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Are Shih Tzus Good With Cats? What You Need To Know

Chris Dinesen Rogers

By Chris Dinesen Rogers

shih tzu dog and tabby cat outdoors

The American Kennel Club (AKC) may have only recognized the breed in 19691, but the Shih Tzu quickly endeared itself to dog owners. Today, it is the 20th most popular breed2 out of the 195 recognized by the organization. This pup has a lot going for it, from its affectionate nature to its playfulness. About 69 million American households3 have a dog. However, only 14% have a dog and a cat.

If you have a Shih Tzu, you may wonder if you can add a feline companion to the gang. You’ll be happy to know the answer is yes, with a few caveats.

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The History of the Shih Tzu

When faced with questions like this one, it’s helpful to start with a breed’s history. Remember that people have selectively bred dogs through the ages, focusing on desirable traits. That can provide valuable clues about whether a Shih Tzu will get along with cats. For example, the Rhodesian Ridgeback4 historically hunted lions, making it an unsuitable choice for a household with cats.

The history of the Shih Tzu isn’t nearly as active. This pup was the canine companion of Chinese nobility, going back hundreds of years. Pampering instead of hunting was more likely the order of the day. Nevertheless, some evidence suggests selective breeding with the Tibetan Terrier5. That may explain other traits of the Shih Tzu, such as barking tendencies and mouthiness.

Likewise, its royal connections may account for its low wanderlust potential and energy levels. After all, you don’t have to be an active pup to enjoy life as a lap dog.

shih tzu dog running outdoors with tongue out
Image Credit: Nikolay Tchaouchev, Unsplash

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The Personality of the Shih Tzu

Other qualities you’ll see in a Shih Tzu include its outgoing attitude. Remember that this pup is used to being the center of attention. Being cute would likely result in more praise—and treats. The latter might also account for its tendency to gain weight. In that case, having a cat around the house can spur some more calorie-burning activity.

The Shih Tzu is a friendly pup that is willing to make friends with people and other dogs. It makes sense, given its history. It may have had many opportunities to encounter strangers. That tells us this pup is adaptable and open to new things in its world. Nevertheless, this breed undoubtedly figured out how good it had it. Therefore, we’d expect some watchdog instincts to protect its turf.

The Shih Tzu is an intelligent dog that isn’t necessarily easy to train. Sitting around and looking cute doesn’t take a lot of skill. AKC classifies it as a Toy Breed, although its history could easily put it in the Companion Group. It’s worth noting that the United Kennel Club (UKC)1 categorizes it with these animals.

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Canine Caveats

shih tzu dog playing with training toy on the grass
Image Credit: Castorly Stock, Pexels

The Shih Tzu isn’t a large dog, growing only up to 16 pounds. It would be an even match-up with all but the largest of cats, like the Maine Coon. Nevertheless, size is a crucial consideration in preventing one pet from bullying the other. That’s especially true for puppies and kittens. The other concern lies with some of the physical characteristics that make the Shih Tzu so adorable.

Its flat face makes this pup a brachycephalic breed. Unfortunately, its shortened snout makes it more susceptible to respiratory issues. Consequently, this dog isn’t heat tolerant. Running around with a young cat might stress it unduly. Therefore, you should always supervise playtime and separate your pets if you notice the Shih Tzu experiencing respiratory distress.

The other concern is socialization. The period between 3–12 weeks is a critical time in a puppy’s young life. It’s the best time to introduce it to a variety of experiences, including meeting a cat for the first time. You’ll likely find the introduction less stressful on all scores if it occurs during this age.

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Feline Matters

Interestingly, cats vary in the degree of aggression between humans and other cats in part based on genetic factors associated with their breeds. It can play a role in how well things will go between your feline and your pup. For example, science has found the Russian Blue to be the most fearful among cats, increasing the chances of an introduction going awry.

The Angora and Turkish Van exhibited the most aggression, whereas the Burmese were most open to strangers. Socialization at a young age undoubtedly influences the relationship between your Shih Tzu and cat. A rescue animal might also be wary of new experiences.

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Tips for Introducing Your Pets

shih tzu puppy and tabby kitten beside each other
Image Credit: Photobox.ks, Shutterstock

We’ve touched on the importance of supervising playtime. It’s worth noting that dogs and cats have different sleep and activity patterns. The former will snooze for about 12 hours daily. On the other hand, the latter might sleep up to 18 hours1. Felines are also more likely to be active at night. However, to their credit, many cats adjust their schedules to their owners.

Remember that felines have claws and won’t hesitate to use them if they feel threatened. However, we don’t recommend declawing1. Instead, we suggest providing places where your kitty can take a nap without a puppy’s constant demands to play.

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The Shih Tzu is an adorable pup, which explains its popularity. It’s a sweet dog with lots of love to share. These traits make it a good choice for households with cats. Keep the breed of the latter in mind because of its influence on well everyone will get along. You may find that your canine and feline companions will become the best of friends, especially if they grow up together.

Featured Image Credit: Eli S, Shutterstock

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