Cat Aggression when Approached by a Dog

August 2019

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

Aggression towards a dog when approached can be a normal survival response. However, always take it seriously as it can lead to serious fights and injuries.

Pay attention to your cat's body language. If you don't know how your cat will respond to an approaching dog, pay close attention. Aggressive behavior towards an approaching 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, play, pain, and discomfort. 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, frightened and startle easily. They might try to run and hide, and the dog might be inclined to 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 the dog.

Even mild forms of aggression, when not properly addressed, can evolve into serious aggression. It is important to assess and tackle any change in your cat's interactions and behavior right away. Always 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 cats.

Always separate your cat and dog to prevent injury. Do not reach in between a fighting cat and a dog. Cats should be safely confined to their own separate areas. Use dividers or a baby gate for your cat to escape from the dog. Have multiple elevated areas for your cat available, so they can feel safe in the presence of the 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 the 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®.

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