If you’re bringing a new kitten home and need to introduce them safely to your dog, it’s important to plan ahead. Petplan behaviourist Nick Jones shares some strategies for making sure those first meetings go as smoothly as possible.
Feeling anxious about introducing a kitten to a dog? Rest assured that chances are they’ll eventually be fine together. ‘The vast majority of cats and dogs get along nicely,” says Petplan animal behaviourist Nick Jones. ‘I’ve had dogs and cats together for 20 years and I haven’t had any issues yet.’
With simple precautionary measures and planning, you can help make the first meetings a positive experience for both kitten and dog, reducing stress for all of you and helping them to bond.
When to introduce a kitten to a dog
If you want your kitten to grow up around a dog, it’s best to make the introduction sooner rather than later. Nick advises starting within the first couple of days of bringing your kitten home, if they seem content and settled.
Exactly how and when you make the introduction will depend on your dog’s past behaviour towards cats. ‘If you know your dog can be difficult around cats, you’ll want to take extra precautions to make sure the dog can’t do anything inappropriate, such as chase, lunge at or try to nip the kitten,’ says Nick.
Before your kitten and dog first meet
Before you introduce a new kitten to a dog, start with some scent transference. Give the kitten a piece of the dog’s bedding to sniff, and vice versa, so they become familiar with one another’s smell. You could also play with each animal in turn, so they get used to each others scent on your hands and lap before they meet.
It’s helpful if your kitten’s breeder or rescue centre can get them used to dogs during their ‘socialisation window’ between two and eight weeks old. This isn’t always possible, but it’s worth asking.
The best way to introduce a kitten to a dog
For the first meeting, make sure the dog is calm and controlled. As a minimum, they should be on a lead, although you could make the initial introduction through the bars of a baby stair gate or dog crate to be absolutely sure the dog is restrained.
‘The dog mustn’t be allowed to treat the cat like another dog. Dog-to-dog play tends to be quite rough and vocal, but most cats won’t wish to play with a dog in that manner,’ explains Nick.
Keep the kitten free, watch their body language for signs of stress, and make sure they have escape routes, through a door or somewhere high up, so they can get away if they find the situation overwhelming.
Nick suggests finding a treat both animals find tasty, such as small pieces of chicken, to gradually lure them together. This lets you reward them for good behaviour and ensures they both have positive associations from their first meetings.
Keep the early encounters short, positive and frequent. Start with 5 minutes together, then build up to 10 and 15. ‘If we can create calm, controllable, positive experiences on the first few occasions, that sets the tone for the animals’ future relationship,’ says Nick.
Leaving a kitten and dog together
‘Never leave a kitten and dog together unsupervised until you feel entirely confident they can spend time together without any concerns while you’re around,’ says Nick. ‘There’s no set timeline or number of meetings – it all depends on the behaviour of the cat and dog and the relationship between them. Most owners will know when the time is right.’
One important consideration is the type of dog. Some breeds, such as terriers, Schnauzers and Dachshunds, have been raised over centuries to catch rats and other vermin. Others, including Beagles, Spaniels and Greyhounds, were traditionally used for catching rabbits and other small animals. A new kitten could trigger the hunting instinct in these breeds, so always supervise them carefully in the early days and be ultra-cautious about leaving them together, if you do so at all.
If the first meeting doesn’t go well
Sometimes, despite careful preparation, introducing a new kitten to the family dog doesn’t quite go to plan. Perhaps the dog paws or barks at the kitten, or the kitten hisses and swipes at the dog. ‘If things are getting a bit much, stop and try again the next day,’ suggests Nick.
‘Very occasionally the dog’s behaviour will give serious cause for concern and the owner will decide that the risks of introducing a cat to the home are too great. This outcome is thankfully rare but it’s worth bearing in mind that sometimes even a professional behaviourist will say: “I think you need to rethink your plans.”’
Eventually your cat and dog should settle into a consistent relationship. This could be the cat largely ignoring the dog, or even being bossy towards them. But, if you’re supportive (and lucky), you might one day find your kitten and dog grooming one another or sound asleep together – sure signs the pair are becoming firm friends.