If your cat or dog did not grow up living with other animals, it is likely that they will have spatial sensitivities (meaning, they will not be comfortable with other animals in their imminent space). Every animal is different; however, it is not uncommon for some to never reach a level of comfort with other animals.
Cats have a hierarchy, though it is more complex than dogs. A more confident cat in your household may be sending your fearful cat a subtle message to “stay out of my way.” This message can be communicated with a stare, by blocking certain pathways in your home, or by making one’s presence very obvious (e.g., lying outstretched in the middle of the living room). Your fearful cat gets the message and goes out of his way to avoid conflict.
Cats have good reason to be fearful of dogs. Most dogs are bigger than cats and smell like a predator. Many dogs instinctually chase fast-moving objects that are smaller than they are. Understandably, this can be a very scary experience for a cat and he/she may choose to avoid your dog after even one negative experience.
Every day animals communicate with each other in very subtle ways. These signals often go overlooked by the humans but appear in bright, red, flashing, bold letters for the other animals. This can create fear, discomfort, or even conflict.
One of the most effective ways is to use the behavior modification techniques to help desensitize them to being near other animals. It is a slow process but can be done successfully with many cats and dogs over time. Our behavior professionals will be able to guide you through this process.
It is important to always have safe areas for your fearful cat to retreat to if she is chased or otherwise intimidated by other pets. Clear off elevated areas and add cat trees to your home so he/she can jump to a protected area. Adding skirts around tables or chairs also creates hiding places for your cat to feel safe. Provide cardboard boxes with two holes cut out of them; the second hole allows your cat to escape if another cat jumps in. Place baby gates in doorways; cats can jump over them or squeeze through them if a dog is in hot pursuit.
Provide multiple opportunities in the home for pets to access food, water, toys, or attention from you so they do not have to compete. Many animals will “guard” these resources by sitting or standing near them, preventing your fearful cat from approaching. You can also put them in protected areas, such as on top of counters.
Try to keep in mind that these exercises take time, and progress may be slow. It may not be reasonable to expect your cat to remain calm if confronted by a barking dog or another cat staring at him. It’s also important to know that not all fears can be fully overcome. Your effort is helping improve quality of life which is a very important part of being a pet parent!