After weeks of continuous nagging from my kids, I was considering adding a kitten to our household. I needed to know if this was feasible given that we have a 3-year-old Lab. So, I thought I’d share some of the research and experience I’ve gathered around whether or not Labradors can live with cats.
It is common for Labradors and cats to live together and get along well. It is more likely to be safe to pair a cat with a Lab than most dog breeds because of their mild temperament. In fact, Labrador Retrievers made the shortlist of dog breeds that are good with cats, according to the American Kennel Club.
However, anomalies can occur. It is important to understand why Labs tend to do well around cats in the event that your Lab’s personality or prior environment is atypical. Additionally, there are precautions to be taken upon the first introduction that you should be aware of. We will cover all of that, below.
Why Do Labs Tend to Get Along With Cats?
The temperament of Labs is largely the reason that Labradors can live with cats safely. Let’s take a moment and deep dive into some elements of their temperament that make it easy to understand.
Labs Are Gentle (Even When Hunting)
Labs are extremely gentle dogs, which is one of the reasons why they make great family dogs. They are usually very tolerant which makes them great around children.
Additionally, Labs are usually a top choice when it comes to hunting. It is important to remember that the style of hunting they are most useful for. It does not involve aggressive behavior, nor for the Labrador to perform the actual hunt.
Labs are retrievers and are most often used as bird-dogs. Their job is to help in retrieving birds that have been shot and killed or severely wounded. They were bred over time to have what are known as “soft mouths” for the purpose of not clamping down too hard on the prey during the retrieval. So even in their most “aggressive” state, they are extremely cautious and treat the retrieved prey with care.
Labs Aim To Please
Part of what makes a Lab such a great family pet is their constant seeking of their owners approval. If you’ve ever been in the situation with your Lab where you put her food down and she simply stares up at you awaiting permission to proceed, then you know what I mean. These dogs never want to do anything to upset their owners.
This applies to the acceptance of cats in the home, too. There may always be some instinctual territorial temptations upon the first meeting. But, as your Lab sees and processes that you are accepting of this other animal in the home, she will typically follow suit. The challenge often becomes more of the result of curiosity. Cats tend to be uninterested in being investigated.
Prior Socialization is Key
Labs are very sociable and curious animals. However, if yours hasn’t had much experience socializing then it It would be a good idea to work on this prior to introducing a new animal into the home. This socialization can come in different ways. One way can be one on one time in a familiar environment with a friend or family member’s dog. Another could be taking your dog to a local dog park.
Personally, I would recommend having some experience in both situations, and then evaluating how those interactions went. What was that experience like? Did she warm up easy to other dogs? Is she skittish?
It’s also important to consider socialization with other humans, too. Consider how she behaves when guests are at your home. If you have to lock her up because she gets overly excited, this points to a potential opportunity. It may be a good time to start working on improving social interactions overall.
Introducing a Lab to a Cat
Everything that I found while researching seemed to be in line with typical guidance for introducing two animals. There are some best practices that are not unique to Labradors, or even dogs for that matter. What may be different for you is if you’ve never introduced two into your home, and only have experience with other animals on the street or at a dog park.
Based on what I found, I was really able to consolidate this down to 6 best practices. Those are as follows:
1. Always Be Present
In the beginning, it is extremely important that you are present for each interaction. This is important psychologically for the Lab in this interaction. As stated earlier, they aim to please. Knowing that you are there and approve of the cat’s presence in the home is vital to keeping them at ease.
If there is any scenario that might have the potential for a bad interaction, it would be the discovery of a new (and much smaller) animal in the home without the presence of her Master.
2. Neutral Location
Choosing a neutral spot inside or outside at the house is also important. This reduces the chances for any territorial instincts to take over. While some of that will still be present, it would be heightened if you chose a room where a crate is typically kept.
Should the living room be where significant items to the animal are kept, I wouldn’t recommend that either. Generally, a kitchen or large bathroom can make a good space as long as you don’t close any doors!
3. Don’t Hold the Cat!
I’d like to believe this one is obvious, but cats tend to be the more skittish of the two during these first interactions. Ironically, many owners have indicated the roles reverse over the long run, though!
Given this, holding the cat would not be advisable as it may result in significant injury via extremely sharp claws!
4. Use A Leash
It does seem a little unfair to say to not hold the cat, but to put a leash on the dog. However, the leash should really only be used if an indication is given that things might get out of hand. Best practice would be to allow the leash to be a bit loose.
Even though your Lab is likely many times bigger than the cat, it is important that they don’t feel pressured or trapped and unable to defend or escape if they feel the urge.
5. Give the Cat Room to Escape
If it is the first time the cat is being brought to the home, it would be ideal to give the cat an opportunity to explore the place first. We want him to feel comfortable with the environment and to know that safety is within reach. When scared, cats tend to go high. If there are platforms or counters that are within reach this should help. When doing this in a separate room, the door must remain open.
Should this lead to the cat leaving before the introduction takes place – so be it. It will be a bad experience if he is forced against his will.
6. Allow Them Both to Defend (Within Reason)
This may be the most challenging part of the entire introduction. You will need to keep a close eye on them during the entire time, and this will really test your refereeing skills! Like a referee in a fight, you may have to know when it is appropriate to allow them to push the limits, and when to call it.
For the cat, you will likely see some swatting. If he has been declawed, then the concern of scratched eyes should be minimal and it is probably okay to allow it. This of course depends on your Lab’s reaction. Lab’s usually tolerate this, though it may startle them.
With your Lab, sniffing and poking their snout out against the cat should be expected. This may be met with some swatting. Again, you will have to manage this carefully. Any growling or hissing are typically signs that things are heading south, and you should be prepared to take a break and come back to it later.
Will a Labrador Kill a Cat?
It seems fairly unlikely that a typical, purebred Labrador that has not exhibited any aggressive tendencies, would harm a cat. However, one fictitious case made the claim which shocked the world, only to later come out as untrue.
Although, if a Lab has exhibited aggressive tendencies or the environment at introduction is atypical, anything is possible. After all, we are talking about animals. Regardless of an animal’s natural temperament, if unique unfavorable conditions are present, then normal behavior shouldn’t be expected.
What Other Owners Said
I checked with owners through social media platforms to see what experiences they had.
Of the respondents, only 2% indicated that there was significant enough of an issue that they had to make a decision to find a new home for one of the animals.
For the rest, there were a few suggestions that it was challenging at first but that it ended up being okay. The vast majority indicated there were no issues from the very beginning.
Additionally, vetstreet.com polled over 1600 owners to compile a top10 list the most cat-friendly dog breeds. Labs came in at #2, only behind Golden Retrievers.
Given everything learned throughout the researching process, it’s safe to say that in most cases Labradors can live with cats. I no longer have concerns about Labs and cats living under the same roof, and I don’t think you should either. It would be foolish not to acknowledge the possibility, though.
If you do decide to co-mingle the two, be sure to follow the introduction steps to a tee!