Five tips for introducing a reptile into a household with dogs and cats

Adding a new reptile to the family? Here’s a few steps you can take to ensure he gets along with your dogs and cats.

When you adopt a new reptile into your household, you are really adding a new member to the family. Part of making this transition means making sure everyone feels comfortable and safe. If you’re worried about how all your animals will get along, here are five practical tips to start them off on the right foot.

1. Give them their own space

Chances are, your dog and cat have their own favorite spots in the house to relax or play. Introduce them to your new lizard in a neutral part of the house to prevent territorial behavior.

You should keep this in mind when setting up your reptile tank too. Specifically, avoid placing the tank in the rooms where your dog and cat sleep or eat. These areas play a large role in the routine of your existing pets, so placing the tank here may create discomfort for them.

2. Don’t assume anything

No two pets are exactly the same, so the way you introduce them won’t follow a specific, step-by-step formula. The key here is to be open-minded. For example, never assume that all your critters will get along right off the bat. Just because you’ve heard that certain breeds are more tolerant of other animals, your pet may be an exception to the rule.

If you’ve had your current animal companions for months or years already, you probably have a good understanding of their personality. Take these traits into account, but be prepared for anything!

3. Identify stress behaviors

Even if your dog or cat’s personality is typically docile and friendly, there’s always a chance that the way he behaves towards your reptile won’t resemble the way he typically behaves around unfamiliar members of his own species.

Prepare for these common signs of aggression or stress:

  • Long gazes
  • Stiff muscles and body posture
  • Growling, snarling, or excessive barking

If you have never owned a reptile before, it’s important to familiarize yourself with common body language cues that they might exhibit as well. Some signs that reptiles like geckos and lizards are stressed or hostile include:

  • Hissing
  • Slowly waving its tail when your dog gets close
  • Dropping its tail. This only occurs under severe stress, and should be avoided at all costs.

4. Plan for multiple meetings

Even if the first meeting goes well, plan to reintroduce your pets a few more times. This way, you can account for any changes in the environment that could create changes in behavior. Some things to consider when reintroducing your pets include:

  • Will you introduce them in the same room, or a new one?
  • Will you allow kids or visitors to be a part of the meeting?
  • Will you keep them together for a longer period of time?

If the first meeting didn’t go well, try to avoid making any changes the second time around. Additionally, try not to make multiple changes at once so your pets don’t get overwhelmed.

5. Always supervise closely 

At least during their first dozen meetings, you need to supervise your pets the entire time. Be present and engaged in case a problem arises, and be ready to separate your pets when necessary.

Even when you feel comfortable leaving them alone, you should still supervise them from afar. Again, you must always be ready for something unexpected to happen, especially when you’ve made changes to their environment.

Even though there’s no perfect formula for introducing dogs and cats to a new reptile, following these pointers will greatly improve the odds that it will go well, and that your pets will form a lasting bond right from the start!


Johnathan David is the editor-in-chief at Everything Reptiles. He brings decades worth of herpetoculture experience caring for geckos, skinks and a frog.