Peaceful Co-Existance Between Greys and Kitties

As June is Adopt a Cat month at many area shelters, I thought I would devote this article to the subject of greys and cats.  Also, I have heard through the grapevine that more and more potential adopters have cats, which I think is awesome.  But, it does bring up the issue of whether or not greys, who are known for their high prey drive, can live peacefully with cats?  The answer is a qualified yes.  Not all greys can live with cats, but a lot of them can and this article will hopefully give you some advice about how to ensure a peaceful co-existence.

A starting point to this article should be a word of caution.  The last thing I want to do is set a kitty up for a traumatic experience or worse.  If you have any concerns about your grey’s behavior around cats, please keep them separated and get professional help immediately.  I have personally known too many cats who have gotten killed by resident dogs, so please take this seriously.  Also remember that a grey’s behavior towards inside cats can be totally different than that towards outside cats.   A grey’s behavior can also be totally different with adult cats than with kittens.  Anyone who has ever lived with a kitten knows why as they are typically speed demons who are into everything whereas adult cats usually have to be prompted to wake up.

My grey has lived for eight years with a number of cats.  I had five when I first adopted him and have four now.  I have never had a problem with him getting along with the cats and feel pretty sure he would not hurt a cat inside. Outside cats are a different ball of wax.  He has shown keen interest in cats we see outside on a walk. Pharaoh’s three legs hardly slow him down, and I would never trust him with an outside cat. Thankfully my cats all stay inside.

So, how do you know if your grey is good with cats?  Look at the dog’s body language – is the dog staring intently at the cat?  Does the dog seem to be mesmerized by the cat?  Is the dog’s body position leaning forward?  Is the dog lunging at the leash and/or barking at the cat?  Also, notice the tail – a wagging tail does not always indicate friendliness – it can also indicate the dog is highly aroused if it is wagging intensely.  An aroused dog can easily become aggressive.  These are all red flags to me.  What I want to see is a dog who is curious, but really could care less about the cat or is a little scared of the cat.  It is ok for the dog to be curious, but the curiosity should not be intense and the dog should be easily distracted by a treat or toy.

How should you introduce your new grey to your resident cat or your new cat to your resident grey?  Do not make the mistake of simply introducing them and letting them sort things out.  Remember, your cat’s life might be at stake here.  I start by using good management to keep the two separated at first.  Then, I usually recommend feeding both the cat and the grey in an area where they can not get to each other, but can see each other clearly – possibilities include both in crates, both behind a baby gate, etc.  You could also put the cat in a carrier and walk the dog into the room on leash.  You want them to start associating each other’s presence with good things happening to them.  Later, I recommend introductions with the dog on leash and possibly muzzled with the cat sitting quietly up high.  Praise the dog and give him lots of good treats when he acts calm around the cat.  Do not leave them together unsupervised until you are willing to bet money that they are fine together.  Keep them separate behind closed doors or keep the dog in a crate for safety and keep the dog on leash around the cat as well until you are sure they are fine together.

Cues that you can teach your dog to help with the introduction is “come” to get your dog to come to you on cue rather than chase the cat and “leave it” to get your dog to give up its desire to chase or bother the cat.  Of course, I teach both using lots of positive reinforcement and good treats.  You want your dog to think coming to you is the best thing in the world and much more rewarding than chasing the cat.  You also want the dog to think that “leave it” means leave the object of your yearning and come to me to get an even better treat.  Do not use punishment to teach these cues as you don’t want your dog to think that bad things happen to him when called off of the kitty, or he will never come to you willingly! 

On that note, I do not recommend using any kind of correction/punishment for overly exuberant or even aggressive behavior on the part of the dog towards the cat.  Many rescue groups and people on email lists advise people to correct their greys by yelling at them, saying “leave it” or “no kitty” and giving them a leash correction or even spritzing them with water when they act inappropriately towards cats.  I cringe when I hear that type of advice being given to people.  It is dangerous to use punishment to correct a behavior unless you are 100% sure that the dog is connecting his behavior with the punishment.  Too often people use punishment with dogs and the dogs associate the punishment with the presence of the object, in this case the cat, or something otherwise totally irrelevant.  Then, they wonder late why their dog is suddenly aggressive or neurotic with that object, in this case the cat.  You do not want to convince your dog that bad things happen to him when kitty is around.  That is what punishment could do. Instead, you want your dog to think that the presence of kitty means good things happen to him and mom or dad becomes a pez dispenser when the kitty shows up.

Make sure you use good management to safely keep the dog and cat separated until you are sure they are fine together alone.   Use barriers such as doors or baby gates, sturdy containment systems such as crates, use leashes, lots of supervision, and a basket muzzle until you are sure the animals are fine together (realize, though, that a good muzzle swat from a dog could really hurt a cat.)

So, the moral of this story is that making a wise adoption decision (i.e. only adopting a grey previously tested to be cat safe), orchestrating careful introductions, implementing good management, and implementing good positive training, your cat and grey should be able to peacefully co-exist. 

Lilian Akin, CPDT

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