Question: "How can I stop my cat attacking the dog?"
Janet has a question about her cat Ebony. The six-year-old spayed/declawed 12-pound cat was found on the street as a kitten and bottle raised. "She has always had the problem with pet biting, and she will sometimes turn and bite after one pet, but at the vet is great!" Janet volunteers at the humane society and has five rescue dogs-three very small and two large very old canines. She also fosters and babysit dogs, but has no other cats because she says, "Ebony would kill them." Although Ebony has in the past objected to other dogs, the aggression has never before been so serious.
Ebony attacks Janet's new "Chiweenie" dog Darby adopted six weeks ago, an eight-pound Chihuahua/Dachshund. "Ebony goes at her and won't stop. She has hurt her twice, to the point the new dog has been on meds twice in six weeks. I am on egg shells all the time," says Janet. She's also currently babysitting her sister's dog, which she's done many times in the past. "I'm worried, because right now Ebony is on a mission!"
Janet provides one self-cleaning litterbox, water bowls all over the house, and a food bowl in Ebony's special area so she's not disturbed when she eats. She describes her home as busy but quiet. "When a large number of people are here, Ebony lays on her back in the middle of the kitchen or in the living room, where ever the action is. But I notice Ebony is not doing that right now."
She had Ebony examined by the vet a week ago, to make sure she was completely healthy. She also consulted with the dog behavior expert at the shelter who cautioned Darby might cause some of the attacks. Janet says the dog offer defensive bites only when cornered by Ebony, and describes Darby as a "strong personality" but fearful of people and good with the other dogs.
Janet purchased new toys including an automatic laser toy that runs for 15 minutes that Ebony loves, and uses it during morning doggy feedings. She frequently uses a spray bottle to stop cat threats, and tries to give Ebony extra loving time when she is behaving-but the cat doesn't allow too much of that. "I've been told that I should either give Darby up or shut her in a room alone, and to me these are not solutions and very unfair to her," says Janet. "If the cat would stop stalking and attacking her Darby would not bother the cat, and I know we would all be much happier!"
Wow, Janet, thank you for your detailed information. I like to review behavior problems based on the H.I.S.S. Test, which stands for health, instinct, stress, and symptom solvers.
Cats that feel crummy from a health issue often have a short fuse and can act out because of pain or other issues. Ebony, though, has received a clean bill of health.
It is normal cat behavior to fear and/or object to "new" pets in the home. This hearkens back to what I call stranger danger response, sort of a "better safe than sorry" impulse that labels anything unknown to be suspect. Dogs usually welcome newcomers much more readily than cats do.
Cats and stress go together like dogs and wagging. It's simply part of a cat's personality to get her tail in a twist over any change to her normal routine or environment.
S=Symptom, Signs & Solutions
I'm encouraged that Ebony has previously been so tolerant of the fostered and babysat dogs coming into and out of her home. But she's obviously reached her limit.
Stress is like water filling a container-different cats have their own container sizes before stress overflows. Ebony's container has filled to the brim with the new dog, the babysitting visitor dog, and all the other "normal" stressors of everyday life. It doesn't matter that Ebony previously tolerated the other dogs-this one sloshed over the edge.
The tiny dog not only smells and looks strange, it also acts fearful. To Ebony, that behavior looks like a "kick me" sign so she picks on the new dog. Now she's "practiced" aggression toward Darby so much that the mere sight of the Chiweenie dog sets her off. She no longer has to think-it's an automatic reaction to the little one's presence. Here's what to do:
Start over by following these steps to properly introduce the dog to the cat. Remember that Ebony was here first. No, you shouldn't confine the cat - you should confine the new dog instead, at least initially. This teaches the cat that only part of her territory has been invaded.
It's not unusual for cats to take weeks or even months to accept an "interloper" into their family group. Introduce new sights, smells, and sounds gradually through the door. For example, feed the new dog and Ebony on opposite sides of the closed door to associate good things with each other's presence. Share scent between the pair, by petting the new dog with a sock and leaving it for Ebony to find. In the picture, Darby is wearing a blue sweater, and this can be scented with Feliway to also help ease the cat's angst.
Set up the laser game that Ebony loves right outside the door to the dog's room, again to help kitty understand that wonderful fun things happen when the dog's nearby. Also, look into clicker-training both the cat and the dog. You can teach them alternative behaviors that are more rewarding. An excellent book for clicker training cats is Naughty No More.