By Dr Daisy A. May, BVSc MRCVS, Veterinary Surgeon
In my day just as a vet, I am frequently asked by owners which dog breeds are and aren’t likely to cohabit peacefully and successfully with feline housemates.
Typically, this question comes from would-be dog owners who already have one or more cats. These owners understandably want to do their due diligence and put in the research in advance, to ensure they choose a breed that is likely – key word, likely – to get on well with their current fur baby.
I was recently discussing this exact topic with an acquaintance who is PhD level specialist in canine behavior, and – sorry to put a downer on things – I should admit that her view was that no dog can be trusted 100% if left unattended with a cat.
This is because it is always possible for deep-seated instincts to kick in, resulting in injury to either party. As a vet, I find that I am almost as frequently presented with dogs who have been harmed by cats (a claw to the eye does a lot of damage) as vice versa.
So really, both parties have the potential to experience stress and injury as a result of incompatible breed selection and a lack of adequate preparation (ensuring the puppy is likely to grown into a feline friendly adult dog, as we will discuss below).
My personal and professional opinion is that there are some breeds that you can be close to completely confident will be safe to add to a cat-friendly household, especially with proper, early socialization and training during the crucial ‘socialization phase’ which every dog goes through between 3-12 weeks of age.
In fact, the primary socialization subphase is even shorter, taking place between 3-5 weeks of age, and this is the most influential time by far in terms of forming lifelong social attributes, behaviour patterns, and positive and negative associations with – for example – strangers, cats, the vacuum cleaner, the postman!
These attributes and reactions have often already become a concrete part of your dog’s personality before you even collect them at 8 weeks old!
Be aware too that this phase is finite, and a one-time-only thing! After around 12 weeks (or up to about 16 weeks, for some individuals) the socialization phase is gone forever.
So it’s vitally important to ensure the puppy you collect at 8 weeks old has been born into a household that has a cat, and been introduced to feline company already by the breeder, and then to continue working on this with your cat(s) as soon as you bring the puppy home.
You cannot just select a puppy who is 10-12 weeks old (or older) and has had zero feline contact, and expect to be able to follow a YouTube guide on introducing a puppy to your cat.
Things may go well, if you are lucky.
But things are equally likely not to go well, eventually resulting in you needing to rehome one of your pets, or in a household where one of the pets (usually the cat) is experiencing constant, chronic low-level stress, anxiety and fear.
This is obviously a topic with major, wide-spread importance, given that 32 million households in the US have at least one cat (in fact, there are approximately 74 million total cats spread throughout these 32 million households), and 48 million households have at least one dog (a total of 70 million dogs).
As an interesting aside, In terms of their taxonomy, dogs and cats both belong to the order Carnivora, and share a common ancestor – but they diverged from this mutual origin a whopping 43 million years ago.
Today, they inhabit two separate families: dogs are part of the Canidae family (along with bears and – yes really – walruses), and cats are a member of the Felidae family, along with the hyena and the mongoose.
Surprising but true: a dog has more in common with a walrus, than with a cat!
So no wonder our canine and feline companions struggle to understand one another, from time to time.
What’s more, dogs have been a major player in human society for significantly longer than cats.
Domestication of the dog is thought to have begun 20,000-30,000 years ago, meaning dogs and humans have effectively co-evolved, and explaining in part the solid, innate bond between our two species which sometimes defies all reason, and leads of course to the age-old term “man’s best friend”.
Cats, on the other hand, and by and large a rather newer addition. Until relatively recently it was believed that the Egyptians were the first to keep cats as pets, approximately 3,600 years ago.
But newer evidence has come to light to indicate that human domestication of the cat actually begun around 10,000 years ago, in the ‘Fertile Crescent’, in line with the origins of agriculture in this era.
At this point, cats begun to take advantage of the rodents and food scraps that were abundant around human settlements, and human began to take advantage of the cat’s rodent-hunting expertise, in return.
But – this post is not a deep-dive into canine socialization, nor into prehistoric taxonomy.
If you want to know more about the origins of dogs and cats, Google will be more than able to help you out. And should you want to read more about how to socialize your puppy, I will include a few linked resources below.
But for now, let’s more onto today’s content: which breeds should you be avoiding, if you want to set yourself up to have the best chance of your dog(s) and cat(s) truly getting along.
1. The Greyhound
Greyhounds are a hunting and racing breed that has been selectively bred to move at lightning speed, to avidly chase a moving target, and to catch said moving target at all costs.
Ringing alarm bell yet?
What’s more, many rescue or ex-racing greyhounds will also have been training to chase a small, furry lure moving at speed from a young age, thus further solidifying this instinct.
This target essentially replicates a small animal such as a rabbit, cat, or even a small dog moving at speed away from the greyhound. For this reason, no rabbit, cat or small dog is completely safe around an ex-racer greyhound, especially outside where the prey drive is so much higher than indoors.
Even though many greyhound rescue centers put hours of work into reverse-training and trying to undo this response, there is always the chance of this innate drive being tapped into, especially if a greyhound is allowed to free run outside and a cat or rabbit begins to flee from them.
I personally love greyhounds, but it would feel borderline irresponsible for me to suggest to a pet owner that keeping a cat and a greyhound together is anything but an accident waiting to happen.
2. The German Shepherd
This breed has it’s origins in – you guessed it – Germany, in the late 1800s, having been selectively engineered to be an expert sheep herder. Intelligence, obedience and loyalty, alongside strength, stamina and speed, were the key characteristics required, and the shepherd exhibits these in no short serving.
Unfortunately the same intense loyalty that so many shepherd owners adore in their pet, predisposes this breed to being territorial and frequently reactive toward any person or animal whom they don’t consider to be an immediate and accepted part of their household.
Sadly, unless extremely well socialized with cats from a very young age, the majority of shepherds do not tend to view cats as one of the family.
This friction tends to result in a dog who is lowkey obsessed with keeping the cat cornered in one part of the house (or chasing the cat out of the house entirely), and a cat who will eventually decide enough is enough and find a new, less stressful home with one of your neighbors.
3. The Jack Russell Terrier
The Jack Russell Terrier (JRT, for ease) is a breed fashioned in England in the 19th century by the Reverend John Russell, purportedly by crossing the Bull Terrier with the Beagle.
The good Rev. John was an avid hunter, and his fervent desire was to create a bold, fearless little dog, petite enough to follow prey into a burrow, but with a strong bite for it’s size and even stronger instincts.
The JRT is also a popular farm and stable dog in the United Kingdom to this day, due to it’s excellent ability to keep rodent populations under control.
Because of it’s ingrained hunting instinct, and all of the tenacious persistence and focused prey drive that comes along with that, the Jack Russell is never a good choice for those who wish to maintain a feline-friendly household.
I have had more than one horrified owner admit to me that their Jack Russell corners the cat on top of a wardrobe, in the spare room or similar, and then waits nearby literally all day whilst the owner is at work, biding their time for when the terrified feline makes a break for it, should the need for food, water or a bathroom break become too great to ignore.
Sure, it keeps the dog occupied. But at what cost?
4. The Border Collie
World-renowned as a herding dog for good reason, the collie is a type-A workaholic and loves nothing more than to herd.
This tendency is extremely useful in a farming environment, but admittedly rather less so in your average domestic setting; I have seen collies attempt to herd chickens, ducks, other dogs, small children and – of course – cats.
This is inevitably and understandably rather stressful for the poor feline, who up until now was probably accustomed to enjoying a peaceful, less dynamic home environment, where they could grab a few hours sleep in any chosen sunny location each afternoon without being herded.
Furthermore, the collie has a relatively strong prey drive. Whilst it might not match that of the greyhound of the Jack Russell, it is certainly closer on the scale to these “hunter” types, than to – say – a chihuahua, or a pekingnese (the more “companion” classes of dog).
A final note, collies despise being left alone for long period of time, largely because of the massive amount of exercise and mental stimulation they require to remain happy and well adjusted. As such, in the absence of their owners, collies tend to find ways to entertain themselves.
This can be anything from shredding sofa cushions, to pulling skirting boards off the wall, to cat herding, or worse – “playing” with a cat who passionately does not want to be played with.
5. The Beagle
Like several of the already mentioned breeds, the beagle was bred to be a hunter (I’m sensing something of a theme here, aren’t you?)
A descendant of the now extinct Talbot Hound which once accompanied William the Conqueror into Britain during the 11th century, the beagle’s skillset lies in picking up a scent, following said scent, and – once the prey is successfully pinpointed, cornering the unlucky object of their attention and barking with great enthusiasm until a human arrives.
Unfortunately, all too often, the object of the beagle’s attention turns out to be the household cat.
Being cornered and – at best – vigorously barked at is stressful-to-downright-terrifying for your cat. Even with careful socialization I would certainly never fully trust a beagle with a cat, and would be extremely hesitant to leave the two unattended together.
If you must couple this unlikely match, then at least make sure common sense is applied, and that the cat has access to many easy escape routes (be it high ground, or exit points) throughout every room of the house.
6. The Pit Bull Terrier
Aka, the American Pit Bull Terrier; something of a misnomer, given that these guys were first forged in the United Kingdom in the 19th century.
The pit bull was created to assist it’s rural masters by capturing and restraining semi-feral livestock, and has also – very sadly – been extensively exploited by mankind as a fighting dog for entertainment purposes.
Although Pit bulls historically have been bred and trained to display aggression towards other animals (canine and otherwise), human-focused aggression has not been encouraged because even when fighting, these dogs were intended to be controllable by a trainer.
In fact, many pit bulls make perfectly loving and gentle family pets.
Unfortunately though, due to selective breeding towards animal-aggressive traits in their genetic history, pit bulls can sometimes be unpredictable. A pit bull may have a history of getting on well with other dogs and cats, and then suddenly change once it reaches maturity, or if it feels challenged by another dog.
For this reason, as well as their unrivalled bite strength and instinctual reluctance to let go once their jaws are clamped down, pit bulls are a risky choice for cat owners. I am not remotely anti-pit-bull, but it is fact that pit bulls and pit bull mixes are responsible for significantly more human and canine fatalities than any other breed.
Whilst they may not be more likely to bite than any other breed, when they do, their unique stubbornness means they are more likely to continue an attack. Coupled with immense strength, it’s a combination that must be treated with care.
7. The Dalmatian
Perhaps one of the World’s most mysterious dog breeds, the origins of the Dalmatian remain unknown, although we do know that the coastal region of Dalmatia in Croatia is this breed’s first definite home.
The Dalmatian is a jack of all trades, and throughout history has proven itself a worthy herder, hunter, guard dog, firefighter (yes really), and even circus performer.
Don’t believe me? Check out this article by the American Kennel Club, as an entertaining side tangent: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeds/dalmatian-history-ancient-spotted-dog/
Being known for it’s athleticism and stamina, the Dalmatian requires ample exercise; I’m talking a couple of hours a day minimum, at least during it’s youth and throughout middle age.
This need for physical and mental stimulation coupled with a typically rather boisterous and somewhat highly-strung nature, makes the Dalmatian a poor choice for cat-centric households.
The resident feline will often be seen as “something to do”, and may be hunted, herded, or generally bothered by the often well-meaning dog to the point of exhaustion.
Whilst not overtly aggressive as a breed, Dalmatians can be easily startled, and I have dealt with a handful of nasty injuries in feline patients and Dalmatians themselves, as a result of the two winding each other up.
Stick to breeds of calmer nature with a more even temperament.
8. The Siberian Husky
A working breed forged in Siberia by the Chukchi people, the husky has long been valued as a sled dog and increasingly as a household companion.
In my experience, the husky is a breed of two extremes, tending to be either loving, boisterous and universally accepting of strangers, or suspicious, standoffish, and difficult to approach. Both extremes can be difficult for a cat to live with.
What’s more, these guys are almost universally strong willed, stubborn and notoriously difficult to train out of problem behaviors…including aggression towards or an unhealthy and unreciprocated playful interest in feline housemates.
I’m certainly not proposing that it’s impossible for a siberian and a cat to live together in harmony, particularly if raised together and with great care and expertise (or just a large slice of good luck).
But common sense and experience both dictate that the husky is a moderately incompatible breed to introduce into most cat-loving households.
9. The Schnauzer
It matters not whether you are considering the standard schnauzer, the miniature or the giant; all three have common roots as a ratter (breed designed to control the rodent population) in 15th century Germany.
Named for their distinctive and rather adorable mustache, the schnauzer is a robust dog of great intelligence and no short measure of tenacity.
Whilst these traits are exactly what has made the schnauzer so effective historically as a farm dog and ratter, they are also it’s downfall in terms of being feline friendly.
Although schnauzers are highly trainable and it is certainly possible to successfully introduce a schnauzer to your cat(s), there is no erasing the ancient instinct to chase and shake things that are small, furry, and run away.
If you do choose to provide a home to both a cat and a schnauzer, I would suggest opting for the mini schnauzer. Although their instincts are just as strong as their larger counterparts, they are less likely to accidentally deal a fatal bite in a moment of unfortunate impulsivity, potentially allowing time for veterinary care to be sought.
10. The Rhodesian Ridgeback
Dogs don’t come much less cat friendly than the Rhodesian Ridgeback, a Southern African breed quite literally bred to hunt big cats.
The ridgeback was created to assist natives with tracking, hunting and cornering lions, as well as other large, powerful wild game. They are fast, powerful athletes, firmly in the heavyweight category coming in around the 80lb mark (a little less than 40kg).
If not handled carefully from puppyhood, ridgebacks can tend towards being domineering in nature, and are not known for being easily trainable; certainly not a dog for beginners.
Their limited trainability coupled with a constitutional tendency to want to hunt, makes them an exceedingly poor choice for all but the most careful of cat owners.
Should you choose to combine these two breeds, be very aware that you do run the risk of ending up with a feline casualty on your hands, and take great precautions to ensure your cat(s) are never left unattended in the same area of the house as even the calmest ridgeback.
Key Points To Summarize
- No dog is 100% safe to be left unsupervised in a house with a cat. But some will be close to 100% safe, and others will be very unsafe.
- Careful and consistent socialization and training with cats during the socialization phase (3-12 weeks) and especially the primary socialization phase (3-5 weeks) is crucial to set your puppy up to have the best chances of being a cat-friendly adult dog, whatever breed you choose.
- Absolutely choose a puppy that has already grown up around a cat or cats. This is the only situation in which you’ll heard me recommending people to adopt a young puppy, rather than an adult rescue dog…although in fairness, some rescue dogs have been well socialized with cats from a young age and present no problems.
- Avoid hunting breeds, ratting breeds, frankly working breeds in general. Stick to “companion” type breeds for preference.
- Smaller dog breeds are less likely to cause great harm to cats, and are therefore safer…although do no be fooled into thinking a small dog cannot cause a cat harm. It is still necessary to follow a socialization timetable, and take adequate safety precautions.
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