When introducing a puppy to cat(s) already in the home, take it slow, new research suggests.

You can set your puppy up to be friends with your cat if you get the intro right
Photo: Gladskikh Tatiana/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd PhD

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If you’re bringing a puppy into a home with an existing cat it’s important to do gradual introductions, according to new research by Rachel Kinsman et al, published in Animals, that investigated the factors that lead to success.

Overall the results of the study are promising, even though only 7% of the puppies behaved in a completely desirable way in the presence of the cat. After all, puppies are still learning, so it’s no surprise that 93% showed some undesirable behaviours at least some of the time. But more than 25% of the puppies could be calm around the cat, and less than 2% showed signs of aggression such as growling at the cat. 

Desirable behaviour was defined as being calm, uninterested, or ignoring the cat. Undesirable behaviours were being fearful, aggressive, cautious, chasing the cat, being too excited, or playing with the cat; basically, anything that the cat might perceive as a threat. 

While chasing could be a play behaviour, it could also be a sign of the puppy’s developing predatory sequence, and it might be tricky for people to tell these apart. Plus, the cat might not appreciate being chased in play, either. Chasing would also become a more serious issue as the puppy gets older and therefore bigger. 

Another issue was that many people did not realize that if the cat was aggressive towards the puppy or hid from them, that could be because the cat was stressed.

The best outcomes were found when the pet guardian led the introduction between the puppy and the cat. Examples include using pet gates and ensuring cats have high up spaces where they can get away from the puppy, supervising interactions between them, keeping those interactions short, and rewarding the puppy’s good behaviour. 

Many people let the pets lead the introductions, for example letting the cat choose when they would meet. People in this category assumed that the cat would “put him in his place” if the puppy misbehaved. Of course it wasn’t a clear distinction; some people had a mix of some supervised and some pet-led introduction.  

40% of people made the introduction gradual, which is the recommendation for introducing a dog and cat.

People who took a guardian-led approach to the introductions were more likely to believe that cats and dogs can get along well—and they were more likely to have a puppy who showed only desirable behaviours around the cat. They were also more likely to have a puppy and cat who would sleep together and groom each other.

The research was part of a wider study called Generation Pup, which is following thousands of puppies from all breeds and mixes through their lifespan to learn more about how to give dogs happy and healthy lives. The scientists are still recruiting more pups to join, so if you are in the UK or Republic of Ireland and have a puppy under 12 weeks of age, you can find out more here.   

This particular piece of research involved several questionnaires completed between the puppy first joining the study and becoming 16 weeks old. Questionnaires were completed for over 1200 puppies who lived with at least one cat, and 97% of them had already met the cat.

These results show the importance of supervision, training, setting the house up right, and taking time over the introductions between a new puppy and a resident cat. The relationship between dogs and cats can be a friendly one if their guardians get things right.

If you liked this post, check out my books Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. Purr will be out in paperback in less than 2 weeks!

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 
Useful links:

Reference

Kinsman, R. H., Owczarczak-Garstecka, S. C., Casey, R. A., Da Costa, R. E., Tasker, S., & Murray, J. K. (2022). Introducing a Puppy to Existing Household Cat (s): Mixed Method Analysis. Animals, 12(18), 2389. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12182389

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