How to handle cat aggression against my dogs?
September 20, 2021 8:14 PM   Subscribe

How do I keep an angry cat from starting fights with my dogs?

We have had Fred and George since they were kittens and they are now about 13 years old, and other Fred being overweight, in reasonably good health. About 3 years ago, we introduced Rosie, an English Bulldog, to our pack. They mostly ignored her. At the beginning of the pandemic, we added another dog, Truman.

For the last few months, there has been a lot of trouble between Fred and the dogs. Sometimes, it seems like it’s territorial encroachment (one of the dogs will inadvertently get into Fred’s way), Fred swats, hisses, and one of the dogs (most often Rosie) will fight back. Other times, Fred seems like he is hunting and stalking the dogs, then attacks. Recently, these seemingly unprovoked attacks have increased in frequency. Over the weekend, Fred was jumping to the place where his food was, and missed… saw Rosie about 10 feet away, literally not doing anything, and he ran up and attacked her. The injuries from this usually mean scratches and a little blood, so far no eye injuries. But it’s scary to try to intervene.

Notably, George has been a little more hissy at Fred lately. Both cats have had normal eating habits, normal urinary output.

We have a large house, with an upstairs where the dogs are not allowed. The cats have ample escape routes and a large cat tree in the living room. Their food and water are in an area that is set apart from all of the other activities in the house, as are the litter boxes. We have Feliway diffusers set up all along the lower level. Fred has also been fitted with a pheromone collar.

I’ve never been willing to consider declawing of any kind because I don’t believe it will help - I think Fred will just feel defenseless and just bite instead… and also runs the risk of him peeing on things in retaliation. I would be willing to try medication. I am working on getting Fred into the vet to see what our options are.

I am the “person” for both of these cats. Wherever I go is where all of the animals will tend to congregate; this includes upstairs for the cats. We have tried to modify our own behaviors so that I am not in a small space with my husband, both cats, and both dogs, as this almost always ends in a fight.

Is there anything else that I can try independent of the vet?
posted by honeybee413 to Pets & Animals (15 answers total)
Can you divide your living space at all? We have three cats and one of them is violent towards the other two. So we keep the master bedroom and bath shut to divide the house into two living spaces, 24/7. It's not ideal but everyone stays safe.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:52 PM on September 20, 2021

Maybe cat nail caps?
posted by oceano at 10:07 PM on September 20, 2021

A cat that acts out aggressively suddenly is often dealing with a painful health problem that it is trying to hide. Rather than putting the cat up for adoption(!? wtf why the cat and not the dog?) I recommend a vet checkup, particularly because this is new behavior that seems to be escalating. Something is up with Fred that he feels threatened by.

Until then, have you tried Feliway? Some cats (very rare) haaaate it, but more often it chills them out enough that behavioral issues caused only by emotional outbursts, without underlying physical causes, will go away after a week or so of the plugin... Start with the spray in the rooms where space is most contested, it's weaker but it's also cheaper.
posted by Grim Fridge at 11:24 PM on September 20, 2021 [8 favorites]

I'd see the vet, and also make sure you're playing enough with the cats. It sounds like Fred has a lot of energy and desire to hunt- you mentioned you had a cat tree, and I assume these are indoor cats, but there's no substitute for play.
posted by Braeburn at 11:45 PM on September 20, 2021 [5 favorites]

Offhand the cats I've met with this behaviour appearing (as opposed to being a part of their personality) were dealing with onsets of: arthritis, cancer, neurological badness including poor vision, allergy flareup. (The last two were the same cat - still alive and much nicer to both us and fellow cats now that she had treatment.) Cats often cover up vulnerability this way. Vet and thorough checkup with bloodwork should be your first stop, post haste. Mind you, some conditions are just par for the course with aging, but meds and treatment can still hasten the process of the cat getting used to them. My arthritic 16 year old kitty has mellowed out quite a bit from first onset around age 12.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 11:49 PM on September 20, 2021 [7 favorites]

Vet ASAP. A change in behavior like this means something is up with Fred. Could be pain, could be neurological, could be failing senses of some sort, could be any number of things. 13 is unfortunately on the older end for cats and things can change quickly with very little outward indication from them.

For right now I would keep Fred upstairs all the time. Move the cat food and litter boxes upstairs, maybe even the cat tree. You might be able to put an accordion door or even a sliding barn door at the top of your stairway if you can’t currently easily close off the upstairs. But also, cats can be quite happy in smaller amounts of space than you’d expect, so maybe just a bigger bedroom will suffice, especially if you have good window perches.

If keeping Frank away from the dogs entirely results in no more aggression, that’s great information to bring to the vet. If he attacks the other cat or family members or becomes otherwise destructive, that is also great information for the vet.
posted by Mizu at 2:50 AM on September 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

Mod note: One deleted; OP is clearly asking for solutions that do not involve getting rid of a pet.
posted by taz (staff) at 3:10 AM on September 21, 2021 [8 favorites]

How do I keep an angry cat from starting fights with my dogs?

You could just as easily ask "How do I keep a stupid dog (sorry--bulldogs are as dumb as they come...) from antagonizing highly territorial cats who reflexively defend their turf, and are scared shitless of an animal so much larger than they are

Your cats aren't "starting fights." They're being cats.

Fred swats, hisses, and one of the dogs (most often Rosie) will fight back

You need to keep the animals separate, or train your dogs to a) give the cats a wide berth, and b) stop responding to aggression with aggression. I know you can train dogs to do the former, but don't know about the latter. Call a trainer.

Fred seems like he is hunting and stalking the dogs, then attacks

Fred is playing, not being aggressive. Cats don't pick fights with animals 5x larger than they are, except under two circumstances

1) when a female cat is protecting her kittens

2) When a cat is trapped/backed into a corner/has no escape and has no choice but to fight for its life

Also, if Fred were really fighting with the dog, you'd know it: he'd be hissing, growling, and caterwauling (ever heard neighborhood cats going at it at night? thats what it would sound like, and it would be LOUD)
posted by BadgerDoctor at 3:20 AM on September 21, 2021 [8 favorites]

BadgerDoctor, that sounds like a cat wrote it.
posted by dianeF at 3:48 AM on September 21, 2021 [30 favorites]

I agree that Fred needs a checkup. The sudden onset of aggression is one thing, but missing a routine jump and the negative reaction from the other cat are also indicators that something is off.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:11 AM on September 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

As others have said - first thing is to get kitty checked out and see if they might have some medical issue / chronic pain of some kind.

I have a senior cat who was increasingly grumpy, fighty, and less and less cuddly. Vet diagnosed arthritis and she also had some severe dental issues. Once those were sorted - she's on Gabapentin 2x a day - she's been much more her old self.

So - sorry - but addressing this with the vet is a necessity.

Most of your other issues could probably be solved by restricting upstairs to cats and downstairs to dogs. We zone our house so that two cats never interact with the rest of the pets because they simply won't tolerate them / don't want anything to do with them. The cats don't like each other, either, but they've settled into a kind of cat cold war and they hate each other less than they hate everybody else.
posted by jzb at 5:25 AM on September 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don’t want to threadsit but I do want to clarify and emphasize a few things:
1. We are not seeking advice to rehome this cat. He has been a beloved part of our family for a long time.
2. Vet appointment is in progress
3. We have already set up Feliway throughout the lower level of the house.
posted by honeybee413 at 5:41 AM on September 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

BadgerDoctor, that sounds like a cat wrote it.

Some questions just rub me the wrong way I guess. Meow
posted by BadgerDoctor at 5:57 AM on September 21, 2021 [8 favorites]

Sorry, I know you said Feliway in your post, and then others said Feliway, and then you confirmed you have Feliway :) but you didn't specify which formula so I want to be annoying and add this on: if you are using Feliway "Classic" and not the Multi-cat formula, it could be worth trying the multi-cat one. I've found that the Multi-cat Feliway formula makes a HUGE difference for us - Only 2 cats though, no dogs, but our anxious cat's behavior sounds similar to Fred's. It's at the point where I can tell when I've forgotten to replace the diffusers because the number of fights will start escalating. We started out trying regular Feliway and that didn't make a difference but Multi-cat calmed things down a whole bunch. Apologies if this is more duplicate info!
posted by ghostbikes at 8:21 AM on September 21, 2021

Keep Fred's claws trimmed. You can learn to do this, and doing it often makes it easy over time. Also, it avoids cutting in to quick if you do it often. This really reduces risk of serious injury. 2nd moving most cat stuff upstairs, so Fred feels less territorial violation. I had a cat who never got over us getting a dog, enabling her to easily avoid the dog was a big help. She had the full run of the apartmenat at all times, he was in the kitchen while we were at work/ school. It's especially important that the cats have a place to eat in peace, that the dog can't get to their food; it's just stressfull for them. I think BadgerDoctor is correct, but, also, the dog is stressing Fred and distance will help tte friction. The dog is learning exactly how far it can go, is unlikely to be really hurt, but it's not fun to live with on a frequent basis.

You are the center, the dogs and cats want and need to be where you are. Get some squirt bottles or squirt guns, and spray animals who disturb the peace. They can learn boundaries. A friend who used to dogsit sent me a picture of her on the couch - the dog was on one end, the cat, the other.
posted by theora55 at 9:31 AM on September 21, 2021

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