Are Shih Tzus Good With Cats? + 5 Step Intro Guide to Getting Along

do shih tzus and cats get along

If you are toying with the idea of bringing home a Shih Tzu when you already have a cat, one of your main concerns might be the likelihood of them getting along. After all, the stereotype of cats and dogs paints a vivid picture of eternal enemies.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve had first-hand experience of introducing a dog into our home when we already had a cat, and it worked out brilliantly.

I wanted to share everything I learned with you today including my tips on how to introduce the two and whether Shih Tzus and cats can live together. But let’s start off with the key question:

Are Shih Tzus good with cats? Shih Tzus are good with cats and can live together. However, how they get along will depend on multiple factors such as how they are introduced and the temperament of both animals. There is no reason why you can’t get your cat and Shih Tzu to get along and live together, especially if the introduction occurs during the puppy months.

As a generalization, Shih Tzus are considered to be one of the most cat-friendly dog breeds you can get. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have problems introducing them; every single dog and cat have their own individual personality… just like we do!

Do Shih Tzus get along with cats? (and why…)

In my experience, yes, they do get along. Other people might think differently, so why do I think this is?

Well, I think it’s down the Shih Tzu’s character. An essential part of this breed’s nature involves being needy and small. They love to be part of a pack, and your cat or kitten could help with that. Many dog owners assume that this is the reason why they seem to get along so well with cats and live together with them. It’s as though the Shih Tzu is more than happy to accept a cat as part of its pack.

Another aspect that contributes to how good they are with cats is their happy-go-lucky nature. Most Shih Tzus tend to be quite laid back and are incredibly playful.

Although you may find a Shih Tzu is more than happy to chase a cat around the back garden, it tends to be out of a sense of play. Once your Shih Tzu is back inside, he’ll be just as likely to cuddle up next to your cat.

That said, you must never allow your cat to meet a new dog unsupervised.

Even if Shih Tzus are more likely to get along with cats, each dog will have its own temperament. Their personality, genetics, training, and upbringing will all make a massive difference in how they interact with cats or any other members of the household.

The temperament of Shih Tzu puppies vs Shih Tzu adults

There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to adopting either a puppy or an adult. It all depends on what you’re looking for, and what would best suit your lifestyle – and this will play heavily into how you introduce your Shih Tzu and cat to each other.

Whether you choose a puppy or an adult could be key to them getting along with your cat, and how easy the integration to your home will be.

Shih Tzu puppies and cats

Shih Tzu puppies can be good with cats. In fact, this is the best age to do an introduction and bring a dog into your cat’s existing home. The reason being? Puppies have the advantage of being extremely moldable. With training and care, you can help form them from day one so that they fit in perfectly with your lifestyle and family.

By adopting a Shih Tzu puppy, it also means that you will be giving your cat this crucial stage in your puppy’s development to establish a strong sense of hierarchy and dominance.

If your puppy tries to mess with the cat at this point, he’ll find out soon enough that it will earn him a sharp swatting.

Although one well-aimed swipe will be more than enough for most puppies, even the dimmest Shih Tzu will start to get the picture with time.

Eventually, the hierarchy will become cemented in the young Shih Tzu’s mind, and you’ll find that as he gets older, he’ll be less likely to challenge the status quo. This is exactly how things turned out in our house… the cat firmly believes she is the boss, and our dog follows suit.

However, if you don’t have the time or confidence to train your Shih Tzu, a puppy may not be the best option. Even the sweetest, most friendly Shih Tzu can be ruined in a matter of weeks with bad training.

Another factor to take into consideration would be any differences in energy levels between a Shih Tzu puppy and your cat. If you have a senior cat with low energy levels, then a bouncy Shih Tzu puppy might be a bit much for your elderly cat to handle.

Shih Tzus and cats get along
Shih Tzus can live with cats and kittens in harmony, but puppies should be closely supervised at first. (Image via

If you’re determined to get a Shih Tzu puppy regardless, it will help family relations if you offer your senior cat a place in the house which is off-limits to your dog.

Even if your cat finds this new bundle of energy utterly unbearable, knowing that she has a place to run off to when it all gets too much can make all the difference in the long run.

A dog-free zone might be a garden or a room. It’s also a good idea to offer plenty of furniture throughout the house that allows your cat to escape when things get to be too much. Good options for this include sturdy cat trees and bookshelves.

Adult Shih Tzus and cats

One of the key advantages to adopting an adult Shih Tzu is that their temperament and habits are already well-formed. What you see is what you’ll get with these dogs, and as long as you make sure to ask plenty of questions, there shouldn’t be any unwelcome surprises.

If you choose to adopt a Shih Tzu from a rescue, you should be given plenty of opportunities to observe the dog and to get a feel for his personality.

You will also be able to ask the handlers plenty of questions about the Shih Tzu’s temperament and history. Most importantly, however, they should be able to tell you how the Shih Tzu is around cats. You will often see this on dog rescue ads – it will say something like: this Shih Tzu is good with cats and young children – Bingo!

By taking this route, you can be confident that you are adopting an adult Shih Tzu dog that will get on well with your cat. There are plenty of very well-trained dogs waiting for their chance to be adopted, and for those who don’t have the time or experience to train a puppy, rescuing an adult can be an excellent option.

However, it is important to note that in the rare instances where Shih Tzus become aggressive with cats, the dog was usually a rescue who came from an abusive and neglectful background. This can happen without warning (click here to find out how to cope with your dog suddenly attacking your cat).

In light of this, it’s essential to ask as many questions as you can, so that you can be sure that you know as much as possible about the Shih Tzu’s background before bringing him into a home where a cat is already established.

Even then, a new Shih Tzu must never have its first interaction with a cat unsupervised. There is always a chance that something about this particular interaction may trigger something in the dog that couldn’t have been foreseen.

After a successful introduction, it will still be necessary to supervise for any subsequent interactions. Moving slowly in this way will give you the chance to catch any behavioral issues early on, and it will provide you with the opportunity to nip it in the bud before it can form into a real problem.

Given the right introduction period, and barring any severe behavioral issues, you should soon find that even if your Shih Tzu and cat aren’t best friends, that they can at least co-exist peacefully.

How to introduce a Shih Tzu to a cat

Shih Tzus can live with cats, but the key to success is how you introduce them… it needs to be taken very slowly. By allowing your animals to have a gentle introduction, you will significantly improve the chances of your Shih Tzu and cat getting along in the future.

While in this introduction phase, the cat and Shih Tzu should never be left alone together. Doing this will be especially important if you have rescued an older dog.

Step 1: Prepare the house

Once you have decided to bring a Shih Tzu home, the first thing you will need to do is prepare a safe space for your cat. Ideally, this needs to be one room that the dog cannot access or part of a large room that has been sectioned off. You can achieve this with a baby gate, a cat gate, or a foldable dog pen.

Some cat gates even come with a little cat flap, which will be ideal for cats who are a bit older or less mobile. However, this will only be a viable option if you are bringing home an older Shih Tzu, as a puppy will have no trouble slipping in.

Once you have sectioned out an area for your cat, you will need to move all of your cat’s essentials there. This should include their bed, food, and water, as well as their litter tray, and scratching post.

Aside from giving your cat a place to escape, it will also keep your dog from getting to the cat’s litter and food, which can both be very tempting. In our house, we placed our cat’s food up high to reduce the chances of any flashpoints at feeding time.

are Shih Tzu dogs good with cats
Can Shih Tzus live with cats? Yes, they can live together but make sure they eat in separate places to avoid conflict.

Although doing this will be important for your dog, who will find little benefit in consuming cat litter or food, it’s also important for your cat. It won’t help your cat’s opinion of the situation if she keeps getting pestered every time she tries to eat or go to the toilet.

Additionally, it will be necessary to create a safe space for your cat in every other room in the house. This escape could be a sturdy cat tree or even a bookshelf. Whatever you choose, it should always give your cat a place to escape that will be well out of reach of your Shih Tzu.

If you have an especially nervous cat, it may also help to use a cat pheromone diffuser. This will reduce the chance of your cat peeing in the house due to the nerves associated with a dog coming into her territory.

There are some excellent options available on Amazon, here’s the one we used. If you install this a few days before introducing your Shih Tzu, it will help immensely with keeping your cat calm.

Step 2: Initial introduction

Once your new Shih Tzu is home, it will be essential to keep the two separated for the time being. If you can, restrict your dog to one room initially. As your Shih Tzu starts to settle in, you can start the process for the initial introduction: by exposing both animals to the other’s scent.

To do this, you can first swap bedding. If you can do this before bringing your Shih Tzu home, all the better.

Another way to get each of them used to the other’s scent is to pet them both without washing your hands. First, pet your cat for a little bit, then go to pet your dog, and then back to your cat again.

The aim here is to mix their scents, allowing them to become more comfortable with the idea of the other’s presence.

Once you have done this for a few days, you can start on the final stage.

Close your cat into one room, and then allow your Shih Tzu to explore the house. Aside from giving him a chance to become accustomed to his new home, it will also allow him to become comfortable with your cat’s scent.

Allow him to roam for a few hours until he’s more comfortable with his surroundings, and then take him for a walk. As you head out for your walk, allow your cat out of her room to explore while you’re gone.

Continue this process for a few days, until your Shih Tzu is comfortable with his surroundings. You need to make sure your dog is calm before introducing them face-to-face, so make sure your Shih Tzu has had plenty of time to get accustomed to his surroundings before moving him onto the next step.

Step 3: First interactions

Once your Shih Tzu has had a chance to settle in, and you’ve had a few days to get your cat and dog used to each other’s scents, you can move onto the first interaction.

This exercise aims to give your cat time to get used to the presence of your dog. It also trains your Shih Tzu dog to stay calm around the cat.

To do this, your cat will ideally need to be in her safe space, behind a cat gate. Using this, you can approach this initial interaction with a physical barrier between the two animals, and it will allow you to maintain much more control over the situation.

Additionally, it will give your cat plenty of time just to observe and to consider this new addition to your family.

For the most part, you will want to leave your cat alone during this process. Resist the urge to pick your cat up and bring her closer, as this may frighten her further. Allow her to assess the situation at her own pace.

With you Shih Tzu, you need to put him on a leash for an extra level of control and take him out for a walk to wear him out. You will also need to bring a few tasty treats or some of his food to reward good behavior.

Initially, you just need to sit with him on the other side of the gate. Allow him to sniff and explore, but if he becomes too excited or tries to bark, you will need to distract him. If he persists, take him away. Once he calms down, you can try again.

Aside from discouraging high energy, you also need to keep a close eye out for any signs of aggression. If you notice him freezing, his hair standing on end, or him staring at the cat, correct him immediately. You need to do this calmly, but firmly to avoid escalating the situation further.

If he persists with this behavior, take him away, and put in another room for a ten-minute time out. Ideally, this room needs to be dull, without any rewards or distractions. Once he’s calmed down, try again.

When your Shih Tzu does display calm behavior, make sure to give him a treat and plenty of attention.

These initial interactions should be short but relatively frequent. Five minutes should be more than enough time, and as many times during the day as you can manage.

As you notice your cat’s confidence growing, and your Shih Tzu puppy becoming less excited, you can extend these interactions.

Step 4: Closer contact

Once the novelty has worn off for your dog, and your cat is showing enough confidence, you can start thinking about moving to the next step.

Bring your cat and Shih Tzu to a neutral space and allow them to interact without the gate to separate them. Even as you move onto this next step, however, you will still need to keep your Shih Tzu on a leash just in case.

Keep this first interaction quite short, and make sure to watch them both carefully. If either your cat or dog shows signs of being frightened, separate them and go back to the last step for a bit longer before trying again.

Allow your cat to continue exploring at her own pace and keep a close eye on your dog. You will need to stay consistent with the training you’ve done up until now; distracting him when he gets excited and separating him if he persists with this behavior.

You will need to be especially watchful for any signs of aggression in your dog at this stage. If you notice any hint of aggression, correct him immediately. If he persists, put him in time out, and try again later once he’s calmed down.

During this stage, you need to show him that the cat is higher in the hierarchy than he is and that any hint of aggression will not be tolerated. Even so, it’s essential to stay calm. The last thing you want is for your new dog to feel threatened by you during this crucial period, as this may only escalate the situation further.

Eventually, with patience and persistence in your training, you should hopefully start to see them becoming more comfortable around each other.

Even if they don’t become best friends, they should at least be able to co-exist peacefully, without your Shih Tzu chasing or barking, and without your cat becoming frightened or aggressive without provocation.

As you continue to see positive signs, you can slowly increase the times of their interactions and give them more and more freedom together.

Even as their relationship continues to improve, it will be essential to supervise them until you are entirely confident that they can get along together. It’s important to take it slow, as rushing could ruin all of the hard work you’ve put in up to this point.

Stage 5: Peaceful co-existence

Only once you are entirely confident that your cat and Shih Tzu are on good terms, can you start to leave them alone together.

However, it will still be necessary to make sure your cat has her own space, which your Shih Tzu cannot access. Even if your cat and dog are getting along nicely, that could soon change if your Shih Tzu is harassing your cat every time she tries to eat or uses the toilet.

Additionally, make sure your cat continues to have places she can escape to if she needs it. Maintaining a peaceful co-existence is likely to go a lot smoother if she has a place to escape to in the event your Shih Tzu decides to chase or gets a little too energetic.

However, if at any stage during this process you notice your Shih Tzu showing persistent signs of aggression, and you begin to worry for your cat’s safety, do not hesitate to bring in a dog behaviorist. Most disputes like this can be fixed relatively quickly with the help of a professional.

Whatever the case may be, Shih Tzus are still one of the friendliest breeds you could choose as a housemate for your cat. The worst behavior they tend to exhibit is chasing, but this is typically their way of trying to play.

With consistent training and plenty of patience, you should be able to nip any potential issues in the bud, and before long, the two should be able to co-exist peacefully.


To conclude, there’s no reason why your cat and Shih Tzu can’t get along and can live together… but the bottom line is; all animals are different. But with the intro guide above, you should stand a good chance of success in having them both living in your home harmoniously.

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Here are some more guides to help you with your new Shih Tzu puppy.

Shih Tzu image in header via

Marc Aaron

I write about the things we've learned about owning dogs, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips we've picked up along the way.

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