How to Stop a Cat from Attacking Dogs
Can We Be Friends?
Why is Fluffy Attacking Scruffy?
You may be wondering if you read the title right, yes it's "How to Stop Cats from Attacking Dogs". We are so used to the image of dogs chasing cats, attacking cats and even eating cats for breakfast, or as a quick dessert, that thinking the opposite sounds really odd. Perhaps, this is due to the fact that television shows and newspaper strips are overpopulated by images of canine-to-feline aggression. All it takes is watching cartoons boasting Hector chasing Sylvester and Spike chasing Tom, and soon cat-chasing behaviors seem to be normal behaviors just as cats chasing mice. Yet, what do you do if it's the other way around? Wait, did I hear right?
Well, believe or not, there are cases of kitties turning wild and attacking dogs! I did have clients come up to me and ask me what to do about it. After reminding them I am a dog trainer and not a cat trainer, I did own cats and dogs at the same time in my life and my advice has been helpful to them many times. Luckily, in many ways dogs and cats behave in the same ways, so it does not take rocket science at times to apply a bit of knowledge in learning theory and apply part of it to cats. For a good reason, many dog behaviorists are also cat behaviorists, and interestingly, the number of cat behaviorists is growing at a steady rate and so are shows about dealing with cat behaviors.
So why is Fluffy attacking Scruffy? As in dogs, there can be many reasons. It could be prey drive, just as some cats like to chase and bite your ankles as you walk by or lay in bed, some bold cats may decide to play rough and attack Fido. However, more likely than not, I see a fear component at play. It all ultimately depends on the circumstances and what happens.
If Rover is being boisterous, rest assured, more likely than not the attack was not unprovoked, Fluffy is just tired and telling the dog to stop. Most dogs, are not that great in reading cat body language, or some may care less, so after sending dozens of "leave me alone" signals which go ignored, sweet Snowball may go quickly to plan B and decide to attack rowdy Rover. Most cats are by nature aloof, reserved, and some barely accept being pet for more than a few minutes, so it makes sense for kitty to have had enough after your dog has been in her face for more than a handful of minutes!
Most cats will most likely flee if they have had enough, but if the cat is cornered and feels threatened, a scratch or bite is often the next option. As in dogs, cats are subject to the flight or fight response, and when the flight option is taken away, the fight option is the next step. So when your cat can't flee, expect your cat to resort to plan B and follow through!
How to Stop Your Cat From Attacking Your Dog
Twiddling your thumbs as you try to figure out why your cat is attacking your dog is pretty useless at this point, you really need to become proactive to prevent trouble. Countless dogs get corneal ulcers from being scratched by a cat and a bite can turn quickly infectious. Also, a dog may get defensive as well and cause serious harm to your cat. You really need to intervene to keep everybody safe. So here is what you can do:
This is by far your best option as you try to figure out your plan of action. Through management, you are basically keeping everybody safe. So let's say, Rover pesters Fluffy and Fluffy attacks because she has no escape route? Then you will provide that escape route. Make sure you create areas that are accessible to Fluffy only so she has a safe place to go and rest assured Fido will not follow. A baby gate with a small entrance on the bottom, a cat tree, or a high window perch is all it takes. Other options are keeping cat and dog separated when you are not able to supervise. While this sounds like common sense, often the most common solutions are bypassed.
- Stress Relief
Is your cat stressed by a new dog in the home? Have there been recently new changes? Cats look pretty much like strong creatures, but they are very sensitive to the slightest changes. If your cat is stressed and overreacts, she is over threshold levels and this sort of stress is self-reinforcing.
Basically, since your cat's aggressive behavior works in keeping your cat safe and in making Rover leave, it is reinforcing. Basically, your cat thinks that because hissing and scratching keeps her safe and makes your dog leave or makes you come right away to stop the interaction, it needs to be repeated. Just think about being in school and dealing with a bully, if every time you scream and try to slap the bully, the bully backs off or your teacher comes readily to your aid, most likely you will continue the screaming and slapping behavior.
So to change things around, you need your cat to feel safer and calmer. You may find that some over-the-counter products such as a Feliway plug-in or Composure soft chews may help as you try to work on the problem.
- Prey Drive
Some cats have a strong prey drive and will chase and pester poor Rover. Usually, cats will do so with smaller dogs or puppies. Many will love to pounce on that wiggly tail! But as the puppy grows cats may learn to choose size wisely and better not mess with the big beast. In such a case, it helps to re-direct your cat to a more acceptable form of play. When you start noticing the behavior, try to interrupt the interaction and grab kitty's attention by dragging a string with a piece of aluminum foil attached. She should go for the new toy since it is a novelty and leave poor Rover alone. Make sure your cat has plenty of catnip toys, and even some interactive ones to keep her interest alive. Some advise to attach a leash to the dog so the cat plays with the leash rather than the dog, but the leash can be caught somewhere so I do not feel too comfortable with this piece of advice.
- Re-directed Aggression
Cats are prone to a behavioral problem known as cat re-directed aggression. Basically, they may see a trigger outdoors, get highly excited and then re-direct on poor Fido, and sometimes, even the owner. If this is the case, it helps to block access to windows and prevent the cat from seeing the outdoors. Placing kitty in a dark room, will help calm down Cujo-Kitty.
Dogs are not the only ones to be possessive; cats can be too! Your cat may not be that eager to see Rover putting his face in your cat's food bowl or sniffing her litter box. If your cat has never shared the home with a dog, this may be quite annoying to deal with. If your cat acts aggressively, whenever your dog approaches any resources (food, toys, sleeping areas, play areas) your cat may be attacking due to possessiveness. Make sure you prepare a separate area just for kitty, and do the same for Rover, he can get upset too if kitty approaches his bone or food bowl and it won't be pretty!
Stress may be a temporary problem and prey drive can be re-directed, but in some cases, the levels of energy of cat and dog are too different. Animal behaviorist Dr. Gary Landsberg claims: "The biggest problems are related to specific compatibility issues where the dog is too playful and the cat is too fearful [or] a cat that is fearful and aggressive and a dog that does not know how to react."
In this, case it is worth wondering what you can do to make life much better. In such cases, it may be kinder to keep the two animals always separated and if this is not an option, re-homing one or the other is in the best interest in your animals. If you have had your cat for a long time, and you have a new puppy, you are better off re-homing the puppy. For this reason, it is best thinking well over new additions. Impulsively adding a new pet, as in this case, can be deleterious.
Desensitization and counter-conditioning works in cats too! Make sure you reward your kitty when she sees Fido and behaves. You may need to do this from a safe distance first and then increasingly allow closer encounters. If kitty gets nervous at any point, work from a farther distance.
*Note; if puppy or dog is the troublemaker, it is helpful to train your dog better self control. The "leave it" command is helpful in such as case. To learn this important command read" The Important of training dogs the leave it command'
How to Stop a Cat Attacking a Dog in its Tracks
What to do in the case your cat is actively fighting with your dog and you need to make it stop? As among dog fights, yelling may serve no purpose other than increasing arousal levels in both cat and dog. These strategies may prove more helpful:
- Make a sudden startling loud noise such as banging two pot lids together.
- Toss some water over the contenders using a bucket or water from a hose.
- Throw a blanket over cat and dog.
- Never get in between cat and dog, doing so may make you prone to re-directed aggression!
Disclaimer: this article is not a replacement for professional behavioral advice. If your cat and dog are fighting consult with an animal behaviorist that can assess the situation first hand and suggest the most appropriate program. Never leave cat and dog together unsupervised no matter how well they get along.
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Questions & Answers
My cat has been with my dog for over two years but recently started attacking the dog. It's rather scary; the cat just goes crazy. We have been supervising the cat and dog and when not home the cat is locked downstairs. Do you have anymore suggestions?
It may help determine whether your cat may be ill or stressed. Feliway may help some cats calm down. Some cats get very aroused or stressed if they see things out of the window and then redirect it to people or other pets. Blocking windows may help if this is a case of redirected aggression.