August 2019

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

Aggression towards a dog in the same household can be a symptom of an underlying problem. Always take it seriously. Even mild forms of aggression, when not properly addressed, can evolve into serious aggression. Assess and tackle any change in your cats' interactions and behavior right away. To address aggression, work with a professional who can look 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. Aggressive behavior towards a household 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 include fear, defense, territorial, redirected, status, play, pain, and discomfort. What might start as play between a cat and a dog can 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 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 their tail may be up or down with fur standing on end. Commonly, cats swat at dogs' faces and can cause serious injuries to the face or the eyes of your dog.

Always separate your cat and dog to prevent injury. Do not reach in between a fighting cat and a dog. Safely confine your cat to its own separate area. Use dividers or a baby gate for your cat to be able to escape from your dog. Have multiple elevated areas available, so your cat 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 they do not exhibit the signs of serious aggression listed above. Keep your dog on a leash to have more control. If you must separate your dog and cat to prevent serious fighting, take time to re-introduce them. Make sure the dog approaches your cat slowly, or even better, let cats choose if they want to interact. Some cat-to-dog introductions go very smoothly. Others may take weeks or months before your cat and dog 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®.