Dogs are normally friendly, docile, and sweet. They wouldn’t hurt a butterfly, let alone a fellow neighbor or family member!
So, it is definitely a shock for many pet owners when they find their once gentle dog suddenly aggressive towards cats for no apparent reason. However, drastic changes in behavior in our beloved pets is never without cause.
When a dog shows sudden aggression where it didn’t before, it may be due to factors such as fear, stress, or pain from injury or illness. It may also have behavioral roots, where conditioning or certain habits have induced the dog to become more hostile.
The key to solving this newfound aggression is to get right to the root of the problem.
Once you are able to identify what is causing your dog so much trouble, removing it will usually go a long way in resolving the issue and turning your dog back into its usual, harmless self.
Why Is My Dog Suddenly Aggressive Towards My Cat?
If you have as many pets as I do (three dogs, two cats, one parrot, one gecko, and counting…), you know that our furry friends do like/tolerate living in harmony once they get to know each other.
Dogs are usually the most agreeable and docile out of the bunch, probably because they have been trained and bred for thousands of years to live with and please their humans.
While dogs can live peacefully with felines, there will be times where a dog can abruptly become uncharacteristically aggressive towards the cat in their life. If you’ve ever experienced it, you know it can be downright scary to be around a snarling, violent dog.
Armed with powerful jaws and sharp teeth, it’s entirely possible that a dog’s aggression can get out of hand and cause injuries to either the cat or another bystander (such as yourself). But the question remains: What makes a dog suddenly aggressive towards a cat in the first place?
Knowing exactly why your dog is acting aggressively is essential when trying to end the hostility. There are many potential reasons for a dog’s unexpected aggression towards a cat, ranging from psychological, physical and situational causes.
With that said, let’s have a closer look at what could have made your dog so combative towards your pussycat!
1. Illness And Injury
I regularly take my dog to my local vet for checkups. Do you do the same?
Dogs are notorious for hiding their pain and discomfort– often up to the point when the problem becomes much more serious (and sometimes even life-threatening).
If your dog is in pain or has an underlying illness yet to be diagnosed, it most likely won’t try to tell you in any way. It is much more likely that it “acts out” and becomes aggressive towards your cat!
Imagine, for a second, that you have a particularly annoying splinter stuck in your finger. No matter what you do, you can’t (and don’t know how to) get it out. You have to live day after day with the pain, not knowing when or if it will ever end.
Wouldn’t that put you in a bad mood and cause you to have a shorter temper than usual?
I know I would. So, I can fully understand a dog lashing out unexpectedly when it is feeling pain- whether it is small and nagging, or serious and chronic.
Pain and discomfort can arise from a near-endless variety of health issues, such as:
- Scratches and scrapes
- Open wounds
- Internal injuries
- Viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections
- Arthritis and joint pain
- Hip dysplasia
If your usually mild-mannered dog suddenly exhibits unusual aggressiveness, it may be time to pay a visit to the vet. Do so as soon as possible, as your precious pooch may have been suffering in silence for quite some time already.
In the meantime, keep an eye out for telltale signs such as an unwillingness to move, constant licking, or persistent limping.
2. Fear And Stress
Fear and stress are another two of the primary catalysts of uncustomary aggression in dogs.
When your dog is scared or stressed, it will likely exhibit certain abnormal behaviors such as excessive barking, whining, chewing, panting, and shaking.
If you had noticed any of the above signs of anxiety prior to your dog suddenly chasing the cat, chances are that it could be dealing with some serious pent-up stress.
During this time, it may also tuck its tail, avoid eye contact, hide for no apparent reason, follow you around, whimper, or exhibit other strange behaviors.
If the source of fear and anxiety goes unaddressed, it can result in worsening aggression towards not only your cat but also other family members. Again, the best course of action would be to take your pup to the vet for a professional assessment.
3. Display Of Dominance
Some dogs, such as Jack Russells, are naturally more “feisty” per se, and may naturally want to assert that dominance over others through shows of aggression.
So, if your dog is acting aggressively towards the cat, it could be that it is trying to display its authority and hierarchy in the household.
To correct aggressive behavior that results from dominance, you may want to supervise your pets when they are together so that you can correct any misbehavior as it happens.
Remember, you are the pack leader in your dog’s eyes, so it’s up to you to let them know what’s ok or not ok. An effective way to do this is by using a stern, firm tone with your dog when it’s barking or growling at others.
In my own home, my youngest corgi Olliver frequently vies for dominance. Despite being the smallest in stature, he is consistently the most aggressive- especially when it comes to food and attention. Frequently, he takes it out on the others.
(As an aside, I feel like Olliver’s present aggression has partly developed due to being pushed around by the cat when he was still a very small puppy. Quid pro quo and all that!)
Because of this behavior, I have made it a point to show him that all the members of the family are equally loved, and that he is not necessarily above everyone else in the hierarchy.
Besides obedience training, I feed my other dogs and cats first in his presence so that he understands that they are higher up in the hierarchy. Although it is a simple technique, it effectively challenges the dog’s sense of superiority.
No matter how you choose to curb aggressiveness that results from dominance in your dog, keep in mind that it will always need time and patience. Your dog and cat are no doubt equally important, so try to avoid making one feel inferior to the other.
If you are unsure on how to proceed, making an appointment with a dog behaviorist would be a good first step to addressing the issue!
Dogs can be very possessive and territorial when it comes to food, spaces, and even caretakers- especially if they feel insecure.
If your dog feels that there is a threat to their most essential resources, it can become abruptly aggressive towards whatever they perceive as the danger. In many cases of sudden aggression, you will find that your pup is defending its food or fighting for attention.
For instance, your dog may begin growling and snapping at the cat when the feline dares to venture too close to its food dish.
Luckily, if territoriality and possessiveness is the issue, there is a very easy fix! Simply keep your dog and cat areas separate, and monitor them especially during mealtimes so that they do not appear threatening to each other.
5. Excessive Boredom
Just like humans, pets can suffer from boredom if they have nothing to do.
If your dog lacks mental stimulation, does not get enough exercise, or is left alone for too long, it will likely become more disruptive, destructive, and disobedient. This pent-up energy can lead to a type of aggressiveness towards others that may not be intentional.
Ideally, you should give your dog plenty of opportunities to exercise, and provide him with challenging puzzles and chew toys for mental stimulation!
Making The Fluffy And Scruffy Great Friends: How Do You Stop A Dog From Being Aggressive To Cats?
After reading the above section, you will now know the potential reasons as to why a dog may suddenly show aggression towards a cat.
Now, you need to identify what exactly causes your dog’s onset of aggression so that you can correct the behavior efficiently.
The first thing that you should do is to rule out any potential injuries, illnesses, or emotional/neurological disturbances. You can do this by taking your dog to the vet’s office for a thorough examination, where they will be able to check your pup’s physical and mental health.
If the vet finds that your dog is suffering from physical pain or mental stress, those problems need to be addressed immediately.
However, if the existence of any physical or mental conditions can be ruled out, the aggression shown by your dog will likely have a behavioral basis. In this case, you can choose between training your pooch yourself, or enlisting the help of a professional dog behaviorist.
Usually, it isn’t too difficult to train a dog that is showing only mild aggression. While there are endless resources on dog behavioral training, here are a few general tips when it comes to dealing with aggression:
- Be authoritative. It is extremely important to be as firm as possible when teaching your dog, as it looks to you for ultimate guidance. Use a confident, assertive tone when giving commands, and do not allow behavioral boundaries to be crossed. The clearer you make it to your dog what is acceptable and what isn’t, the quicker it will learn.
At the same time, do not be overly aggressive yourself as this may further exacerbate the hostility in your pup.
- Along the same lines, avoid punishing your dog. Training should always be in the form of positive reinforcement- not negative. Many people think that the best way to stop a dog’s aggression is by punishing it. Unfortunately, punishing usually aggravates aggression further instead of stopping it.
The best methods focus on stopping the behavior, redirecting the dog’s attention, then rewarding the acceptance to change.
- Spend more time with your dog! Playing and spending time with your dog keeps it mentally stimulated, and gives you better control over its emotions. Allow your pets to interact as you play with them. This will lower their stress and significantly help to reduce aggressiveness.
- If it’s just not working, don’t hesitate to hire a professional dog behaviorist. A professional trainer or dog behaviorist can quickly help you establish and solve the cause of aggression. It’s their job, after all!
What’s even better than curing a dog’s aggression towards the family cat? Minimizing any chance of it happening in the first place!
Though it may be a bit late for those who already have both canines and felines in their home, knowing how to properly moderate the first interactions between a dog and a cat can still be very useful in case you are planning to introduce a new furry family member in the future.
Gradually Introduce Both Parties
This goes without saying, but take as much time as is needed when first introducing a new cat and dog to each other. In these situations, it is usually the cat that will be more nervous and apprehensive.
And rightly so! If your dog is not supervised properly from the outset, your cat risks becoming its new target or toy to chase. Once a mistake is allowed to occur, it will become very difficult to salvage the relationship in the future.
That’s why it is so important to set the tone in the very first meeting so that the two parties have the best chance of becoming buddies.
Enlist the help of a friend or family member, and keep your dog on a tight leash when it meets the cat for the first time. Try to keep the dog as calm and quiet as possible, and allow the cat the opportunity to approach on its own accord. Don’t force the interaction in any way!
If your dog shows any inclination to chase or lunge at the cat by tugging its leash, hold it back and tell it “No” or “Leave” in a firm voice. Once your dog listens and responds to your command, reward it accordingly with a treat and praise.
After a few of these controlled meetups, assess whether the two have become more relaxed in each other’s presence. If so, you can try to extend their freedom by loosening your dog’s leash slightly. Constantly be on the lookout for any changes in body language or behavior.
If all proceeds smoothly, you can take it to the next level by feeding each animal in the other’s presence.
Take it in turns by feeding the cat first, then the dog- and make each of them wait quietly and patiently for the other as they eat their meal. This will help to establish the hierarchy and prevent any dominance-related aggression from developing.
Once you feel that the two are becoming completely comfortable with each other, you can let your dog off its leash completely.
Carefully watch what happens, but it is more than likely that- if all has gone smoothly to this point- cat and dog will put aside their ancestral differences and become fast friends!
Can A Cat-Aggressive Dog Be Rehabilitated?
Cats and dogs are often thought of as mortal enemies. But is this true?
As a matter of fact, dogs and cats can happily and peacefully live together under the same roof. However, because cats are relatively small, some dogs can see them as prey and from time to time act aggressively towards them.
So, what do you do with cat-aggressive dogs? Can they be rehabilitated?
While cat-aggressive dogs can be challenging to train, it doesn’t mean that it is completely impossible to restore them to their normal behavior or to simply train them to be cat-friendly.
Of course, one of the best ways to stop a dog’s aggressive behavior is through obedience training. While there’s nothing stopping you from training your dog on your own, it may be more time and cost-effective to recruit an experienced dog trainer to help you correct the behavior.
After all, trainers are equipped with better skills and techniques along with years (or even decades) of canine knowledge and experience. As long as you find a well-respected expert in the field, you can rest assured that your pet is in the best hands!
While placing your pup with a behaviorist gives it the best shot at becoming a “good dog”, keep in mind that it is never guaranteed that your dog will completely cease from being cat-aggressive. Still, you can expect at least noticeable improvements to be made.
How Do I Get My Dog To Stop Attacking The Cat?
A dog growling and barking when it sees a cat is a sign of aggressiveness. If whatever is causing these signs of aggression goes unchecked, it can escalate to chasing and even attacking.
This usually creates a challenging and stressful time for the poor cat. So, how do you get your dog to stop?
Match The Pets’ Personalities:
Generally, dogs have a high prey drive and will naturally want to chase a cat.
However, by adopting a cat and dog with matching personalities, you can be sure that both pets are safe when outdoors with each other since neither see the other as competition or prey.
Train Your Dog By Using Basic Commands And Obedience Methods
Obedience training seems to be recommended any time a dog’s behavior is mentioned- and for good reason! Dogs usually respond very favorably to training, provided that they are taught properly.
When training a cat-aggressive dog, the most important commands to teach are “Leave it” and “Stay”. Drilled correctly, both commands will prevent the dog from becoming distracted or acting on their natural instinct to chase.
Depending on your pup’s willingness to listen (and your ability to teach), you may need the intervention of an experienced dog trainer or dog behaviorist.
Introduce Your Pets All Over Again
Though you might have introduced your dog to your cat in the beginning, it may have reverted to old habits and its natural predator instincts.
If this is the case, take your dog and cat through the introduction method again as outlined in the above section. Keep your dog on a leash whenever it is near the cat until it is able to be friendly towards the feline again!
Keep Both Pets Entertained And Busy
A cat-aggressive dog may be acting that way completely out of a sense of boredom.
Remember, dogs have a lot of energy that tends to be misused if they are left idle for too long. If your cat is in the vicinity at the wrong time, it may become the unfortunate victim of this frustrated energy.
On the other hand, a cat with extra energy can also act aggressively and thereby trigger a dog’s prey drive.
The best way to stop all this from happening is by keeping your pets entertained or busy. You can do this by introducing training and exercise sessions, agility courses, or toys to keep them engaged.
The ultimate goal is to ensure the dog has better things to do with its time and energy than attack the cat!
What if, after trying all of these methods, you find that they just do not work for your dog?
At times, it may be simply too challenging for a dog to unlearn its behavior of being aggressive towards cats.
In these cases, the best thing to do for the cat’s health and well-being would be to separate the two animals permanently. While this may not be the most ideal solution, it will ensure that both animals stay safe and have their space to live a happy life.
Elena Gherman is a highly skilled and knowledgeable animal care expert. At the start of her career, she gained practical expertise with multiple animals. In addition to that, she works as a DVM veterinary editor for Joy Pet Products, which focuses on offering reliable information on pet health and wellbeing. She meticulously reviews each piece of writing before it is published to make sure pet owners get the most precise and updated information possible.