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Why Did My Dog Kill My Cat?

Updated on May 20, 2016
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Adrienne Farricelli is a former veterinary hospital assistant and now a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant and author of dog books.

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Why Did My Dog Kill My Cat or My Neighbor's Cat?

Let's face it: it's sometimes quite inevitable for a dog owner to perceive their dog quite differently after the dog ends up killing their cat or the neighbor's cat. Many thoughts may go in the dog owner's mind such as "why did my dog do this? what happened exactly? is this a sign my dog is aggressive? does this mean my dog may decide to now also kill other dogs, animals and are my children at risk now? Often dog owners are shocked that their dog managed to kill an animal especially when such animal was a cherished pet. Sometimes dog owners are so distraught by the whole experience, they feel like they own a monster and even consider giving up their dog or in some severe cases even putting him down.

Before taking drastic measures and considering the dog evil, it's important to better understand the behavior and get a better grasp on what likely happened. There may be many different causes for this behavior. If you were able to witness the behavior, you may get some clues by considering what happened before. Did your dog chase the cat? Did the cat come too close to a resource? Did the cat come in your dog's property? Were the cat and dog playing? We will take a closer look at some potential causes and tips on how to deal with the situation to prevent this from happening again. Understanding what may have happened requires distancing yourself from the horrific event and seeing beyond the emotions.

Dogs Who Chase and Kill Fleeing Cats

If your dog started chasing after a fleeing cat and ended up fatally wounding the cat, consider that it may be difficult to grasp, but this may be totally normal behavior. One may say: "how can it be normal behavior? I never thought my dog would do something so horrible!" I actually felt the same way when my friend told me that a kitten I gave her was killed by a neighbor's pack of Cirneco dell' Etna hunting dogs. Every time I saw those dogs I thought of them as evil beings with fangs ready to kill any cat that walked by. Today, I see things differently. The problem is that as humans, we often tend to attribute human traits to dogs something known as "anthropomorphism." Unlike us, dogs do not have moral values and act out of instinct, which is simply part of being a dog, just as killing mice may be part of being a cat.

Chasing a fleeing cat (or a squirrel, rabbit or mouse) is as normal as it was for our ancestors to go hunting and for our food industry to keep stocking up the meat departments in our grocery stores to allow us to eat steak and ribs. The instinct to chase and kill fleeing animals stems from the dog's past. To fully understand predatory behavior in dogs all we need to do is to go back in ancient times when the dog's ancestors didn't depend on humans for food as dogs do today. Let's take a brief look at how predatory behavior works.

Before dogs were domesticated and fed kibble from a shiny bowl, dog's ancestors were hunters at heart. What is predatory behavior? It's an animal's ability to track down, chase and kill animals for food. All dogs have a certain level of predatory drive. The fact your dog is eager to chase a ball or shake a toy is because of this drive. Hunting and killing was a way of life in a dog's evolutionary past.

Predatory drive follows a precise sequence that scientists call a "fixed action pattern." The sequence is eye, stalk, chase, grab-bite, kill-bite, dissect and consume. Not all dogs will follow the whole sequence though. This varies based on genetics, history, motivation and other factors. If your dog saw a fleeing cat, predatory drive could have triggered him to chase. What triggers a dog's predatory drive is movement. Movement triggers an automatic, reflexive response in dogs. When the dog spots prey at a distance, the dog may fixate on the source with his gaze, ears kept upright, ready to capture the faintest sounds, body quivering and ready to spring into action. If the dog sees a sudden movement nearby in a bushy area, he may decide to pounce upon the prey or he may decide to chase. If the chase is successful, the dog may grab the prey by the neck bite down and shake. Shaking is typical predatory behavior meant to quickly finish up their prey. Usually, in such a case, you don't see any blood and the affected animal looks intact.

Behaviorists call predatory killing "the quiet bite" because it's not done out of rage. Brain research has shown that during a kill, the circuits responsible for rage are not activated and killing bites are far from the loud, screaming fights seen among two animals fighting. When an animal is on the kill, he'll just bite down hard and shake, explains Temple Grandin in the book "Animals in Translation."

All this predatory behavior may seem to make sense if a dog is hungry, but why would dogs kill cats if they aren't starving and are well fed? Aren't they just acting out for a morbid pleasure of killing? Again, we must consider instinct. Indeed, in a laboratory setting, it was found that an animal's killing bite instinct could be easily turned on by simply implanting electrodes into the predatory circuits of the brain and stimulating them with electricity. The animal didn't have to be hungry nor did it have to see prey, adds Temple Grandin. Dogs remain instinctive beings who don't abide to our moral values as we humans may do sometimes. Their brains aren't that complex as ours and don't kill out of rage ( as discussed, their circuits responsible for rage are not activated) as humans often do. It's unjust to consider a dog killing a cat as a type of murder. A murder is something done with the intent to harm. A dog who is acting out of instinct doesn't have an intentional intent to harm.

However, other than rage, there may be other feelings going on. According to dog trainer David D. Cardona, when hunting, dogs reach an emotional natural high as the neurochemical ‘dopamine’ ends up sending endorphins throughout the dog's body. The hunting action itself therefore, becomes addicting and self-reinforcing." Temple Grandin claims that animals like having their predatory circuits turned on because predatory killing means dinner. When a dog is engaging in predatory behavior, the behavior stems from the same areas of the brain where the "seeking circuits" come from. These are circuits that elicit curiosity, intense interest and anticipation as animals seek what they want. It's a pleasurable feeling a cat that kills a mouse must feel or a primate peeling a ripe banana must feel. As humans we may feel the same way when we catch many fish or go on a grocery shopping spree.

So when we feel like our dogs are being cruel for killing an animal, we are engaging in anthropomorphism, attributing them moral values dogs don't have. "Predatory aggression by a dog does not reflect a psychological problem and neither is the perpetrator vicious, malicious or vindictive." explains veterinary behaviorist Nicholas H. Dodman. As Temple Grandin concludes "Inside the brain, predatory killing and angry aggression are not the same thing. Not even close."

"Predatory aggression by a dog does not reflect a psychological problem and neither is the perpetrator vicious, malicious or vindictive."

— Nicholas H. Dodman.

Other Reasons Dogs May Kill a Cat

When a dog kills a cat, predatory drive isn't always necessarily the main culprit, even though it may be a contributing factor. Witnessing what occurred before the incident may reveal some insights as to the dynamics of the behavior. It could happen that the dog was resource guarding an item (food, toy, sleeping place) and the cat came too close and the dog fatally injured the cat. In households where a dog and cat got along for a while, it could be the dog and cat were playing and the cat got accidentally injured.

At times, dogs and cats may interact and then predatory instinct may take over. Sometimes, cats and dogs may be playing, when predatory drift, a phenomenon where a dog's predatory instinct is suddenly turned on, may take effect. A dog may also be chasing a cat out of his perceived territory and then predatory instinct may take over.

In households with multiple dogs, it could happen that one dog is playing and other dogs join in and then predatory instinct may kick in in one dog. It could be a fight erupted among the dogs and the cat fell victim to a re-directed bite for high arousal levels in the dogs. It could be an animal may have entered a fenced yard and frustrated from not being able to catch it, the dogs may have reverted their predatory instincts towards the cat. It could be the cat got panicky for some reason or got some seizure and a dog was stressed by the behavior. It could be a dog wasn't feeling well and the cat failed to read his signals to be left alone.

In a household with dogs who have gotten well along with cats before, one must consider if there were any recent changes that could have caused stress. Stressed dogs may act out of character. It could be one dog may have medical problem that has lowered his threshold for aggression. If dogs aren't exercised enough, their pent-up energy may lead to pestering the cat which could lead to predatory drift. It could be the dogs have started killing other animals and decided to generalize the behavior to the cat if the cat started fleeing. There are several dynamics that may take place, and sometimes a real answer is never known as only assumptions can be made.

Moving on Forward

A dog killing a beloved cat is a cat owner's worse nightmare come true. As much as one was attached to the cat, blaming a dog for acting out of instinct is not helpful. Instinct is hardwired behavior that can be managed and some times, changed but never totally removed. Following are some tips to recover from the loss and prevent future mishaps.

  • Manage the environment. If your dog killed a neighbor's cat, after sending condolences and perhaps offering to pay for the burial or cremation services, it's important to take care that nothing similar happens again in the future. Since we are the ones that are responsible for managing our dog's environment, it's our responsibility to protect the animals of others. Sometimes though, cats are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Cat owners must also ensure their cats don't get into the property where dogs reside.
  • Prevent rehearsal. If a dog is provided with ample of environmental opportunities to act on their predatory drive, through conditioning and rehearsal, the predatory behavior will be fine-tuned and get stronger and will therefore repeat in the future. So when a dog chases or kills a cat, it's important to realize the dog is likely to do it again.
  • Protect your other cats. If you have other cats, it's imperative to prevent access to them from now on. Keep them completely separated from your dog or consider re-homing your dog or the cat.
  • Seek help. Just because a behavior may be “natural” does not mean that it cannot be changed. In some cases, the implementation of force--free training and behavior modification can help.
  • Will my dog now hurt my children? Killing a small animal doesn't necessarily mean the dog would hurt a person, an infant or another dog even though this behavior may indicate the dog is at risk for such problems. Nicholas Dodman warns that some dogs may get overstimulated by fast-running children. It never hurts to always practice caution and always supervise the interactions of dogs and children, whether your dog has a history of killing small animals or not. If you are ever uncomfortable by any situation, consult with a professional to assess your dog.

Disclaimer; this article is not a substitute for hands-on professional behavior advice. If your dog is chasing and killing animals and you are concerned about potential future harm, please seek the aid of a behavior professional for proper assessment and management options.

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    • bigj1969 profile image

      John Marshall 17 months ago from glasgow

      Great hub,I am a dog and cat lover.but I know deep down they are wild animals at heart,they can all turn.you just pray that they don't.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 17 months ago from The Beautiful South

      I have been around animals a lot of years and never knew a dog to kill a cat. Many times we may have a dog chase a cat and usually the cat took care of themselves but if it looked like the dog may hurt the cat we would scold or punish the dog. Then there would never be trouble after that. You have to have dogs that mind I say or of course they can be a danger to your family or maybe others.

      I knew of a lady who had a little girl and got it a pup (pit bull) right away and they were about five years old and that dog tore the little girls face off.

      I would never keep a disobedient animal; they only spell trouble and could be fatal to more than cats.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 17 months ago from California Gold Country

      We had a large yard with a couple of Labs and a few ducks, which all got along well together for quite some time. The dogs would occasionally steal a duck egg. The male duck (which might have been part goose?) would occasionally sneak up behind a dog and give him a poke in the rear end.

      One day we came home to find the "goosing " duck dead of a broken neck and the yard looked like a feather bed explosion.

      It was perhaps inevitable, and the dog had finally had enough. We decided it was best to keep them separated.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 17 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Hi Alexadry. We have three dogs and four cats that get along fine most of the time but if the cats move suddenly it sets the dogs instinct off and they will set chase..usually just a game and none of them get hurt, but two of the dogs chased and killed about six of our chickens once and our daughters two Siberian huskies once killed her cat. Good and informative hub.

    • alexadry profile image
      Author

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 17 months ago from USA

      Thanks all for commenting and sharing stories. My friend once had a husky who killed all their ducks and lined them up neatly by their door. Her husband was so upset he got his rifle and was ready to shoot the poor husky. Luckily my friend stopped him on time. A dog's ancient roots must be remembered. Huskies were often sent off in the winter to fend for themselves and this meant they had to kill prey.

    • Anne 8 months ago

      Hi ..I've a real problem.I have three cats..live indoors mot of the time.My partner is intending moving in to live with me and he has two terriers. I am so terribly worried that one of the terriers a feisty and adorable little dog is going to rip my cats apart,I love my three cats and he loves his two dogs ..in fact we both love our animals however I just don't know what to do.I really don't want my poor cats displaced or worse injured or killed.Any ideas anyone? I'd love to hear what you think would be best.

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 8 months ago from USA

      Management is your best friend to keep your cats safe.

    • fiyoung 7 months ago

      Hi, I also have 3 cats and after loads of research have introduced a little cross breed puppy. I can see it is going to take alot of patience and training to stop the puppy from wanting to play/chase the cats. I absolutely adore my cats and they will sit in the room with puppy as long as one of us is there. I think they know we wouldn't let anything happen to them but at the same time they know the puppy could hurt them. She chases them if she can, particularly in the garden. They have to understand the house and the garden is still their territory. The puppy has to see you loving your cats so she knows she is not the most important thing in your life. Put a stair gate up so that they have access to upstairs and the dog does not. I would be lying if I said I am not anxious about the situation, I naively thought the cats would give the puppy a bit of hissing and she would learn not to go too close but the dog will grow bigger than them and has the potential to kill. These things can be addressed at training classes. Any further advice from anyone else who has experienced this would be gratefully received

    • susanlavespere 7 months ago

      Why does my chihuahua like the top of her paws until they are pink?

    • CKOLB 6 months ago

      My husband and I came home yesterday to our dear cat dead from a bite to the head. We have two dogs that we love very much, they have all lived together for 6 years. They had some issues years ago of chasing after we had moved, and we separated them, but they started getting along again after the stress of moving went away and we stopped separating them when we left. I feel so guilty I don't now what to do. I feel like I lost all of my pets because I can't even look at or touch my dogs. We are heartbroken. Any experience or advice anyone has on forgiving my dogs and moving on is appreciated. I don't want to feel this way towards my dogs for the rest of our lives. Our pets are our children.

    • BHOLD 6 months ago

      Hey CKOLB, we had the exact thing happen to us. It was TERRIBLE - and traumatic. My first instinct was "I'm going to kill those dogs!!" that didn't last more than 1 minute. I was mad at my dogs too. I called the vet hysterical to try and get some sense of what on earth could've happened. He said one dog may have egged on the other one (who we hadn't had as long) and that unfortunately it happens. When two dogs are together, their instincts (hunting & killing) can be triggered so its not like they were planning and scheming to do this. I couldn't heal until I forgave the pups. Now we keep them separate when we leave the house. We will not trust them again alone with the cats. I'm so so sorry it happened, but just remember that they are animals - just operating on instincts and more than likely did not intend to hurt your cat. I hope you can forgive your dogs. They probably don't even know why you're upset (like our dogs). It is so so tough...and sad to see your sweet beloved animal dead - due to another beloved pet - doing what comes completely natural to them.

    • christoph32 5 months ago

      Hi. Need some advice. I have always wanted a Doberman and have been presented with an opportunity to adopt one that needs a home. Problem: This Doberman has had very little socializing and has killed a cat during play. I have no cats but have 3 small dogs. I would always supervise but is this endangering my pets? I am unsure if a dogs reaction to cats will differ from the reaction to small dogs.

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 months ago from USA

      Hard to say, as to some dogs small animals appear like prey and this may sometimes include small dogs. Killing a cat during play sounds more like an accident though, you will need to know more about what exactly happened. Did he bite to hard? hold the cat and shake? fall over the cat, lied over the cat?

    • animallvr22 5 months ago

      I found your site while looking for solice after the unthinkable happened 2 days ago. I too am mourning my cat and dogs even though the dogs are still here. My dogs and cats have lived in harmony my whole life. We have a horse ranch with 4 dogs (lab and 3 malamutes) and 5 cats. The cats and dogs have shared the back yard with no problems. My favorite cat Honey follows me around like a dog even goes on walks with them. She was in the barn under a step while I was closing the pasture gate when I heard her hiss and the ensuing commotion. I saw the 3 malamutes (all raised with the cats and under 2 years old) on her, she could not escape the triangle. I ran to her aid trying to pull the dogs off her, but was not strong enough and out numbered. After the final head shake it was over, but in my heart I feel like I have lost all 4 pets. Understanding the prey instinct and the fact that dogs do not have a moral compass have helped but I still cannot honestly go out and love on those dogs. I have never witnessed aggression from them. Prior to reading your article I suppose I did think they understood that we all live together and respect each other, and would never hurt one another. Moving forward I am looking to forgiving myself and the dogs for Honey's death. Would love advise. The dogs are very sweet however I view them as killers now. Cats and dogs will be separated from now on as I do not want a repeat encounter.

    • Brandy 4 months ago

      I am so sad, yet grateful I found this site. Just a little earlier my sweet 8 year old son discovered our male cat deceased in his bedroom. It was highly traumatic for him, his brother & my husband & I. We were baffled. We had been out for a bit taking the kids for a ride in our brand new van. We surprised them with it when they got home from school. We left in a hurry just to take a little ride & didn't realize we had left our dogs out. Our terrier can open the door and she often does to come inside. This left the kitchen door to the fenced yard open, and I'm assuming our cat sauntered out onto the deck or into the yard. Our hound is a big chaser and she "bugs" the cats if she can, but has lived with them for the 4.5 years we've had her. We use gates to let the cats stay on the other side of the house, but at night they sleep on my bed just fine together. Our cat's fur was all damp as if he'd been mouthed on. We didn't see any wounds. After reading here our best guess is our cat went out and the hound chased him & the terrier must have joined, which sets off the hound more. All I can imagine is that maybe she did the grab and shake. I think the cat got away and ran back through the open door into the house, and maybe went to my boys room and passed there (maybe a heart attack)..unless the dog chased him back in, but we are pretty sure the gates were up separating that part of the house from the dogs. Regardless, we are devastated..never knew this could happen. I will certainly keep the dogs separated from now on. :(

    • Adelaide Porter profile image

      Michele Clarke 4 months ago from California

      We are in a period of transition, My husband and I as well as my oldest son who used to take care of the dog who did this and my two youngest sons moved to CA and left 3 of my other adult children still at our old home while we find a home with our dogs and cats. For a very long time we just had 2 dogs plus the cats and then over the summer in Jume my son and daughter each got a dog so now there are 4 dogss plus my cats. The one cat I adopted gave birth 3 weeks ago and she had chosed a box to keep her babies in. For ssome reason my sons girlfriend went into my room, where most of the cats are, a few are out with the dogs, and she emptied out the box not realizing that my favorite kitten was still inside, she brough the box into the hallway where the kitten fell out and Blackie killed my kitten. We have had blackie for 5 years we saved him from the pound on his last day he is a malamute/husky. He usually comes in and sees my cats supervised only when there are no kittens and he loves the cats he cuddles with them and sleeps with them and cleans them. Now I am devestated and dont know what to do. I can't get rid of Blacky or my cats and I am not there to supervise anything soo I am so afraid now that he has the taste of cat blood will he go for more?

    • Slm-md 3 months ago

      I have four dogs and 2 cats. I came home from work to find one of my dogs out of her cage and one of my cats dead with his throat ripped out. I've had this dog for her entire lifetime- 6 years. I've never had a dog like her. She exhibits alpha behavior with smaller animals by standing over them in an aggressive manner. if one of the other animals shows signs of "weakness" she is all over them and has to be pulled off.

      I have two young granddaughters and she also does the alpha stance over them. I really don't feel as though she can be trusted around anything weaker than she is.

      What do you suggest doing?

    • Grace 3 months ago

      Animallover22, just as you may forgive your cats for killing mice, you must forgive your dogs for killing your kitty. Dogs are animals, and not people in furry clothes, sometimes instincts take over. I don't know what happened exactly to your cat, but since there was a head shake and several dogs acting together, it sounded like predatory behavior. So sorry for your loss.

    • Carolyn 3 months ago

      I have a dog and three cats. What is wrong with you people defending dogs? A dog may not have human morals, but if it is killing a cat, it deserves to be killed. It is dangerous stop making excuses you trapped your poor cats with it take responsibility and dont allow it to happen again.

    • Grace 3 months ago

      So if dogs should be killed for killing cats, then cats should be killed for killing mice. Fair? Nobody is defending dogs, it's just trying to understand them, many dogs were bred to hunt, what's unfair is expecting dogs who for years were used as hunting partners, to love cats and adhere to our same moral values.

    • alexadry profile image
      Author

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 months ago from USA

      SLM-MD, please see a force-free dog trainers/behavior consultant if you feel your dog cannot be trusted around your granddaughters.

    • Caroline 2 months ago

      I have had 1cat attacked 1 cat killed by my staffy that we had for seven years , he's fine with them in the house but when there outside he will attack them he's well behaved he gets walked 2 a day he just hate cats , he tried to get our rag doll cat last night but the cat got away , seriously thinking of getting rid of him for this reason , very had when you love both cats and dogs the same . Just don't want to lose another cat

    • Disannec profile image

      Disannec 3 weeks ago

      We have alot of cats and dogs and we all live together and get on as a family. My cats live upstairs and the girl dogs live in the main house. The boy dog lives with poopy the kitty downstairs and everything is great. We rescued Percy the kitten recently so he was kept with us in teh main living area and one of our dogs adopted him and it was really sweet. This morning we found percy dead. Evie our other dog killed him. She is terratorial and jelous, we watched he like a hawk for 2 weeks and when Percy even started to share he bed we were very proud of her... but last night she killed hi...and I'm absolutely devastated. She has been banned from her bed and sent to teh stairs and we are ignoring her. Its al I could do to stop my husband killing her. I don't blame her, but I'm so so sad. it's our fault for being naive I guess. We thought everyone understood each other. Fatal mistake. Living with the fallout is difficult. I cant look at my dog the same way again, even though I know it was our fault...we knew that she was unpredictable...my heart is so heavy today...

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 weeks ago from USA

      Disannec, so sorry for your loss, it may take some time to accept it. Please don't blame yourself. We trust our instincts and think our animals may sort things out but things can be very misleading at times. Reminds me of when as a child we had several fish that were born in our aquarium and we were very fond of. Our neighbor asked us if we could watch her fish (going by the name of Claire), and we decided to let them share the aquarium. Claire was much bigger than ours, but they got along well all day and swam side-to side. Reassured, we went to sleep and big mistake we woke up and ALL of our fish were gone! When she picked Claire up, she had almost doubled in size and we told her the story and she couldn't believe it.

    • Huh? 3 weeks ago

      They may not have morals, but they do know when what they do is right or wrong. What would you say for a dog that entered your yard and kills the mother cat and her child? instinct? When a cat kills a mice it's for food.. Now that dog sure didn't eat the cats it killed, and it was in the home of the cats it killed them, not the dogs territory.

    • alexadry profile image
      Author

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 2 weeks ago from USA

      Actually, many cats won't eat mice, had a couple who never even tried to eat them. It's pure instinct and what's wrong in our eyes isn't wrong for them. As humans, it's scary that many of us hunt not for food, nor for instinct, but for pleasure. And that is plain wrong if we look at moral and what is right or wrong. I am very sorry for your loss if the cats were yours.

    • Anyomonus 8 days ago

      I know that now my dog killed my cat from instincts, but can I still revive the 5 WEEK OLD kitten? (This happend about two months ago. )

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