August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

Fear of a dog in the same household can be a symptom of an underlying problem. Always take it seriously. Fear is a natural survival instinct and can lead to hiding, freezing or even fights. If you notice any signs of fear or stress in your cat, address it immediately as this impact on their welfare.

Even mild forms of fear, when not properly addressed, can evolve into serious anxiety related issues. It is important to assess the cat's interactions or lack thereof with the dog. To address fear, work with a professional who looks at the context in which it happens. Never use punishment as a training technique. It will not work and will only hurt your relationship with your cat.

Pay attention to your cat's body language. Fear behavior towards a household dog can be seen in cats of any breed, size, age, or gender. What might start as fear can also quickly turn to aggression. A fearful cat may exhibit dilated pupils, ears turning back, or a twitching tail. In this situation, your cat may growl, hiss or swat at the dog. Your cat may appear nervous and frightened and startle easily, trying to run and hide. At the same time, the dog might be inclined to chase your cat and makes it worse.

Always separate your cat and the dog to prevent further stress. Give your cat a place to escape where your dog will not be able to follow or chase the cat. Have multiple elevated areas for your cat available, so they can feel safe in the presence of your dog. Watch their interactions closely when they are together. Only allow them in the same area if your cat does not exhibit signs of serious fear. Keep your dog on a leash to have more control. Introduction can take a long time. Some cat-to-dog introductions go very smoothly. Others may take weeks or months before your cat and your dog learn to co-exist with each other. The best thing to do is to go as slowly as necessary - don't rush the introduction. You are working towards a positive long-term relationship; being patient will pay off!

This document created by the San Francisco SPCA with a grant from Maddie's Fund®.