimes the foster would go a little too still at random times. Know how to read subtle body language, remain calm. Tether, leashes, treats. And exercise! And mental stimulation! Also, know the limits. I knew our foster could not be introduced to my sister’s ferret — her prey drive for small critters was too much. She could coexist with the cats, but they were as good as she would get. Our resident pit bull type dog and mutt I know well and determined that they would be open to meeting the ferret. Curious and friendly – but after too much time in their presence, could start to hard stare. Know the limits and don’t push.

~ Amanda Taylor, (photo above)

I am always sure to use humane, scientifically sound methods to train my dog to do anything. “Corrections” and “traditional” methods are especially dangerous when introducing a dog to other animals because it is so easy to unwittingly create a problem where there may not have been one before. You don’t want a dog to associate stress, anxiety, fear, or anger with the presence of another animal, you want them to be relaxed and happy.

~ Laura Cooke

TAKE IT SLOW! Give everyone their space, learn about body language and what to watch for, like signs of stress or discomfort. Short, slow sessions, always trying to end on a positive.

~ Star Frances Fao, (photo, right)

It’s important to closely supervise the pets’ interactions, but it’s a humbling truth that animals teach one another just as effectively (if not more so) than we do. My cats were proactive in teaching my rescue pit what was appropriate play and what was not. I did not step in when my pit puppy was swatted by my cats, because it taught my sweet girl that the cats had some ownership of the space. They are all great friends now, but it took some “tough love” and room to allow them to solve their own problems to get to this place of mutual respect.

~ Emily Clements

I have introduced my rats to “unknown” dogs also. I always protect the small animal’s head with my hand or side and present the butt first. Praise, praise, praise the dog for being “easy/gentle/soft” whatever you call it. It makes the intro to something “unnatural,” pleasant and good. Let’s face it, it’s not their first instinct to just leave a small animal alone. I’m no expert with cats, but with Lacy we used voice control, a simple “leave it” and lots of praise…it took a few weeks with the cat thing.

~ Valerie Sherman

Never ever introduce an excited dog to a new animal of any type. Follow Cesar’s advice (exercise first!!) and once the dog is physically exercised begin the mental exercise of introductions. If other people are present for the introduction, they need to remain calm. Do NOT allow someone in the room who is freaking out about your pit bull meeting her “baby” for the first time. I have plenty of friends and family members that I ask to leave the room before introductions – animals feed off of the energy in the room.

~ Nikki Foley

Long walk for the dog before introduction, wear him/her out so there’s not all that energy busting at the seams.

~ Jessica Funderburk


(photo by Jennifer Thomas)

My boys live peacefully with two bunnies and I run a pit bull rescue, so I’m always introducing the bunnies to new fosters. I make sure all introductions are supervised, of course. I have someone to help leash up the dog and restrain him/her, then allow the dog to sniff the bunny butts, and gauge the level of interest from there. Like other folks said, I take it slowly. There are some dogs that just the “that look,” and I can tell they probably won’t ever make safe friends for the bunnies. Those signals definitely need to be respected. But interest or exuberance can be controlled with proper training and use of commands such as “leave it” or “easy.” Once the dog passes the first sniff, I will put the bunny in my lap, then re-evaluate the dog’s interest. If they do ok here, I will put the bunny on the ground, re-evaluate interest. Finally, I coax the bunnies into hopping around – that’s the final test. When all these have been passed, then the dog will be allowed off-leash, supervised time with the bunnies. My bunnies enjoy the company of dogs, so they are good sports for this process. I’ve had many successful introductions between the bunnies and my fosters!

~ Gemma Zanowski

I teach each dog the word “mine.” Dogs understand territory and the word mine expresses it. I use “mine” with my shoes, food and cats. Also I have a baby gate and one of my kitties stays on the kitty side of the gate, one will cross to visit me and one kitty, named Bunny Tail, will cross to visit Molly my pit bull. Bunny Tail and Molly love each other. The kitties always have the kitty side to the gate to go to if they want to be away from dogs. If a doggie gets rough with a kitty, I let the dog know that is not allowed and I do that consistently and quickly each time.

~ Jeneen Burns

S L O W L Y! Not slow like 20 minutes, slow like 20 days or more sometimes! It takes finesse and a good understanding of resident pets.

~ Sarah Super-Duty


(photo by Susan Rodriguez Armstrong)

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Comments

6 Responses to “Safely Introducing Your Dog to a Cat or Small Animal”
  1. mizjenny27 says:

    We are having a really challenging time with our pittie and kitty. Our cat is an indoor/outdoor cat and our pittie was doing decent for a bit but has gotten really bad lately. He preys on her and though we try to be on top of the fixating he usually has to hang in the crate right now when she’s inside. He has gotten to her a couple times and she was pretty wet but not harmed. He got out of his crate while we weren’t home recently (I believe our other houdini of a dog let him out) and he ripped up our couch because the cat was under it…..Not sure where to go from here.

    • JeneenBurns says:

      @mizjenny27

      @mizjenny27 Sound like kitty may have gone under the couch because kitty is scared and wants to get away. Kitty needs a place to get away. Do you have a baby gate? Mine is the metal and is screwed in to the door jam and in the hall opening so the cats can go to the hall and bedrooms when they want a no dog zone. A kitty tree (cat furniture) tall enough and in the room with doggy might help but it also might teach your dog to tree kitty, something you don’t want. You could give it a try though. It will give the cat some place to go in the same room. Sounds like you are doing right to crate and it is the dog that should go in the crate (not kitty) each time doggy is naughty and I recommend adding a couple of snap hooks (the kind used by climbers) as an addition for the crate opening that you can use easy but doggy will find hard to open, use a metal crate. All dogs and especially dogs that are crated need a lot of wide open exercise. They go “wild” without it. Some dogs will get kitties wet with slobber when playing but you know it is ok when kitty does not hiss or hide and your dog does not tear a couch up to get to kitty.

      • JeneenBurns says:

        @mizjenny27

        P.S. Crates are good for time outs to calm doggie for very short periods each time and also for times of emergency for longer periods. Crates are not good for all day every day. That kind of use will make any problem worse. Dogs need a lot of exercise and a lot of loving family time to be good pets and neighbors. I gave a lot of the information you may already know and pratice so pick out the parts that are new to you in any advice. 🙂

    • blazer says:

      @mizjenny27

      Do you have a local dog trainer you could go to for help? There is one we work with when we foster and I know I would go straight to her for some advice. Can you tether the dog to something stationary in the house when kitty is home? Then kitty can avoid the dog’s space — it would depend just how fixated the dog is too — perhaps that would be more frustrating for the dog. When we introduced our foster who was eyeballing the kitties, she got treats and praise every time she looked away from the cats. We eventually got her off the tether but had to initially watch for any time a cat jumped up or down or ran – that would trigger her. After more tethering and time together, it got much better. Try some impulse control exercises?

      Also, we have a resident bully who gets along great with the cats however he has separation anxiety. We quickly learned that kitties couldn’t be loose when he is home alone (he cannot be crated) as they turned into targets of his anxiety. When we are home, he doesn’t blink at them, spends time all cuddled up wtih them, grooms them but when he’s alone, he loses his morals!

  2. JeneenBurns says:

    @mizjenny27 Sound like kitty may have gone under the couch because kitty is scared and wants to get away. Kitty needs a place to get away. Do you have a baby gate? Mine is the metal and is screwed in to the door jam and in the hall opening so the cats can go to the hall and bed rooms when they want a no dog zone. A kitty tree (cat furniture) tall enough and in the room with doggy might help but it also might teach your dog to tree kitty, something you don’t want. You could give it a try though. Sounds like you are doing right to crate and I recommend adding a couple of snap hooks (the kind used by climbers) as an addition for the crate opening that you can use easy but doggy will find hard to open, I assume you are using a metal crate. Some dogs will get kitties wet with slobber when playing but you know it is ok when kitty does not hiss or hide and your dog does not tear a couch up to get to kitty.

  3. JeneenBurns says:

    @mizjenny27 Sound like kitty may have gone under the couch because kitty is scared and wants to get away. Kitty needs a place to get away. Do you have a baby gate? Mine is the metal and is screwed in to the door jam and in the hall opening so the cats can go to the hall and bed rooms when they want a no dog zone. A kitty tree (cat furniture) tall enough and in the room with doggy might help but it also might teach your dog to tree kitty, something you don’t want. You could give it a try though. It will give the cat some place to go in the same room. Sounds like you are doing right to crate and it is the dog that should go in the crate (not kitty) each time doggy is naughty and I recommend adding a couple of snap hooks (the kind used by climbers) as an addition for the crate opening that you can use easy but doggy will find hard to open, use a metal crate. Some dogs will get kitties wet with slobber when playing but you know it is ok when kitty does not hiss or hide and your dog does not tear a couch up to get to kitty.