Image Behavior and Socialization:

Often, behavior changes are actually medical problems that we humans may not yet recognize. If your cat or dog displays a change in behavior, you may visit your veterinarian first. Animals are incredible at hiding pain and/or medical issues.


Body language is the primary way that cats communicate. You’ll need to pay attention to the totality of the body and what’s going on in the environment as well in order to get an accurate read. Looking at just the ears or tail may not give you a full picture.
A cat who is relaxed will have loose, fluid body movements and his breathing will be slow and steady. He may fold his feet in front of himself, stretch them way out in front, or slouch over the side of a perch. A relaxed cat’s ears and whiskers will be at their neutral positions, or maybe slightly forward. His pupils will be thin slits, and his eyelids will be soft — perhaps blinking slowly. Those are signs that he feels safe and isn’t concerned about monitoring the environment.
For a cat who is experiencing fear or stress, his ears may be tucked back on his head or held low and rotated to the sides. His head will fall at or below the level of his shoulders, and his breathing may become very fast. He’ll keep his tail low and may have very squinty or wide, watching eyes with big pupils. Cats may also flatten their body to the ground. In extreme cases of fear or aggression, a cat will do the opposite — stretch up onto his toes and arch his back, to make himself appear as large as possible. His hair may stand up on his neck, back or tail.


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!