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Fear of Other Pets
By Karen Sueda, DVM
Why is my cat fearful of my other pets?
Fear of other cats. If your fearful cat did not grow
up with other cats, he may not be used to interact-
ing with others of his species and may not rec-
ognize your other cats’ overtures of friendship. In
addition, like dogs, cats have a hierarchy, though
it is more complex. A more dominant or confident
cat in your household may be sending your fear-
ful 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.
Fear of dogs. Cats have good reason to be fearful of dogs, since most dogs are big-
ger than cats and smell like a predator. And, of course, many dogs instinctually chase
fast-moving objects that are smaller than they are. Understandably, this is a very scary
experience for a cat; he may learn to avoid your dog after even one negative experience.
Even if your dog has never chased a cat, she still smells and looks like a dog to your cat.
If your cat was not exposed to dogs at a young age, he may be more apprehensive of
How can I make my cat more comfortable around my other pets?
One way is to use the behavior modification techniques called desensitization and
counter-conditioning. (Please refer to the resource called “Using Behavior Modification to
Help Your Cat” for general information about these training techniques.)
Before you start the exercises, you should provide safe areas for your fearful cat to
retreat to if she is chased or otherwise intimidated by other pets. Clear off some book-
shelves or add cat trees to your home so she can jump to an elevated, protected area.
Adding skirts around tables or chairs also creates hiding places for your cat to feel safe.
A low-tech alternative is to provide cardboard b