Aggression towards a dog when disturbed while sleeping can be a normal startle or even a survival response. However, always take any aggressive episodes seriously. Being surprised or disturbed by a familiar or unfamiliar dog can lead to aggression and serious fights. If you notice any aggressive or stress signs in your cat, address it immediately.
Pay attention to your cat's body language. If you don't know how your cat will respond when disturbed while resting or sleeping, pay close attention to how easily your cat startles. Aggressive behavior when startled or surprised while resting can be seen in cats of any breed, size, age, or gender. The most common reason for aggression is fear and in defense, but it could also due to pain or 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 when awake and try to run and hide in the presence of the dog. 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 or fear and anxiety. Assess and tackle any change in your cat and dog's 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 cats.
Always give your cat a safe place to rest where your dog does not have access. Safely confine your cat to its own separate area. Use dividers or a baby gate to limit access for your dog so that your cat can rest and sleep undisturbed. Make multiple elevated areas available for your cat, so they can rest safe in the presence of your dog. 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®.