How to Prevent Fights Between Cats and Dogs
Beagle and kitten in harmony - Photo by Claudio Matsuoka (Flickr)
Research conducted by Terkel and Feuerstein of Tel Aviv University in 2008 has shown that the majority of cats and dogs become good friends multi-pet households, or at least learn to live together peaceably. In fact, the researchers found that cats and dogs were openly hostile and aggressive to one another in just 10% of homes that had both.
Why Cats and Dogs Fight
When dogs attack cats, it’s usually an expression of territorial or predatory aggression. Dogsthat have not grown up with cats may view them as prey, and they are more likely to victimize timid cats that behave like prey animals, running away at the slightest threat. A dog may also attack a new cat if he feels that he’s losing status with the new arrival.
When cats attack dogs, the aggression may be defensive (a fearful pre-emptive strike), predatory (in the case of a small, timid dog), territorial (the dog is using the cat’s food bowls, sleeping in his bed, etc.), or misdirected (
for example, the cat attacks the dog because he’s angry at an animal he can see through a window but can’t reach). A cat may also playfully attack a wiggling dog tail.
Sometimes cats and dogs fight after a dominant pet in a multi-pet household dies because the remaining pets are stressed out and unsure of their positions within the hierarchy.
How to Prevent Aggression Between Cats and Dogs
There are a number of things that you can do to reduce the risk of fights between cats and dogs:
- If adopting a new dog, choose a dog with prior (positive) cat experience or a young puppy (when adopting an adult dog, ask shelter workers if he’s been tested with cats).
- If bringing home a new cat, choose an adult cat that has lived with dogs in the past or has proven to be dog-friendly at the shelter, or a young kitten.
- When choosing a new pet, try to match personality styles; pairing up a nervous, timid pet with a bold, rambunctious pet is usually a recipe for disaster.
- Introduce new pets slowly, orchestrating brief, positive, supervised encounters until the animals are comfortable with one another (keep the dog leashed or behind a baby gate so that the pets can sniff one another without the risk of fights, and reward them with treats, affection, or praise when they’re in the room together to create a positive association).
- Provide each pet with his own bed, food bowls, and toys to decrease the likelihood of territorial squabbles.
- Feed pets in separate areas of the house.
- Spay or neuter all pets to reduce aggressiveness.
- Bring the dog in for obedience training.
- Keep the cat’s litter box in a place inaccessible to the dog (the dog may bother the cat while he’s using the box, and many dogs also develop the bad habit of snacking on litter box contents).
- Try using calming pheromone products such as Feliway for cats and Dog Appeasing Pheremone (D.A.P.).
- Say “no” calmly but firmly whenever the pet that is bullying the other is eyeing the victim in an aggressive manner.
- If the cat is the aggressor, put a bell on his collar so that the dog will have advance warning of his approach.
- Provide safe spaces to which the cat can escape, such as high cat trees or kitty condos and tunnels that are too small for the dog to enter.
- Reward pets with praise, affection, or treats whenever they behave calmly around one another.
- If the cat is engaging in playful aggression, attach a cat toy on a string to the dog’s collar to redirect the cat’s aggression toward the toy and break the habit of attacking the dog’s tail (supervise pets during this playtime and remove the toy when you aren’t there to watch over the situation).
If the dog has a strong chase reflex, keep him leashed around the cat and reward him with treats or praise when he stays still in the presence of the cat. Keep this up for at least a couple of weeks and don’t let the dog off leash near the cat until you’re sure that he can control himself. Reinforce his good behaviour with treats or praise in the presence of the cat from time to time even after he’s able to control himself off leash.
Cats and dogs will usually become friends, or at least tolerate one another. However, if one pet is particularly aggressive or nervous, the situation can be more difficult. In extreme cases you can:
- Use baby gates or some other type of barrier to create a safe area for the victim (sometimes this only needs to be done temporarily, until the victim-aggressor association is broken, though in serious cases it may have to be a permanent feature.
- Use baby gates or some other type of barrier to create a safe area for the victim (sometimes this only needs to be done temporarily, until the victim-aggressor association is broken, though in serious cases it may have to be a permanent feature).
- Keep the dog muzzled in the presence of the cat.
- Purchase an electronic pet door that opens in response to either the cat’s or dog’s collar only (whichever pet is being bullied) so that the victim can escape harassment.
How to Break up Fights Between Cats and Dogs
Dogs and cats can seriously injure one another if allowed to fight, but breaking up fights can be dangerous. The following are some relatively low-risk ways to break up cat and dog fights:
- Grab the dog’s back legs and pull him backwards (keep moving backwards and don’t let go until you’re sure that he’s calmed down).
- Separate the fighters with a broom or some other long object that enables you to keep out of the line of fire.
- Put an oven mitt on to protect your hand and place a barrier such as a pillow or cookie sheet between the fighters.
- Throw water over the combatants.
- Make a loud noise (i.e., drop a heavy book or bang pots or pans together).
- If both pets are small, throw a thick blanket or towel over one or both of them (this can also be used to carry an angry pet out of the room).
When breaking up fights, don’t grab collars because angry or terrified pets may whip around and bite you. Also, never yell, as human shouting can increase aggression in animals. Punishing pets by scolding or hitting is also a bad idea because it usually increases aggression in the future.
Once you’ve broken up the fight, you can punish the aggressor (or both pets if they were equal participants) by ignoring the guilty party or parties for a while. This not only enables you to show your annoyance with the behaviour, but also ensures that you don’t reward it with
- Johnson-Bennett, P. (2000). Think Like a Cat: How to Raise a Well-Adusted Cat—Not a Sour Puss. New York: Penguin Group.
- Saunders, K. (2009). The Adopted Dog Bible: Your One-Stop Resource for Choosing, Training, and Caring for Your Sheltered or Rescued Dog. New York: The Stonesong Press
- Shojai, Amy D. (2005). PETiQuette: Solving Behavior Problems in Your Multi-Pet Household. New York: M. Evans and Company, Inc.
- Tel Aviv University (9 September 2008). “Dogs and Cats Can Live in Perfect Harmony in the Home, if Introduced the Right Way.” ScienceDaily.com