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Cat aggressive with dog.

Species: Cat
Breed: domestic short hair
Age: 8-11 years
Our household has 2 dogs, 2 indoor cats, 3 parakeets and 3 kids :). The cats and dogs are all female and all spayed. My question is about the interaction between our 9 year old cat and one year old dog.

The cat, Mojo, is a large (15lb) domestic short hair that we've had from about 6 weeks old. The dog, Fontaine, is a one year old, 17 lb French Bulldog who came to us at 8 weeks old. They've never super loved each other but things have gotten crazy over the last month or so.

Mojo is a reasonably affectionate cat but she has gone from disdainfully being unhappy with Fontaine to outright hatred. She attacks Fontaine at every opportunity and once she's in attack mode it's very difficult to get her to stop.

Occasionally I can see a trigger, Fontaine comes into the kitchen when I am filling Mojo's food bowl in the pantry or Fontaine jumps up on the couch not realizing that Mojo is sitting on the windowsill but most of the time the attacks seem unprovoked. Fontaine will be sleeping under my desk chair and Mojo will be sleeping on the couch and suddenly Mojo wakes up and flies across the room in full puffball mode with claws at the ready. She also spends lots of time creeping around the house stalking Fontaine - at these times she's in half-attack mode, her fur standing up a bit, her eyes very wide. It's very similar to the way she reacts when she sees neighbor cats through the window.

We're at a loss as to what to do. Mojo has no problem with the other dog (a lab mix) or cat (a very elderly DSH). She doesn't even attempt to hunt the parakeets :) Fontaine has definitely become very wary of Mojo, sitting down and crying if she wants to use the stairs and the cat is looking at her for instance. The setup of the house makes it nearly impossible to keep them completely separated. I do keep their food and sleeping areas very distinct and Fontaine has a crate that she can go to although Mojo even tries to drive her out of that occasionally.

When I look up territorial behavior in cats, I keep seeing references to cats being improperly socialized but that makes things even more confusing. Mojo was born on a farm with lots of dogs, cats, cows, etc. At our house she has always lived with other cats and dogs and has been a reasonably cuddly, pleasant cat. She does patrol the windows for neighbor cats who might creep up on the porch, etc. but that has never been a big issue. She had a vet check 3 weeks ago and nothing particular seemed amiss.

What should we be trying to tone down this behavior?

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

This is a very unusual situation! It's strange that Mojo is showing such unusual behavior just over the last month. I can't say that this is a common occurrence in multi pet families.

I have a few thoughts for you that may be helpful.

The first would be to consider getting something called Feliway. I wrote an article about Feliway which you can read here. This product is a pheromone that relieves anxiety in cats. Now, usually when I say this, the response of my clients is to say, "My cat is not anxious!" But, the type of behavior you are describing certainly makes it sounds like Mojo is anxious about something. Why it is connected to Fontaine, we may never know.

Feliway comes in a plugin that you can put in your wall and it releases a pheromone into the air. Or, you can also buy it as a spray. It would be great to spray a bandana with it and then put it around Fontaine's neck. (The dog will not be able to smell anything as it is a pheromone that only cats can sense.) I would repeat the spray once or twice a day. After a few days, Mojo may start to feel a little bit more relaxed around the dog.

If that doesn't work, you could consider a period of time like a month or so where the animals are totally separated from each other. This many mean having them take turns in isolation in a private room. It may seem a little extreme, but keeping them totally separated for a month could break the pattern where Mojo gets upset every time she sees Fontaine. Then, you could give them some supervised time together. And really make a big deal of praising and petting Mojo when this happens.

If this were my case I would likely also be suggesting some medication on top of this such as Reconcile, Clomicalm, or Amitriptyline. These medicines help relieve anxiety in cats and really do work well. They are good at helping with a number of behavioral issues. In many cases we can put a cat on medicine for a few months and then, as the behavior gets better we can wean them off of meds. This is something you'll need to talk to your vet about.

And one final thought - You mentioned that Mojo had just had a physical exam. Even though her exam was ok, I have seen some cats that show sudden aggressive behavior because of hidden pain. (It's a little bit strange that it's directed just at one dog. But, it's possible that the first time Mojo felt pain (say, back pain for example), Fontaine was nearby and therefore she associates the dog with pain.) One thing I may consider, if this was my case would be a trial of a week or two of pain medication just to see if it makes a difference.

I wish I had a more concrete solution for you! It definitely is an unusual situation.

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

Anxiety seems like it was spot-on as the problem. The Feliway seemed to help quite a bit as did giving Mojo solo access to rooms that all the pets are usually excluded from and really concentrating on giving her lots of attention / massages etc. We were having a big life-change as my daughter (mama to both Fontaine and Mojo) was headed off to college. It didn't really occur to me to connect the going-away and the cat's behavior but once the move was finally accomplished, the attacks stopped completely. I'm wondering if that was her original trigger - somehow 'blaming' Fontaine for all the packing and busy-ness that was stealing my daughter's attention. Pets are such crazy little personalities sometimes - part of what's so rewarding about having them in our lives I guess :)

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Interesting! Thanks for the update! Pets can be so in tune with changes like you mentioned. It certainly could be becuase of your daughter's move.

When I was in college years ago, my dog would vomit every time I had a stressful exam coming up. It really affected him when there was stress in the air!

So glad to hear that things are better.

Dr. Marie.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.