How To Introduce A Kitten To Your Dog

Popular culture would have us separated into dog people and cat people, but the reality for many of us is that we love both. And while there are some breeds of dogs that as a rule do not tolerate cats very well, most dogs, if introduced properly, can become friends with a cat.

In general, the hunting dog breeds (not the retrievers) such as terriers should be kept away from cats, as the cat’s quick movements might trigger a chase and attack. Also, hounds love to chase and cats won’t appreciate that at all. Plus, the herding breeds, such as Australian shepherds are always trying to round everyone up, including any household cats, and most cats don’t like that either.

It’s important to prepare your house and your dog for the kitten even before you bring her home. Make sure you have a place such as another room that the cat can have to herself and that is dog free. This area should have her water and food, her bed and her litter tray. Also, there should be plenty of places where your kitten can go besides this room should she want to retreat from the dog.

Ideally, your dog should be crate trained before you bring a kittin into the household, as it just makes things a lot easier. When you first bring your kitten home, you will want to keep her completely separated from you dog so she can have time to get to know her new environment and get ccmfortable walking around the house. This may take a few days or even a few weeks before your kitten gains enough confidence and has also become bonded to you.

After your kitten is through this transition phase and is comfortable around the house, put your dog in a room with their bed, water, food and a favorite toy or two. Then let the kitten explore the house, wiithout letting the dog out of the room, so she can get familiar with the dog’s scent. The idea is to let both the kitten and the dog, at separate times, have access to the entire house without having to confront one another. 

Now you can work on actually introducing your dog to the kitten. Take your dog for a walk or for a backyard fetch session so he is tired and calm, then have him go to his crate with a distracting toy. Bring the kitten into the room and just play with her, without forcing any interaction at all between the dog and the cat. Just let them be in the same room.

Once both the dog and kitten are relaxed around one another, you can bring your dog out of the crate on a leash. It’s helpful to have another person with you so both the kitten and your dog can be rewarded and praised together for calm behavior. You will want to keep these sessions short and do them several times a day. If your dog gets over excited at any time during these sessions, remove him from the room.

Allow your kitten to lead the way by choosing whether to approach your dog or not. It’s a good idea to have something like a large sofa cushion to place between the two animals if things get out of hand. This will likely take several weeks of on leash interactions before you can progress to off leash.

Of course, all of these sessions must be very closely supervised. Do not use punishment with your dog or cat for aggressive behavior as this will just reinforce the behavior. Instead, simply separate the two and try again later. 

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By Ellen Britt

Dr. Ellen Britt has loved dogs since she was a child. She is particularly fond of the Northern breeds, especially Alaskan Malamutes. Ellen worked as a PA in Emergency and Occupational Medicine for two decades and holds a doctorate (Ed.D.) in biology.

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