Are Labs good with cats?
Happily, many Labrador Retrievers are well behaved and friendly toward cats.
Yet the truth is, not all dog breeds are good with cats. For that matter, not all cats are good with dogs!
But there are steps you can take while introducing them to secure the best possible chance of success.
Are Labs Good With Cats?
For every pet owner who has a story of animosity between the family canine and the family feline, there is another pet owner whose dog and cat get along great!
What can explain these differences?
Why do some dogs get along well with cats and other dogs do not?
Intelligence, breed, and socialization all play a part in whether your dog will be able to tolerate a feline housemate.
Just like people can have different types of intelligence, so do dogs.
Some dog breeds, like the Labrador, consistently score high in a type of smarts called working intelligence (which could just as easily be called people-pleasing intelligence).
These dog breeds consistently learn new commands in less than five tries and tend to obey commands at least 95 percent of the time.
Your Labrador wants to please you and cooperate with you.
So your training challenge will be to help your Lab see your new family cat as an extension of you, to be tolerated (at the least) and cherished (ideally).
Breed is another important factor in predicting how well a dog and a cat may get along (or not).
Labradors have been bred for generations as retriever dogs.
They do not generally hunt solo but rather will accompany a human hunter and assist with retrieving the downed prey.
Their prey drive – the urge to chase anything warm and moving – is relatively low.
Labs have also been selectively bred and trained not to bite down hard on what they retrieve.
Rather, they have what trainers call a soft mouth.
They hold objects, whether a prey animal, a ball, or a playmate, gently in their mouths to avoid doing harm.
Well-bred, well-trained Labs also tend to be easygoing, family-oriented, and playful, which can work great if your new cat is a sociable breed that loves to play.
Training and Socialization
Even factoring in your Lab’s native intelligence and the benefits of generations of selective breeding, socialization is still a vital part of predicting interspecies family harmony.
Many experts say the best time to introduce a cat and a dog is when they are a kitten and a puppy.
This way, they both go through similar growth phases and training stages side by side and are more likely to get along as adults.
But if you can’t do this, then consider how consistently your Lab obeys you and acts gently around other dogs, strange cats, unfamiliar humans, and any small, fast-moving wild animals.
If you have let your Lab chase anything and everything, are lax with training reinforcement, and downplay overly rambunctious or aggressive behavior, you will want to address these training and socialization needs before adding a cat to your family.
Labs Are Hunting Dogs
If you are caring for a Labrador for the first time or only have experience with American-bred Labs, you may not yet know there are actually two types of Labrador Retriever, the American (field, gun, or working) and the English (bench, show, or pet).
American, or working, Labradors typically have a higher natural prey drive than their English show counterparts.
However, working Labs also tend to be more consistently obedient due to the extra training required to assist human hunters.
So this can work in your favor when socializing your Lab to a new pet cat.
Labs Are Also Family Dogs
Labrador Retrievers have been the most popular pet dog breed in America for the last 28 years.
This means Labs are the dog breed most commonly found occupying couches, yards, and hearts across the nation.
The vast majority of these dogs will never train as gun dogs but will live the life of a pampered family pet.
Yet how and when your Lab grows up can differ quite markedly depending on parentage and type.
This can mean you may want to introduce your new pet cat earlier or later in your Lab’s life.
Are Labs Good With Cats: American Labs as Pets
American Labs typically reach maturity faster and have a longer, more stable attention span for training tasks even during puppyhood.
However, because of their working background, American Labs often don’t settle down in adulthood but stay lively, playful, and active throughout most of their lives.
This can work well if you bring home a cat who enjoys playing and is outgoing and sociable like this amazing tabby – not so much if your new feline is shy, low energy, or less social.
Are Labs Good With Cats: English Labs as Pets
English Labs tend to stay in puppyhood longer than their American counterparts and can be more challenging to train until they grow out of this puppyhood personality.
But once they do grow up, English Labs often display a more chill, sedentary personality that remains throughout life.
Here, a high-energy kitty might be a good match if your English Lab is still young.
But an older, couch-centric English Lab might do better with an equally chill cat.
Labradors and Kittens
Kittens are so adorable and cuddly, and it can be difficult to imagine anything so small and sweet could cause any real trouble.
But just wait until your kitten starts growing up and teething and scratching and clawing everything in sight – including your Lab!
Just as it is wise to exercise caution when introducing young children and dogs, for safety’s sake, you want to be sure you can supervise all interactions between your dog and your new kitten.
The Best Time to Introduce Cats and Dogs
If you can, the very best time to introduce a dog and a cat is when both are young and missing the company of their littermates.
This shared experience of separation during a critical socialization phase of life makes a new puppy and new kitten more likely to bond right away.
This can be particularly advantageous when your puppy is going to grow up to be quite large.
In puppyhood, the size and strength differences between a cat and dog often aren’t quite so pronounced, and there is less chance of accidental injury.
Overall, when you add both a puppy and a kitten to your family at the same time, both grow up accustomed to the other’s presence.
Neither is predisposed to behave territorially or possessively.
Best of all, they will likely have similar energy levels at similar life stages, making them a better match as lifelong companions.
How to Introduce a Cat to a Dog
When you decide to add a feline to your family, how you make the initial introductions can set you up for years of stress or success.
These tips can help you set up a first meeting that is more likely to succeed:
- Introduce your Lab to the new cat in a place that is relatively neutral to both.
- Be sure your is Lab leashed and the new cat is confined safely.
- Keep the first meeting short – if it goes well, schedule another short one soon after.
- Watch for signs of personality clashes such as timidity or aggression.
- Don’t be afraid to invite a professional trainer to help.
Labs and Cats
Are you thinking about adopting an adult cat?
You will want to carefully consider everything you know about your Lab’s personality, play style, age, and preferences.
Is your Lab young, high energy, and very physically affectionate?
Or is your Lab in his or her senior years, happy to nap and laze about in the sun?
What is your prospective cat’s personality like?
Is the new cat fragile, small and skittish or sizeable, sturdy, and confident?
The more you can match your cat’s personality to your Lab’s temperament, the more likely you are to experience a successful introduction.
Trainers say, on average, it will take a dog and a cat 2–3 weeks to start forging a friendship.
But in some cases, it happens more quickly, and in rare cases, it never happens at all.
As a comparison, consider the extensive two-year training process prospective service dogs go through to acclimate to other animals, including cats!
Be sure to remain realistic and supervise at all times as your pets get to know each other.
Are Labrador Retrievers Good With Cats?
So are Labs good with cats?
Overall, a well-bred, well-trained, well-socialized Labrador Retriever is one of the best dog breeds for adjusting to life with a cat.
But we want to emphasize there is no magical matching system to guarantee your Lab will get along with a new cat.
It is just as important to consider the personality, temperament, age, and history of your Lab.
Not to mention of the cat you want to adopt.
Some cat breeds are more tolerant of dogs while others prefer to steer clear.
We hope you have found this article about Labs and cats helpful as you consider whether to add a cat to your family.
Do you have prior experience with introducing dogs and cats?
Do you have any success stories to share?
Please post your stories in the comments section for everyone to enjoy!
References and Resources
Lubin, G., “These Are the ‘Smartest’ Dog Breeds, According to a Canine Psychologist,” Science Alert, 2018.
Gibbens, S., “Are Dogs Smarter Than Cats? Science Has an Answer,” National Geographic, 2017.
Stewart, K., DVM, et al, “Introducing Dogs to Cats,” American Humane Society, 2019.
Kane, E., “Socialization of Dogs and Cats,” American Veterinary Medical Association, 2019.
Bianculli, D., et al, “Who Says You Can’t Train a Cat?,” NPR, 2017.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website