Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM
As America’s most popular breed of dog since 1991, the Labrador Retriever is viewed positively by the countless families across the country that call one of these furry friends their own.
Are you considering adding a Labrador Retriever to your family while you already own a cat?
If so, you may be wondering if there are any issues to expect when the two animals meet.
Labrador Retrievers are good with cats and other animals thanks to their relaxed, friendly nature and intelligence. When introducing a Labrador Retriever to a cat, there are few issues so long as both animals are adequately trained and socialized. Territorial Labs or cats could complicate matters.
Using my experience as a veterinary doctor, I’ll talk about properly introducing Labrador Retrievers and cats and what to do if your two pets aren’t getting along.
Are Labrador Retrievers Naturally Aggressive or Friendly Towards Cats?
The reputation that Labrador Retrievers have as being great family dogs is a pretty accurate one.
Labrador Retrievers are generally a friendly and easy-going dog breed.
They can tolerate some behavior that other dogs might react negatively to, like being poked and hugged by children.
Young Labrador Retrievers are like all puppies in that they can be boisterous and active, seemingly full of boundless energy.
However, as they age, they’ll settle down as most dogs do.
Labrador Retrievers aren’t known for being naturally aggressive, although, as is this case with all dogs, their upbringing and training will determine their temperament.
Ensuring that your Labrador Retriever is adequately socialized as a puppy will reduce any risks of developing an aggressive temperament.
A nervous dog is more likely to be an aggressive dog.
That’s why exposing your Labrador Retriever to other people and animals as a puppy will allow them to view these strangers positively and without aggression.
Labrador Retrievers are known for their intelligence and trainability, often being used as Guide Dogs.
That said, getting them used to another animal like a cat shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
There’s no reason to believe that a properly trained and socialized Labrador Retriever will be naturally aggressive towards a cat.
How Territorial Are Labrador Retrievers?
Labrador Retrievers aren’t usually particularly aggressive dogs, although, like all dogs, they can display territorial aggression over what they perceive as “theirs” and “theirs only.”
There’s no real difference between the amount of aggression shown in male or female Labrador Retrievers.
Both may become territorial over a small or ample space.
Labrador Retrievers will show the same territorial behavior as other dogs. These behaviors are:
- Urine spraying
- Pacing or prowling
- Aggressive barking
Labrador Retrievers who are territorial will react in the same aggressive way as any other dogs to any perceived intruder.
They may respond in one or more of the following ways:
- Snapping at the intruder
- Biting the intruder
- Growling at the intruder
- Barking aggressively at the intruder
- Lunging at the intruder
Territorial aggression in Labrador Retrievers (as in all dogs) comes from what they perceive as a threat to their territory.
New pets — especially if your dog is used to being the sole furry friend in the family — can trigger a territorial response.
This can occur even more if the new pet is a puppy or a kitten or the younger pet reaches maturity.
How Territorial Are Cats?
Cats can be just as territorial as dogs – in fact, they’re usually more so.
While male cats are typically more aggressive than female ones, don’t assume that just because you have a female cat that they’ll be less likely to guard what they think is “theirs.”
Cats can lay claim over something as small as a bed to something as large as the entire house and backyard.
Territorial behavior for cats includes:
- Chin rubbing
- Spraying urine
When a cat encounters what they perceive as an intruder, the confrontation can quickly escalate into aggression.
An aggressive territorial cat may do one or more of the following:
- Stalk the intruder
- Aggressively chase the intruder
- Hiss at the intruder
- Swat at the intruder
- Growl at the intruder
Different situations can trigger a cat’s territorial nature.
Cats may respond negatively if they go from being the only pet to sharing their space with a new pet.
That’s especially true if the new pet is only a puppy or a kitten.
Territorial aggression can also be triggered in a cat when another young pet becomes mature.
Understanding the signs of territorial aggression in your cat is very important, as is dealing with the problem swiftly.
It’s vital to seek professional help quickly if required.
I Am Already a Cat Parent, and I’m Thinking of Getting a Labrador Retriever
That old saying “cats and dogs are natural enemies” isn’t true – cats and dogs can be the best of friends as long as they’re properly introduced.
Do you already own a cat and want to welcome a Labrador Retriever into your home?
If so, you can take several essential steps to ensure that the introduction period is as smooth as can be and your two pets become firm friends, no matter their respective ages.
How To Introduce a Labrador Retriever Puppy to My Kitten
Because both animals are young, growing up together will likely ensure a deep bond of affection between them.
Encourage your Labrador Retriever puppy to play with your kitten, but also be sure to know when your kitten has had enough.
It’s important to never leave the animals alone with each other.
There’s always a chance the puppy and kitten could react aggressively to each other.
Still, you also need to be present to make sure you correctly teach them how to behave towards each other.
Using scent can be a great way to familiarize the animals with each other before introducing them.
Place an item scented with your kitten’s scent near your puppy and do the same for the kitten.
Doing this will reduce the likelihood of the animals having an adverse reaction to each other when they finally meet for the first time, as they’re already familiar with the other’s scent.
Then, when it’s time to introduce the animals, make sure you do it in a safe space with enough room for them to retreat if they become nervous.
You can make use of barriers if needed, such as a baby gate.
It isn’t a good idea to crate the animals before their first meeting – this can make them feel trapped and overwhelmed, resulting in aggressive behavior.
It’s also best to keep the puppy on a leash until you can safely interact with your kitten.
Keep in mind that size does matter.
Because both animals are small in size, there may not be any issues caused by one animal fearing the size of another – however, if there is, make sure the animals can retreat to a safe space and that the animal showing aggression receives proper training.
Remember that kittens are tiny and fragile.
How To Introduce a Labrador Retriever Puppy to My Adult Cat
Adult cats are much less likely to want to play than a Labrador Retriever puppy is.
One of the most important things to do to ensure a positive first interaction is making sure your puppy is on a leash and calm – your adult cat may become annoyed and aggressive towards them otherwise.
Also, don’t leave the animals alone together.
That’s because, at this point, you need to be training your puppy on how to socialize properly.
Your adult cat may also be territorial.
To get them used to a newcomer in the family, provide them with something with the new puppy’s scent, so the cat doesn’t assume it’s an unwelcome intruder.
Also, make sure your pets have separate spaces.
Your cat will undoubtedly want somewhere calm to rest, and they’ll also not want their litter box disturbed.
How To Introduce an Adult Labrador Retriever to My Kitten
When introducing an adult Labrador Retriever to a kitten, it’s crucial to remember that a kitten is tiny and very fragile.
A Labrador Retriever can potentially pose a significant physical and psychological threat to them.
Make sure that your dog is calm and on a leash when you introduce them to your kitten.
Introducing the animals to each other’s scent beforehand is an excellent way to get them used to each other.
It’s very important to monitor the interactions between the animals, lest the Retriever view the kitten as potential prey or accidentally harm somehow.
While Labrador Retrievers aren’t overly aggressive animals, playful behavior can injure a little kitten quite severely.
Please don’t leave the two animals alone together, especially during their first interactions.
Also, please make sure there are separate spaces the animals can go to when they need a break from each other.
Provide an elevated area for your kitten so they have a place to go that the dog can’t reach.
This prevents your kitten from becoming overwhelmed by the new dog while keeping them physically safe.
How To Introduce an Adult Labrador Retriever to My Adult Cat
Introducing two adult animals can be much less challenging than introducing an adult and a young animal, as you don’t have to worry as much about physical injury to the young animal.
The most important thing to be wary of when introducing two adult animals is territory disputes.
Your adult cat is already the king or queen of their castle, and bringing home a new adult dog is very likely going to disrupt their as-yet-unchallenged rule.
Introduce your new Labrador Retriever’s scent to your cat, so the new arrival is less of a shock to them.
Also, ensure that you keep initial visits short and keep your dog on their leash.
Cats are very prone to becoming stressed out from new pets.
Don’t be surprised if your cat either acts aggressively or wants to hide.
Provide them with their own spaces to retreat to (elevated spaces are usually best, so the dog can’t reach them) and keep the dog away if the cat shows signs of distress.
Can Cats and Labrador Retrievers Be Left Alone Together?
Whether or not you can successfully leave cats and Labrador Retrievers alone together is dependent on a few factors.
First of all, they need to have been appropriately introduced and spent some time together.
You should never leave your cat and your Labrador Retriever alone until you know for sure that they’re not going to respond aggressively towards each other.
Secondly, it’s not a good idea to leave a kitten alone with an adult dog.
That’s because a Labrador Retriever is so much larger than a kitten and can pose serious physical harm.
Third, different animals will respond in different ways to being left alone with each other.
Some can become very stressed out, whereas others don’t mind a bit.
You know the temperaments of your animals, so it’s up to you to decide what’s best for them.
If you do have to leave your cat and your Labrador Retriever alone together for any period, there are some things you can do to make sure both of your pets remain happy and healthy while you’re gone.
When you’re going to be away for only a short time, you can consider separating your animals into different rooms and shutting the doors.
Ensure they have enough food, water, and enrichment (such as toys) to keep them happy until you return.
However, if you’ll be away for a more extended period, you need to organize for someone to care for your animals for you.
That may involve someone pet-sitting for you or booking your pets into a pet hotel for the duration of your absence.
How To Facilitate a Successful Friendship Between Your Cat and Your Labrador Retriever
For your cat and your Labrador Retriever to get along, they need a proper introduction, as outlined above.
However, maintaining that positive relationship between the animals goes beyond just the introduction period.
It’s essential to treat both animals with the same amount of affection and avoid doing anything that could lead to aggression between them.
For example, if you take your dog on a walk every day, make sure you spend an equal amount of time with your cat, and if you give your cat a treat, make sure your dog gets one too.
Look out for any signs of aggression between your cat and your Labrador Retriever as well.
Noticing and acting upon these behaviors early will prevent any harm to the relationship between the two animals and the animals themselves.
Signs Your Labrador Retriever Is Not Adapting Well to Their New Feline Sibling (and How To Intervene)
There are clear signs that’ll alert you to the fact that your Labrador Retriever isn’t adapting well to having a new cat in the house.
- Aggressive barking at the cat
- Whining at the cat or when the cat is near
- Stiffening when the cat is near
- Intense staring or fixation with the cat
- Stalking or chasing the cat
- Lack of appetite
- Not relieving themselves properly
- Excessive urine spraying
- Lack of interest in toys or play
If your Labrador Retriever shows any of these behaviors, keep a close eye on their interactions with the cat.
It may take some more time for the two animals to get used to each other, and you may need to go back to controlling their interactions more carefully and continuing to desensitize them to each other.
If the behavior continues or worsens, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible.
It’s much easier to train a dog than train a cat, especially an easily trainable dog like a Labrador Retriever, so seek help from a dog trainer early on.
In unfortunate circumstances, one of the pets may need to be rehomed.
Still, this solution should be a last-resort option.
Signs Your Cat Is Not Adapting Well to Their New Canine Sibling (and How To Intervene)
Your cat will make it very clear if they aren’t adapting well to having a new dog in the house.
Behaviors to be wary of include:
- Hissing at the dog
- Ears pinned back when the dog is near
- Tail swishing when the dog is near
- Raised or arched back when the dog is near
- Yowling at the dog
- Hissing at the dog
- Appetite changes
- Excessive hiding
- Lack of appetite
- Not relieving themselves properly
- Excessive urine spraying
- Lack of interest in toys or play
Dealing with these behaviors involves many of the same steps as dealing with a dog that doesn’t like a cat.
Keep a close eye on the interactions between the two animals, spending time reintroducing them slowly.
Early intervention from a professional is also crucial.
Unfortunately, as is the case with a dog not liking a new cat, if you cannot resolve the situation, one of the pets will need to be rehomed for the safety of both animals.
Labrador Retrievers make excellent pets with their easy-going nature and responsiveness to training.
Introducing a Labrador Retriever into a home that already has a cat doesn’t need to be a daunting task.
With proper training and socialization for both animals and a careful introduction period, both animals can learn to live together in harmony.
- American Kennel Club: Most Popular Breeds
- ASPCA: Aggression in Cats
- Greencross Vets: Is a Labrador Right For Your Family?
- Guide Dogs of America
- Hill’s Pet: Labrador Retriever Dog Breed Information and Personality Traits
- James Well Beloved: Strange Bedfellows – How Your Puppy and Kitten Can Live Together in Harmony
- Nylabone: How Dogs and Cats Can Co-Exist
- Purina: How to Handle Territorial Aggression in Cats
- The Labrador Site: Are Labradors Aggressive?
- The Labrador Site: Labrador Temperament
- The Spruce Pets: Steps to Train Your Dog
- VCA Hospitals: Aggression in Dogs – Territorial
- Wikipedia: Labrador Retriever
Read my post on whether Labrador Retrievers make good family dogs
Veterinary Hospital Director at UCE
Dr. Marcelle is a general veterinarian with a Small Animal Medicine Specialty | Director of the UCE School of Veterinary Medicine | Certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society