Having both a cat and dog as pets has its challenges. One of these is when your cat attacks your dog unprovoked.
This behavior from your cat could be due to the following: feeling threatened, being territorial, or having an underlying medical issue. Other times the cause of the aggression does not have anything to do with the dog.
If your cat is displaying the same behavior and you want to correct it, keep reading.
Why is my cat attacking my dog?
Your cat’s hostility towards your dog could be caused by the following:
1. Status Aggression
Cats like being in control, so when they think that their status is being usurped, they may respond with aggression. When your cat thinks that you are paying more attention to the dog, they can start attacking it. They are sensitive to people or animals that threaten their standing as head of the home, which is why they do not like to be moved and tend to block doors.
What to do: Establish strict boundaries that both pets will respect. Give your cat a part of the house that only it can access. Put up baby gates to keep your dogs out. This safe space will give the cat a sanctuary. Spend an equal amount of time bonding with both pets, so one does not feel ignored.
2. Territorial Aggression
Cats and dogs are territorial, so it is natural for them to fight over the same house. When a cat sees certain areas of the house as theirs, seeing a dog there may trigger their instinct to defend. This is a trait that they inherit from their big cat ancestors. Situations such as redecorating the house, moving, or having new cats around can trigger the same behavior. Your dog may happen to be on the receiving end of the aggression.
What to do: Just like status aggression, deal with territorial aggression by establishing strict boundaries around the house. Give the cat a safe space it can escape to when the dog is chasing it. This way, the cat knows it has a place to go where it does not need to worry. When making big changes to your living situation, like redecorating or moving house, be sure to give your cat ample time to adjust to the changes.
3. Redirected Aggression
This is when an external stimulus, such as birds or other animals outside the house, a loud noise, or a strong smell, startles your cat. This can rile up your cat so much that your innocent dog who just happened to walk by will get the brunt of the aggression- a case of wrong place, wrong time.
What to do: Block access to windows to prevent the cat from seeing the outdoors. Try using blinds or curtains to do this. If there are cats or other wild animals that like to trespass on your property, you can put up a fence or a sprinkler system to scare them away.
4. Fear Aggression
Cats get scared easily. They are skittish and may react aggressively if they think your dog is a threat they want to get away from. Maybe your dog is playing a little too roughly with the cat and the cat no longer wants to participate. The dog may not read the cat’s mood fast enough, so the cat scratches them and runs away to find a hiding spot. This can also be learned behavior for your cat. It knows that every time it hisses and scratches, the dog leaves, so it will repeat it.
What to do: Train your dog to play with the cat gently. Secure a spot in the house where your cat can hunker down when he does not want to be disturbed by the dog. Over time, your dog will learn how to read your cat better and know when to leave the cat alone. Let the animals spend time together as you supervise, and let them form a friendship.
5. Medical Aggression
If a cat has an underlying medical issue that causes it pain, such as an infection, recent surgical procedure, or a chronic illness like arthritis, this can cause it to lash out. A cognitive or neurological issue can cause seemingly random fits of aggression. This is a serious cause of aggression that needs to be addressed immediately.
What to do: Take your cat to the vet as soon as possible so the medical issues can be sorted out and treated.
6. Prey Drive
Some cats have a strong prey drive. This manifests when they are around smaller animals. If you are introducing a new puppy into your home, be wary of your cat going into hunting mode. This may potentially be fatal to your puppy.
What to do: Distract your cat with toys while the puppy is around. As much as you can, supervise all their interactions together to make sure neither one gets hurt. When you start noticing the behavior, quickly wave a piece of aluminum foil on a string in front of the cat to redirect its attention. The bigger the puppy gets, the less interested your cat will be in treating it like prey.
Sometimes there just isn’t a logical reason why your cat and dog do not get along. Their personalities do not work together. This is why you should think thoroughly before adding another pet to your home.
What to do: Train your dog to have better self-control around your cat. Counter-conditioning and desensitization may work on your cat. Reward the cat when he behaves after seeing the dog. Start at a safe distance and allow closer encounters each day until they become cordial. If none of these steps work, you might have to consider rehoming your puppy. It will be better for both the animals and the people in your house.
Signs your cat is about to attack your dog
Aside from the usual signs of an angry cat such as clawing, biting, scratching, growling, spitting, and hissing, there are other subtle signs of a cat who is about to attack:
The cat tries to make itself look smaller to protect itself against a perceived threat. They will flatten their ears and tuck their tails under their bodies. The hair on their back will stand up. They will either turn away from the threat or swat it.
This posture is meant to make the cat look intimidating. The ears will be raised and their tails will be straight and stiff. The hairs on their back stand up while they look at the threat and growl.
Both postures are warning signs before they attack the dog. With their sharp claws and teeth, they can cause a lot of damage.
How to stop a cat attacking in its tracks
- Make a sudden loud noise, such as banging pot lids together.
- Fill a bucket with water and toss it over the two animals.
- Throw a thick blanket over them.
- Do not yell- this only makes the animals more aggressive.
- Do not get in between a cat and dog fighting; you might get severely injured.
- When you are able to separate the two, confine them in different parts of the house.
When introducing a new dog to your cat, it is normal for there to be hostility and apprehension. But if both animals have had no problems for weeks or months and your cat becomes aggressive all of a sudden, there may be other reasons for this behavior. The cat may be exhibiting status aggression, territorial aggression, fear aggression, medical aggression, prey drive, or simple incompatibility.
There are steps you can take to stop this behavior, such as establishing strict boundaries, spending equal time with both pets, distracting your cat with toys, taking them to the vet, and training them both to become comfortable around each other.
Be perceptive to your cat’s triggers and know how to avoid them so both your pets can coexist peacefully.
mage: istockphoto.com / Aleksandr Zotov