August 2019

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

Aggression toward a new dog can lead to serious injuries to the dog, but also to the cat and should always be taken seriously.

Pay close attention to your cat's body language when introducing or meeting a dog. Aggressive behavior towards a new dog can be seen in cats of any breed, size, age, or gender. It can stem from many different types of stressors. The most common includes fear; but defense, territorial, redirected, play, pain, and discomfort could cause aggression towards a new dog. 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 your dog. Your cat may appear nervous, frightened and startle easily. They may try to run and hide but your dog might chase your cat. This can make the situation worse. A more offensive aggressive cat may have their ears back, constricted pupils, and the tail may be up or down with fur standing on end and move towards the dog. Commonly, cats swat at dogs' faces when they come in close contact. This can cause serious injuries to the face or the eyes of the dog and may lead to serious bite injuries to your cat.

Do not introduce an aggressive cat to a new dog without a solid detailed plan. Always separate your cat and your dog to prevent injury.

When you allow visitor dogs to the home with a cat, safely confine your cat to their own separate area. Alternatively, use dividers or a baby gates to allow your cat to escape and the dog not be able to follow or chase the cat. Provide your cat with multiple elevated areas so they can feel safe in the presence of a dog. Watch any interactions closely and only allow them in the same area if they do not exhibit signs of stress or aggression. The dog can be kept on a leash for more control. Some cat-to-dog introductions go very smoothly, others may take weeks or months before the cat and the dog learn to accept each other. The best thing to do is to go as slowly as necessary-don't rush the introduction, if you are working towards a positive long-term relationship; being patient will pay off!

Even mild forms of aggression, when not properly addressed, can evolve into serious aggression. Always 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 cats.

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