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Why Dogs Chase Cats: Understanding the Behavior and How to Stop It

Behavior and Training  •   AKC Pet Insurance  •   Mar 13, 2023


Dogs chasing cats is a long-held trope that is ultimately rooted in truth. Socially speaking, we view cats and dogs as opposites and even enemies with phrases like “fighting like cats and dogs” being a common way to describe two people who simply cannot get along. However, the truth is somewhere in between. Dogs and cats can and do cohabitate with their human families with little to no issue, so why does this stereotype persist? Why do some dogs get along well with cats, and others instinctively chase them?

Reasons Why Dogs Chase Cats

There are two main reasons why dogs chase cats, and they are rooted in the different biological histories of the two animals. As pack hunters, dogs have an innate “prey drive” that causes them to hunt or chase smaller animals. In many cases, especially in urban or suburban areas, cats are the most prevalent animal a dog will encounter, and the instinct in them is to chase.

Alternatively, as pack animals, dogs play and engage with other animals differently than cats do. So, what seems like “chase” to cats and onlookers, is an attempt at play from the dog. While these are not the only reasons dogs chase cats, they are likely the strongest influences on modern domesticated animals.

What Is “Prey Drive”?

When dogs were first domesticated by humans, they were treated as working animals. Their purpose for joining a group of humans was to assist in hunting and protection. Dogs were trained and bred to strengthen different hunting qualities for centuries, and these traits were developed in ways that created different breeds of dogs.

Humans continued to train and encourage hunting skills in their canine companions and, as such, many modern dog breeds have ingrained instincts that lead them to chase or hunt other animals. This is especially evident in hunting breeds like Irish Wolfhounds, Coonhounds, and Beagles, but it is certainly not limited to hunting breeds.

Those ancient instincts are called “prey drive” and continue in modern dogs and can inspire them to chase smaller animals. When hunting in packs, many dogs will take on larger animals, but when hunting alone, they will only hunt or chase animals that are smaller, like cats.

Why Does My Dog Chase My Cat While Playing?

As previously mentioned, dogs are pack animals. When you see dogs playing together, they chase each other and even bite and pounce on each other. It’s part of their pack interaction, and it’s how they bond. The instinct for a dog is to chase and nip and pounce on other pack members regardless of species, and this includes human family members and other pets like cats.

Alternatively, cats tend to be lone creatures. While they too have a prey drive and enjoy play, it is not handled the same way as dogs play. Therefore, when faced with a dog playing, they can misinterpret it as an attacking predator.

Why Is It Important to Stop a Dog from Chasing a Cat?

Because of how common it is for a dog to chase a cat; you may not think it’s a big deal for your dog. However, there are potential risks and consequences of dogs chasing cats. For the safety of your dog, you should train them not to chase other animals in general. If the animal is sick or rabid and gets in an altercation with your dog, they may become infected. Additionally, if your dog is prone to running after other animals, they may run off and get lost.

While the health and safety of your dog is an important factor, you also need to be aware of the potential legal ramifications of your dog chasing cats. If your dog chases a neighbor’s cat and injures them, you may be deemed responsible. Not only would it create tension in your relationship with your neighbors, but you may also be legally responsible for the cat’s medical expenses.

Tips for Preventing Your Dog from Chasing Cats

Introducing your dog to cats and other animals at an early age will help curb their prey drive later in life and allow them to become accustomed to cats so they are less likely to instinctively chase them. So, if possible, expose your puppy to cats early and often.

You can also train your dog not to chase cats by working on some basic commands. Commands like “stay”, “heel”, or “leave it” will pull your dog off the chase and keep them by your side. You can also introduce positive rewards to your training with treats when your dog ignores a nearby cat. Try redirecting your dog’s attention with loud noises like claps, toys, treats, or activities. Keep their focus away from the cat, so they begin to lose interest and will be less likely to chase them.

Cats and dogs have a long, adversarial history, but they can get along if raised together or trained properly. Don’t let your dog’s natural instincts to chase cats put their health and safety at risk; train your dog not to chase cats.

AKC Pet Insurance (underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company) offers various coverage options to help you ensure your dog’s safety and give you peace of mine. With our dog insurance plans, you can prepare for vet bills in case your furry friend gets sick or injured while engaging in typical dog activities, like chasing cats.

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