Good with “Dog-Savvy” Cats

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Cat owners are often at a disadvantage when looking to adopt or foster dogs. There often isn’t a lot of information on whether or not a homeless dog is good with cats.That can be for a variety of reasons, but usually it boils down to: dogs are difficult to “cat test”; shelters won’t allow it; the foster home doesn’t have cats; or the dog’s response to cats was difficult to gauge.

Sometimes when “dog people” are involved, the mental health of cats is not a consideration. I don’t think this is because dog people don’t like cats (let’s face it, people who don’t like cats are odd) but I think it is because dog people may not have cats. Or they may have cats but because cats are relatively low-maintenance their needs are easier to ignore.

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I can say all of those things because although I LOVE CATS if you had to put me in one camp or the other I would be considered a dog person. And I have put my cat’s needs second a few times. Some of the stressful things Bali and Burma have had to deal with:

  • We have fostered cat-aggressive dogs.
  • We have fostered other cats that stressed them out.
  • I have used our cats to ‘cat test’ dogs.
  • Dogs that want to play with them and scare them in the process
  • Separation from the main living space.
  • Not being able to sleep on the bed with us.

I admit that in the heat of the moment (“This dog will die without a foster”) we have decided to foster cat-aggressive dogs. In these instances, we have complete separation and the cats never have to see the dog (and visa versa). We do this to decrease stress on our cats and so the dog isn’t constantly looking for cats. We are lucky enough to have an upstairs and a downstairs. When we first moved in, we installed a door to the upstairs specifically for the purpose of being able to keep the cats safe from our foster dog at the time, Matt, who was very cat-aggressive.

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Whenever we are thinking about fostering or adopting now, the first thing we ask and think about is “has the dog lived with cats before” and “how does the dog interact with cats.” The open-ended question is really important and will show you what the person knows about the dog’s interactions. It’s important to note that although a dog has successfully lived with cats before it doesn’t mean he is cat-safe. He could be one of those dogs that is great for “dog-savvy” cats. I have to admit, I hate seeing “good with dog-savvy cats” in an adoption write-up because it can mean a lot of different things to different people.

“Dog-savvy” can mean any of the following:

  • ignores dogs
  • attacks dogs (hisses/chases)
  • runs (is savvy enough to get away from them)
  • plays with dogs
  • completely hides from dogs

It’s more helpful to describe the actual behaviors. Consider instead:

  • Dog will chase cats if they run but otherwise ignores them
  • Dog will get aggressive with cats if hissed at.
  • Dog would love a cat buddy, he used to be inseparable from a barn cat and curl up and sleep with them every night
  • Dog is unpredictable with cats. He often seems fine but has attempted to attack a cat on two different occasions.
  • Dog hasn’t exhibited aggressive behaviors with cats but can be overwhelming to them, following them around and trying to initiate play at every opportunity.

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It can be really difficult to tell if a dog is good with cats or not, especially if they are not in a home-setting. We recommend being vigilant and having a drag line on any dog whose disposition toward cats is unknown. Cats are small and dogs (especially large ones) can seriously injure them without even trying.

What we prefer in an adoption write-up about cat interactions:

  • doesn’t interact with cats
  • avoids cats

We wouldn’t adopt a dog that wants to be buddies with cats–because that is NOT what our cats want. Bali and Burma would prefer to be left alone. Too much interaction (even if the dog views it as a positive interaction) is stressful for them. Our cats are special enough that they will develop upper respiratory infections from the stress on their immune systems or begin self-mutilating out of anxiety.  When fostering or adopting, pay attention to your cat(s) and think about what they would prefer in a companion.

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