3 Reasons Dogs Chase Cats — And How to Stop Them

by Marnie Bii | November 17th, 2016 | Behavior, Dogs

dog and cat (400x400)You might be alarmed at your docile dog’s sudden primal response at the sight of a nearby cat. Your dog may growl, bark, raise hackles or even start to give chase. Some dogs work up into such a frenzy, they try to catch or kill the cat. Understanding the reasons dogs chase cats can help you prevent this potentially tragic situation altogether. You should also learn how to prepare your dog for interactions with cats in the future. Read on to learn more.

Prey Drive

Humans began domesticating dogs in the last 15,000 years, which is just a blip on the radar when it comes to evolution. As a result, dogs still retain many of their wolf-like characteristics that kept them fed and safe in their past life. Their major food sources including many small prey animals, including rodents, rabbits and cats. Their ingrained prey drives often revs out of control as soon as the dog spots a small critter running by. Although certain breeds, especially reactive terriers, have an accelerated prey drive, many dogs will respond to those same cues in the right situation.


Dogs left to their own devices in the backyard may respond in extreme excitement to a cat wandering into their territory. As the cat stalks around the fence line, the dog’s excitement could turn into frustration, which often leads to aggression. Dogs may jump and nip at the cat in an attempt to engage in rough play. If the cat loses his footing and falls inside the enclosure, the chase is on. Dogs can cause accidental injuries to felines by slapping their paw across the cat’s back or head, resulting in blunt force trauma.


Smart dogs are usually incredibly curious about the world around them. Dogs that grow up without exposure to cats cannot instantly discern feline body language. Cats will arch their back and hiss which dogs often mistake for a play bow and communication attempt. As a result, dogs may make a series of missteps that end up initiating a chase. If your dog ends up cornering the cat, a fight may break out as the cat attempts to defend itself against a perceived threat.

Prevention Techniques

Exposing your dog to cats early and often gives you a chance to teach good habits that stick. Dogs that are sensitive to body language of cats can happily coexist with these creatures. Furthermore, these dogs do not respond with as much excited curiosity upon noticing a feline nearby.

Always keep your dog on a leash during low-key introductions to new cats. Call your dog away each and every time the cat displays feelings of nervousness or aggression. Praise your dog for disengaging from the cat and turning focus toward the toy or treat in your hand. Encourage gentle interactions between dogs and cats to create a lifelong bond that interrupts the natural prey drive. Eventually, you’ll be able to trust your dog to live alongside cats without posing a threat to their safety.

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