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Are Westies Good With Cats? 5 Vital Steps for a Successful Introduction

Are Westies Good With Cats?

Are Westies Good With Cats?

We’ve all heard the expression “fighting like cats and dogs,” and similar idioms, so some of us may believe the two species have a hard time getting along.

And if you own a Westie or a cat, you might be wondering if you could have both of them living under the same roof. After all, you want to make sure that all your pets live in harmony because any mistakes could lead to a lot of stress and heartache and not just for them but also for your family. 

We’ll cover this topic here specifically with adult Westies in mind. 

Table of Contents

Can Westies Get Along with Cats?

Despite being bred to hunt small animals, West Highland White Terriers can typically learn to get along with cats and live together. Westies are friendly and easygoing, but their strong prey instinct makes them more inclined to chase cats outside the house.

Of course, there is more to it, and a lot depends on the age, personality, and activity level of the pets. Some cats will never tolerate dogs in general, but Westies are eager to please their owners and are more adaptable to living with cats and other pets.

Our Westie hasn’t lived together with any cats in our care, partly because we were advised by the rescue organization he should be the only animal in the household due to his past history. We observed him a few times with friends’ cats indoors (under close supervision the whole time) and seemed interested in them, if not scared when the cat got near. However, when he spotted felines on the other side of the courtyard, it was a different story. He soon became agitated and was definitely ready for a chase!

Other Westie owners have claimed that their dog lives quite happily with the house cat, some of them could play all day together and have formed close bonds. 

Here’s a cute video on YouTube of a Westie and a cat playing:

So, depending on the situation, Westies may respond differently to cats, but we should never assume a cat would be safe among them. It’s recommended not to leave them alone together unless you have complete confidence that your Westie will obey your directions and will not injure the cat.

Raising cats and dogs together while they are both young gives them the best chance of getting along. They’ll be more likely to become adjusted to each other if they’re a similar size when going through the same developmental phases. 

Although you most likely already have a cat or a Westie and would like to know if they may be introduced. A gradual and methodical approach can ensure good cohabitation for mature animals. Continue reading to discover how this may be accomplished.

Westie vs Cat: Temperaments, Personality, Body Language

Before we get into how to introduce a West Highland Terrier to cats or vice versa, it’s necessary to understand the temperament of both of these species. This will give you a general idea of how they may react to one another, how to handle them, and what may go wrong during these phases.

West Highland White Terriers have a strong drive to chase since they were bred to hunt out small rodents from the ground. They are also devoted to their family and want to please you, as well as smart, all of which can be an advantage when coaching them to live with fellow pets. 

Westie temperament traits to consider:

  • A hunting dog: like all terriers, it’s against the Westie’s nature to remain calm around potential prey, and should the other animal move quickly, his impulse to chase and kill may be aroused. Remember the body and personality of the Westie was developed specifically for this purpose and will remain hardwired in them. It will take a lot of training to minimize this trait.  
  • Tenacity and focus: to perform their work, the West Highland Terrier’s ancestors needed perseverance and laser-like focus. Once he began pursuing the prey, the terrier needed to concentrate completely on his job; it could have been fatal if they lost focus. To this day, when a terrier is triggered, the rest of the world fades away. He is only capable of thinking about the target of his attention.
  • Agile: quick and energetic, they can have long play sessions, become destructive when bored, and are very quick to bolt when their instincts are activated.
  • Extroverted: busy, involved in everything, and will undoubtedly be extremely engaged in getting to know the cat. Impulse control is an essential teaching technique for diverting his attention.
  • Intelligence: there’s a widespread perception that terriers are difficult to train and hence not particularly smart. However, various breeds of dogs have different categories and levels of intelligence. Although Westies may not have a high level of obedience intelligence, they excel in instinctive and adaptive intelligence, which is the ability to solve problems in order to obtain something.

Cat temperaments

Since we are talking about cats in general and not a specific breed, it’s difficult to know what they might be like with dogs. Cats can exhibit a variety of “personality types” as highlighted in the article: There Are 5 Feline Personality Types – Which is Your Cat?

It’s worth a read as it might give you an insight into which personality your cat belongs to and how to work with it. 

Cats, in addition to having their own characters, maybe far more unpredictable than dogs. Because they are known for their independence, training them to stop doing certain habits will certainly be more challenging.

Older, indoor cats that have never met a dog will likely find it hard to adjust. 

Keep in mind that some cats will never tolerate a dog, whether it’s a puppy or a senior, docile animal.

Body language differences

Before introducing felines and canines, it’s a good idea to learn to read their body language and recognize when they’re giving out warning signals.

For example, cats having their tails straight and high means a positive sentiment as opposed to dogs where it’s more likely a sign of being agitated (source). 

Their mouths, ears, and eyes may also reveal a lot about what’s going on within them. If they’re panting, with their ears back and pupils dilated, there might be trouble ahead!

How to Teach your Adult Westie to Get on With Cats

If you have decided to introduce your Westie to your cat, you need to be prepared and patient. For best results, it’s recommended to work on desensitization, where they are gradually exposed to each other. Allowing them to meet right away might be quite dangerous because we cannot predict how the Westie reacts to your cat with a strong chase impulse in his blood. 

Before anything happens, the entire process should be thoroughly thought out and planned. If you have other family members, they will need to be on board and also educated on how you’re going to achieve their introduction.

Because it’s best to proceed with caution, the entire process might take a few weeks. You don’t want to stress either of your pets because that might be harmful to them and prolong the process.

  1. Setting up environment

Before fully introducing any cat and dog to each other, there are a few measures to take.

First and foremost, they must have their own separate spaces where they cannot confront one another. The cat should ideally have easy access to a dedicated area in the house, as well as a litter box, food, water, and scratch post. This must be safe for the cat, with no way for the dog to get in.

Some experts advise trimming the cat’s nails as well to reduce harm if they scratch.

  1. Westie training

Since Westies were bred to hunt, the chase instinct is going to remain with them, but we can take steps to manage this behavior. It is imperative your Westie follows certain commands and that his attention can be redirected with positive training.

These 3 basic commands should be taught to Westie before they meet face to face: 

  • Recall 
  • Focus
  • Leave it

When the Westie and the cat are initially in the house together – and even though they cannot even see each other -, they will pick up on each other’s scents and become aware of the presence of the other animal. 

This stage will take 3-5 days, but it might be a little longer depending on how the Westie responds. If he becomes overly excited when he senses the cat, he needs more coaching to refocus his attention. 

  1. Introduction over door

In the next step, they will get a little closer, and the Westie will certainly want to sniff around the door. Allow him to do so for a few seconds before distracting him with praise or treats. This teaches him that whatever is on the other side is not as interesting as a highly prized reward. 

You’ll need to assess the Westie’s reaction to the cat once more and continue accordingly. If he becomes too excited or fixated with the door, he’ll need further training. The goal is for him to learn that by not paying attention to the cat, he will receive a treat.

  1. Meeting with barrier

You’ll need to fit a baby gate outside the door where the cat stays for this. Now is the moment to begin slowly and gradually opening the door while keeping an eye on your pets’ body language. Do this just a little bit each day for a few seconds, so that they are able to see one another. If your dog attempts to leap over, use a loose leash and gently pull him away, but don’t tug.

You’ll have to decide when this should happen. The right time could be when the Westie isn’t too interested in what’s behind the door and his training is progressing well to the point that he’s able to focus on you when instructed.

  1. Full-on meeting

If all of the previous steps have gone as planned, your Westie and cat can finally meet. This might be in a common room of the house, with places set up for your animals and a baby gate at the entrance. It’s also helpful to have a friend in the room to assist. Have the dog inside the room, and allow the cat to enter through the slats when she’s ready. Then you must direct the Westie’s attention on you and shower him with praise if he ignores the cat.

What if There’s a Scuffle?

It’s quite possible that your cat will swipe at your Westie when he gets close. Don’t be concerned. Return to the previous steps after gently separating the two.

These incidents can be beneficial in the long term, helping the animals to set their own healthy boundaries. A swipe across the face may be just what the Westie needs to educate him to respect the cat’s personal space.

Keep observing your pets’ interactions. Return to the previous stage if their behavior goes back to aggressiveness at any moment. Carry on with the training until you are certain they can be in the same space without a leash and coexist without conflict.

Tips to Prevent Your Westie and Cat Fighting

As previously said, it is essential for your Westie and cat to have their own safe zone so that they can avoid fighting and escape from each other.

Here are some more ideas to help your Westie and cat live in peace in the house:

  • Cat escape routes: if the dog starts to pursue the cat without you being able to stop it, make sure the cat has plenty of places to hide. To protect the cat from the dog’s rambunctious behavior, a tree or other piece of cat furniture may be necessary.
  • Keep the litter tray safe: when using their indoor litter tray cats are the most exposed, and a severe scrap might ensue should the Westie get in. Place the litter box in a cabinet with a hole for the cat or behind a dog-proof barrier.
  • Keep them separate initially: after they have been introduced, monitor the cat and the Westie closely while they are in each other’s presence. Having just one run-in with a Westie can leave a cat in critical condition and if left unattended, cat-on-Westie battles could result in severe injuries for both animals. 
  • Trim the cat’s nails: it’s a good idea to cut the cat’s claws short so they don’t hurt your dog’s eyes if they fight. Likewise, if the Westie has been known to be aggressive, a cat would come off much worse in a fight, therefore they shouldn’t be left alone together.

Additional Top Tips for a Successful Introduction

After the initial introduction period, you must continue to exercise caution and set up your home to reduce friction between your pets.

Baby gates and door buddies: these items will be essential to keep the pets separated and the cat safe. Door Buddy is an adjustable strap for the door that enables cats to freely enter and leave the room as they please, whilst canines cannot get through.

Cat trees: these aren’t just for fun and exercise; they may also provide a safe haven for the cat where dogs can’t reach. When choosing a cat tree, you must ensure that it is strong and indestructible for the Westie.

Plenty of physical and mental exercise for dog: you don’t want them to be bored or have pent-up energy, since this increases the likelihood of something unpleasant happening.

Remove toys and food bowls: if the dog has resource issues, keep them away from where the cat may be, so neither feels threatened. Also, feed them separately so that this never becomes an issue. 

Stay calm: because animals can pick up on our energy and react accordingly, it’s critical that we stay calm through the process. If we lose our nerve or start yelling at them, we will make matters worse and they are more likely to become confused. That’s where structure and routine come in, and sticking to them religiously will pay off even in a short time. 

Westies Can be Taught to Live With Cats

Dogs and cats, like any other living animal, do better when they feel safe and calm.

If you take the necessary precautions to ensure that your pets’ introduction is as free of antagonism and hostility as possible, you will be building the groundwork for years of peaceful coexistence in your household.

The length of this process is determined by your pets’ unique personalities. However, if you are prepared to invest the required attention and support, you are likely to develop a bond between your Westie and cat that will last as long as you’ve got them.

Thanks for reading this article. Keep up to date with Westie Wisdom for more great posts about our canine companions.

Check out our Resources page where we put together a collection of products and links to organizations for Westie owners. We only recommend products that we believe will enhance your Westie’s quality of life.