- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Forget what you’ve seen in cartoons: any well-mannered dog can live with cats or kittens (and even be friends!), regardless of their breed. “It’s all about their training at home and overall temperament,” says Dr. Danny Sack, a veterinarian at Big Barker.
Our experts offer this essential advice to introduce kittens to dogs: Be patient, take things slow, and always put safety first. It could take several weeks or even months for your pets to learn how to interact with each other. Start by separating your pets. Then, introduce them through scent, followed by sight, and, eventually, a face-to-face hello. Every pet is unique, so be flexible in your timing and approach.
Follow our step-by-step guide for introducing your kitten to your dog, starting with important canine training and house preparations before bringing your new kitten home.
What Do You Need Before Your Kitten Comes Home? A Pre-Introduction Checklist
Introducing a kitten to your dog is different for each pair, but we’re here to help. Here are the most important things to do before bringing your new kitten home. A little prep will go a long way in making this introduction a smooth one.
1. Buy kitten & puppy essentials
During the first 24-48 hours after bringing your new kitten home, keep them in a quiet room away from other pets and people. This will give them time to adjust to their new surroundings and feel safe.
Your new kitten checklist should include:
- Pet carrier
- Kitten food
- Food and water bowls (or cat water fountain)
- Cat bed
- Litter box and litter
- Grooming supplies
- Cat-safe toothbrush and toothpaste
- Scratching posts, cat trees, and perches
- Pet insurance
After three to four days of settling in, most kittens are ready for gradual introductions to their new pup sibling. However, before starting the introduction process, ensure you have these safety supplies on hand:
- A dog crate, kitten playpen, and/or baby gate to keep your pets physically separate during the first meetings.
- A basket muzzle. Quandt highly recommends acclimating your dog before meeting your new kitten.
- A fixed-length dog leash (not a retractable leash!) to provide more control during the interaction.
- Plenty of dog and kitten treats to reward your pets for positive or calm behaviors.
2. Choose a vet & schedule your kitten’s first appointment
Kittens should visit their vet about every 3-4 weeks during their first months at home. It’s during these first vet visits that your kitten will receive essential vaccines, which allow them to safely socialize with other animals.
Kittens are also prone to intestinal parasites, ear mites, ringworms, and fleas. These can all be passed to a healthy pup. Checking in with your vet before introductions can help prevent the spread of these pesky parasites and other illnesses.
3. Prepare your dog
Even well-trained dogs can accidentally hurt a kitten, even if they’re just playing. By getting the right training supplies and perfecting your pup’s manners, you can help foster a safe and positive relationship between your kitten and dog.
Introducing a Kitten & Dog: First Steps
Kittens may appear fearless, but a dog’s excitement could scare them. Plus, their small size also makes them vulnerable to being mistaken for prey by a well-intentioned dog. Pet parents, especially those with high-prey-drive dogs, need to take steps to minimize the risk of their kittens getting hurt.
“A slow, gradual interaction is important so that behaviors that can result in injury are stopped before they progress,” says Dr. Sack. It may take anywhere from two weeks to months for your kitten and dog to learn how to safely interact with each other.
Familiarize your kitten and dog with each others’ scents
Help your cat and dog learn about each other and reduce stress when they finally meet by introducing them through scent before sight or touch.
- Exchange items like beds and toys. These are the items your pets use the most and are likely to smell like them.
- Feed on opposite sides of a closed door. This will help them associate each other’s scents with positive things, like food.
- Swap spaces. Let your kitten explore the area where your dog spends most of their time and vice versa.
Introduce them by sight
Once your pets are used to each other’s scents, it’s time for a sight meeting. Separate your pets using a crate, playpen, or doggy gate. Let them observe each other from a distance, with your dog on a leash if they’re not secured in a crate. Calming pheromones may help keep both animals relaxed.
“Is your dog curious, stressed, playful, upset, excited, or aggressive?” Quandt asks. Based on their reaction, you’ll be able to gauge how slowly you’ll need to take the intros.
Look out for these tall-tail signs of aggression, fear, or stress in your pets:
- Lip licking (dogs)
- Tucked tail (dogs and cats)
- Flattened ears (cats and dogs)
- Yawning (dogs)
- Looking away from the kitten (dogs)
- Hair on end (cats and dogs) and an arched back (cats)
If your dog seems curious or playful but calm and well-behaved each time they see your kitten, you can move to the next step of introducing them in a controlled environment. However, if your dog seems stressed or upset, continue introducing them by smell and sight only, rewarding each pet for positive, calm behaviors. You may also want to consult with a professional animal behaviorist if progress is minimal.
Introducing a Kitten & Dog: Face-to-Face Interactions
Before moving ahead, take a moment to reflect: Have you introduced your kitten and dog to each other through multiple short sessions? Has your dog consistently avoided undesired behaviors, such as lunging, growling, barking, or intense staring at the kitten? If the answer is yes, then it’s finally time to move on to a face-to-face play introduction.
Our experts say to put the following plan into place:
- Trim your kitten’s nails. Getting scratched could lead to a negative reaction.
- Choose a neutral area of the house. Interactions near your dog’s bed, food bowl, and other personal areas could lead to resource guarding.
- Keep your kitten’s escape routes nearby. Your kitten’s carrier, favorite box, or cat tree should be within reach. This will give them a place to retreat if they feel overwhelmed.
- Keep your dog on a fixed-length leash. If your dog remains calm, you can gradually move them closer to your kitten.
- Use positive reinforcement rather than punishment. If your dog shows any signs of over-excitement or aggression, redirect their attention or calmly separate them. For example, if your dog is barking at the kitten, try redirecting their attention to a toy instead.
- Keep interactions short and supervised. Gradually increase the amount of time your dog and kitten spend together. Even after you trust them to be alone together (which could take weeks!), it’s a good idea to check in on them regularly. When you leave the house, consider keeping your pets in separate spaces.
When Should You Separate a Dog & Kitten?
Keep the first introductions brief, ending the interactions while they’re still positive. Sack says if the initial interaction is stressful, separate them for a day or two before reintroducing them again.
If you’re struggling to introduce your kitten and dog, or if they’re having trouble getting along, it’s always a good idea to consult with a qualified animal behaviorist or trainer. They can help you identify any underlying problems and develop a personalized plan to address them.
Keeping Things Friendly as Your Pets Age
To keep your dog and kitten friendly as they age, don’t ignore your dog once the introduction is complete and you’re sure they can safely occupy the same space. Give your dog attention, play, and treats as usual, and divide your attention fairly between your pets. Cats and dogs don’t always play the same way, so be sure to play with each pet individually. Also, make sure your cat has safe spaces where your dog can’t reach them. This includes placing their litter box and food out of your dog’s reach.
The bottom line: Cats and dogs can live together harmoniously, even if they don’t always interact. Some cats and dogs may become best friends, even choosing to sleep together. Others may simply tolerate each other. It all depends on your pets’ personalities!