How can I get my cat to like dogs?
September 16, 2016 8:35 AM   Subscribe

I would like to get a dog sometime in the next few years. My cat does not like dogs. I don’t want to adopt a dog and realize later that she’ll never come around. Is there a way I can acclimate her to dogs now, before I own one?

This is Leia. Overall she is an exceptionally chill and well-behaved cat – bizarrely so considering that she turned up on our doorstep as a stray at a young age. She’s friendly toward strange humans, has never scratched or hissed at the vet, and even lets me bathe her (vocalizing mournfully the whole time). She’s about five years old.

When approached by a dog, her normal reaction is to display a facial expression I can only describe as horrified disgust – the way a human would look if approached by a giant cockroach – and quickly leave the area. She doesn’t behave aggressively toward them, and she only panics and bolts if she feels really cornered and can’t get away before the dog’s too close. She has done this as long as we’ve known her. She has never shown any obvious reaction to the smell or sound of dogs, only their actual visible presence. A neighbor did once claim that Leia was friendly toward her beagle, but I never observed this and, as we have since moved away, it’s impossible to verify.

Not long ago, we dog-sat some friends’ two pugs for a weekend. These are about the most nonthreatening dogs imaginable. Obviously we maintained a dog-free room for Leia, and she was more than happy to stay there for the whole weekend. In a calm moment, I once picked her up and brought her out to meet them. She tolerated this, even when they came over and sniffed her, but was clearly quite uncomfortable and left as soon as I allowed her to. She's not terribly food-motivated as pets go, and showed little interest in even her favorite treats in the pugs' presence. Overall she dealt with the stressful situation fine, but she obviously didn’t like it and showed no signs of warming up to the dogs over time.

So this isn’t very extreme behavior as dog-hating cats go – still, she isn’t happy with dogs in her territory, and I wouldn’t want to condemn her to sharing a house with what she clearly thinks is a monster full-time.

We are pug-sitting again this weekend. Can we use this time to help acclimate her to dogs? Is there anything else I can do to improve her attitude toward dogs before I adopt one?
posted by waffleriot to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Please stop stressing your cat out by dog-sitting.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:40 AM on September 16, 2016 [8 favorites]

Unfortunately I do not think any amount of acclimation will work. The problem is not that Leia is not used to dogs. It's that she doesn't like them, and it is unlikely she will ever like them. Cats, though they have preferences and personalities and emotions, do not have reason and the situation can't be rationalized. That is a predator. This is a normal reaction, and you cant take it away. Thankfully she is with the disposition that she is not violent, but she obviously does not feel safe and should not be kept around dogs.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:46 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't force your cat to interact with the dogs again. Just let everybody chill and keep giving her her own space to stay in or retreat to. Over time and without forcing anything, she may get used to having a dog around or she may continue to hate dogs and be miserable and pee all over your things. Cats are weird. I don't think there's a good answer to this because of that.
posted by BooneTheCowboyToy at 8:50 AM on September 16, 2016

I don't think I see a problem here. Leia seems pretty well adjusted. You're doing the right thing to have a place she can go to, and somewhere "up" that she can escape to in most rooms wouldn't hurt either. I have two cats and a dog, and they all do their own thing. They have their own separate spaces and really only converge to settle on the couch with us at night. When we brought our new dog home, we had to put the younger cat on an anti anxiety medicine for about a month. You rubbed it into his ear. By then he had decided the new normal was okay and not stressing about the dog was fine. They play wrestle now. I think the big thing is to not rush it. I would say it took about three months for them to sort themselves out and achieve a new normal. A weekend isn't long enough. Good luck!
posted by Bistyfrass at 8:50 AM on September 16, 2016 [14 favorites]

I think dog-sitting is the perfect way to acclimate your cat to dogs. I also think that you're pretty much doing the right things (dog free space, etc.). I would avoid forcing things (I once picked her up and brought her out to meet them) though.

TBH, your cat's reaction to dogs seems like exactly what I would expect any cat's initial reaction to dogs to be. If you google "introducting new dog to cat," you will find a wealth of information about how to make the introduction, but the main gist of it is: Give your cat time to deal with the new smelly thing in the house on her own terms.

If the dog(s) are the chasey type, keep them controlled (leashed, gated, etc.) so they can't run after the cat, but otherwise, as long as the cat has escape routes, just let her use them. Eventually, once she realizes that the new smelly thing has no wish to eat her, she'll probably be curious enough to start doing some sniffing herself.

When you are looking for a forever dog for yourself, it will be important to find one who doesn't have a strong prey-drive. I'd avoid shelter dogs with unknown histories, and look for rescues that have been fostered in houses with cats. A responsible rescue organization will make sure that you get a dog who will play nicely with your existing cat.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:51 AM on September 16, 2016 [9 favorites]

My cat doesn't like dogs or strangers, but she loved the dog she grew up with, a shy sensitive chow-shepherd mutt who passed away last year.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:51 AM on September 16, 2016

"Tolerate" is a whole lot better of a starting place than most cat owners get. I think you're fine, as long as you get a dog on the calmer side.
posted by supercres at 9:00 AM on September 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

I literally just went through this. I have 2 male cats, about 3 years old, that had only ever seen a dog at the vet (which caused them to both hiss and spit and make noises I had never heard come out of my docile boys). A friend came to stay about a month ago with a cat-friendly, very large doberman. The stages we've been through went roughly like this:

Week 1: Cats freak out and hide upstairs 100% of the time, while the dog mainly stayed downstairs.
Week 2: Cats venture downstairs, but Cat A would puff up and run away if the dog so much as moved, Cat B would growl and hiss at the dog before running away.
Week 3: Cat B would chill on the sofa while the dog was around, but would growl if she approached him. Cat A would come downstairs but only if he could get to the highest point on his tree and chill up there.
Week 4: Literally everyone is co-existing fine. Cat A is suddenly curious about the large dog and will approach/sniff her. Cat B will still occasionally growl but seems otherwise oblivious to the dog.

I was lucky in that the dog had lived with cats and had no desire to chase or otherwise pester them beyond the occasional butt sniff. I also have a large house and plenty of places for the cats to get away and relax. However, I'm still amazed that everyone is now living together peacefully and I'm comfortable letting everyone do their own thing even unsupervised. YMMV, of course, but I wouldn't lose hope of ever owning a dog. I think it can be done under the right circumstances.
posted by tryniti at 9:19 AM on September 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

I keep my cats and dogs separate. They do not get along at all. That's fine, I've learned my lesson there.

We had dogs and cats together for many years. One day one of the dogs turned and killed one of the cats right if front of us. They had lived together over a decade, since they were tiny. Then I read hundreds of stories on the internet just like this. Now I don't feel like it's fair to make the cats think they are safe when they may not be. They stay separated.
posted by bongo_x at 9:37 AM on September 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

As one who owns cats and dogs (dogs first), I'll say that I got some non-trivial scratches being silly (ok, stupid) enough to carry my cat around the dogs when we first tried doing intoductions. The fact that your cat was willing to chill at all is a pretty good sign of future aclimation.

Currently we're up to 4 cats, and the two dogs who were initially here, sadly are no longer. Our current dog (collie/lab cross) is more cat-interested than the other two (one of whom quite literally may have had a psychlogical blind spot to cats - did not appear to see cats or capable of acknowledging them). The first cat that that I mentioned scratching the piss out of me trying to get away from the dogs is amazingly chill about the collie running up and sniffing her. She'll give an annoyed look, but will usually stand/sit her ground around him. She feels safe enough to play-swat at him sometimes if she's on a surface that makes swiping down at him convienent as he walks by.

Heck, most cats don't seem to get along with most other cats at first introduction. Especially if there's some dog-free space in the house (we have the top floor gated for no-dogs), it's likely only a matter of time (weeks, not hours or a weekend), so long as the dog can get along with cats. A dog that's super interested to try and herd isn't recommended (sigh at self).
posted by nobeagle at 9:43 AM on September 16, 2016

A weekend is not enough time for a cat to get used to anything, much less a dog.

My friends have cats that finally got used to a dog in the household after about a year. It took a lot of the cats calmly observing the dog from a safe position of the cats' own choosing (up high in a cat tower, from the top of a bookshelf, counter, or table, etc). There were a few incidents where the dog tried to be playful and got smacked around by a cat, but both dog and cat quickly learned to avoid those situations. The cats and dog are not friendly and generally ignore each other, but they tolerate each others' presence just fine now.

My friends never forced interaction. On the contrary, they made sure the animals could leave each other alone easily (dog and cats fed in separate rooms, cat food in bowls up high that cats could get to but dog could not, additions of cat towers and series of shelves that cats could occupy, catbox in place it was not possible for dog to get into, etc).
posted by erst at 10:25 AM on September 16, 2016

I would have been so incredibly thankful for the totally chill reaction you got out of her when you introduced her to the pugs; when we brought our dog home, the cats stalked him and smacked him in the face whenever they could. Lots of hissing, lots of growling (cats, not dog). Thankfully our dog never, ever reacted in any other way except trying to leap into my arms. Several years later and they're all good friends and snuggle together regularly.

It really seems like Leia could be a good candidate for a dog "sibling" as long as the dog in question isn't super hyper or a herding type. She reacted quite well, in my opinion, with the pugs. Indifference is so, so different from dislike.
posted by cooker girl at 10:34 AM on September 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

Even if your cat becomes acclimated to these pugs, that's no guarantee that she'll be ok with just any dog. I have a dog-hating cat (he actually attacked an uninvited visiting dog and scratched its eye... like the surface of the eye...), but when we got a dog we spent weeks slowly acclimating him by separating the room with a fence thing and feeding them on separate sides, and generally letting the cat control where he was at all times... and eventually he came to accept the dog enough to let her groom him every morning, and he even groomed her at times.

Even after all that, he hated all other dogs, and when the same (family member's) uninvited dog came over (for the last time), he attacked it again.
posted by Huck500 at 11:04 AM on September 16, 2016

There's not much point acclimating her to dogs she won't end up living with anyway- individual dogs are different and she'll have to form a relationship with whatever dog you get. It sounds like she'll be ok with a dog eventually- maybe not best buds, but able to co-exist.

When you decide to get a dog, consider getting a submissive puppy, so the cat can be dominant as the dog learns the pecking order of the house. Or get a very calm, submissive, perhaps small, adult dog from a breed with a low prey drive, and to go one step further, try to find a dog whose previous owners can assure you it's never killed an animal (some low-prey drive breeds can end up having rather high prey drives based on how they're raised- for instance my friend's lab was trained to hunt, and while labs are usually pretty chill, that partcular lab has gleefully run down and killed several squirrels and ducks; I would never let her anywhere near my cat).

When it's time to get the dog, research how to make sure the house has a pack order that's favourable to cat, and how to deter the dog from any aggressive behaviour towards cat. Make sure cat has good sharp claws, and lots of safe rooms, gates, and high places so she can retreat as needed, and segregate them when you're not home until you're 100% sure they'll be safe together.

On preview- holy crap just read the comment above about the dog who turned and killed the cat. Yikes. I dunno what to say after reading that.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:12 PM on September 16, 2016

I think your cat might actually like dogs, relative to how I see other cats react around dogs.
posted by samthemander at 12:16 PM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I do though have one dog now that I let with the cats, in theory. In reality they are rarely in the same room as she wants nothing to do with them and will leave if they come in. She also wouldn't confront a rodent if it were biting her in the face so it's a special circumstance.

The cat killing was one of the most shocking things that's ever happened to me, and I've seen a few.
posted by bongo_x at 12:21 PM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Cats and Dogs living together can be complicated. Layout and space are important.
posted by ovvl at 7:59 PM on September 16, 2016

We had four cats , including two former feral cats, when we brought home a husky puppy. The cats made short work of informing the pup which species was in charge (with no bloodshed involved). (pup meeting the in charge elder cat, Whitty). 7 years later, pup with her friend, Clyde. Clyde still hides from most humans and is about as neurotic as a cat can be, but he and the husky get along just fine.

Your cat sounds like it might do just fine with a dog. As mentioned above, make sure there are places to escape to that the dog can't access and be patient. Also, quickly teaching the pup a "leave it!" command was important. It might take a while but they can learn to at least live in the same space, even if they aren't best friends.

I still believe that bringing the dog into the house as a puppy was a huge part of the success we had.
posted by HuronBob at 3:08 AM on September 17, 2016

I had this great cat, a good sized white cat with yellow eyes, a really cool guy. I named him, of course, White Cat.

I'd always wanted a red doberman, and damned if I didn't get one given to me -- the woman who owned her was coming unraveled at every seam, she needed the dog gone NOW, and I said "You bet!" and brought Rusty, The Wonder Dog home. Along with five of her puppies. White Cat like to flipped the fuck out. I fast found the puppies fine homes, but still, here's White Cat, now sharing his space with Rusty, The Wonder Dog.

White cat was Not Happy, there at the first. They never fought, but there was often tension -- Rusty would be walking by White Cat and then with blazing speed thrust her nose right into White Cat's face, for fun. Every now and again there'd be a "YELP!" as White Cat got a claw or two into Rusty's nose. That continued the whole way through, just testing one another, having some fun. A cold war, so to speak.

Ended up though that they slept wrapped up in each others arms; Rusty would plop down, White Cat would come over and join her, they slept like babes, swaddled in one anothers warmth. If/when it was cold, I'd put a blanket over them, which they loved loved loved. They were good friends. They'd still fuck with one another, some, but then, I still fuck with my friends some, also, for the fun that's in it, keep things moving, to keep things interesting.

So you know what I'm going to say -- get the dog. Let them learn about one another. Obviously, if it's totally a horrible fit, they you'll have to find the pooch another home. But I've seen it work out really well.

Good luck!
posted by dancestoblue at 3:45 AM on September 17, 2016

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