Do Dogs Try To Hurt Cats?

Canines and felines have a complicated relationship. While some dogs and cats coexist peacefully, others struggle. About 15-20% of dog and cat owners report their pets display aggressive behaviors like growling, chasing, or fighting (González-Ramírez et al., 2021). Understanding the factors driving this animosity can help owners promote harmony in multi-pet households.

Examining if dogs try to hurt cats provides insight into managing a cat and dog under one roof. Their interactions involve complex natural instincts and learned behaviors. With patience and proper techniques, even natural enemies can become friends.

Natural Instincts

Dogs have strong natural instincts to chase small prey animals due to their evolutionary history as hunters (Purina). This includes the instinct to chase cats, which often triggers their prey drive since cats frequently exhibit quick, darting movements while running away. On the other hand, cats have an innate instinct to flee from larger predators. When these natural instincts kick in, it can lead to aggressive chasing behaviors from the dog and fearful or defensive reactions from the cat.

According to Best Friends Animal Society, chase instincts are more likely to be triggered if the dog is bored, under-exercised, or frustrated. Providing proper physical and mental stimulation can help mitigate these instincts and reduce the dog’s urge to chase the cat.

Pack Mentality

Dogs have inherited pack instincts and behaviors from their wolf ancestors. In the wild, wolves hunt in coordinated groups and establish a social hierarchy within their pack. Canines view fellow pack members as family. However, outsiders like cats may be seen as threats or prey (1).

When dogs live together in a household, their innate pack mentality applies to humans and other pets. The dogs often compete for dominance and rank. Unfortunately, cats’ aloof and independent nature conflicts with dogs’ pack mentality. Dogs may chase and corner cats in an attempt to assert their authority (2).

To establish harmony, owners must reinforce that all pets are part of the same family pack. With proper training and supervision, dogs can learn to accept cats into their social group instead of viewing them as toys or prey for chasing. But owners should still be cautious, as high prey drive can override training when dogs are overly excited.




Proper training is essential for teaching dogs not to chase or be aggressive towards cats. This behavior often stems from high prey drive or lack of socialization with cats. Training utilizes positive reinforcement to reward calm, friendly behavior around cats and redirect unwanted chasing. According to Purina, “Never use physical punishment” when training dogs with cats, as this can worsen aggression. Instead, Purina recommends using treats and praise to positively reinforce ignoring the cat. When the dog looks away from the cat, immediately reward with a treat and praise. With consistency, the dog learns good things happen by being calm around cats.

Other tips include keeping dogs on a leash around cats so you can correct unwanted chasing and rewarding calm behavior (Purina). Work on basic obedience like “leave it” to stop chasing. With time and patience, utilize rewards to shape the desired peaceful coexistence between dogs and cats.


It’s important to supervise all interactions between dogs and cats, especially when first introducing them or when they are left alone together. Cats and dogs have different styles of play and communication that can lead to misunderstandings. Dogs may chase or pounce at cats in a playful way, while cats are more likely to run and hide or lash out defensively.

When introducing a new dog to a cat, keep the dog on a leash so you can control their interactions. Give them time to get used to each other’s presence and scents before allowing direct contact. Reward calm behavior from the dog when they see the cat. Provide escape routes for the cat to get away if needed.

During supervised play sessions, watch their body language carefully for signs of fear, aggression, or overstimulation. Redirect inappropriate behavior immediately with toys or treats. Praise gentle, friendly interactions. Allow the pets to interact in short bursts at first to prevent them from getting overwhelmed. Increase supervised playtime gradually as they become more comfortable together.

Supervision allows you to intervene if play gets too rough. It also helps build positive associations between the pets so they learn to get along safely.

Individual Personalities

Whether dogs and cats can coexist peacefully often comes down to their individual personalities (How Dogs and Cats Can Coexist). Dogs and cats each have their own unique temperaments that contribute to how they will interact. Some dogs and cats naturally get along better than others.

For instance, an excitable young dog may overwhelm or frighten a timid elderly cat. Meanwhile, a laidback adult cat may be fine with a high energy puppy. Cats that are fearful are more likely to be stressed by dogs, while confident cats may hold their own. Similarly, high prey drive dogs will likely be more tempted to chase cats.

Taking the time to properly introduce dogs and cats and closely supervise their interactions can help overcome some personality clashes. But ultimately, some dogs and cats simply do not do well living together based on their innate temperaments and natural instincts.

Prey Drive

Prey drive refers to a dog’s natural instinct to chase, hunt, and potentially kill smaller animals such as cats. It stems from the dog’s ancestral roots as hunters. Dogs with high prey drive tend to become very focused, still, and intense when they spot a potential prey animal like a cat (1). They will stare, chase, and even kill if given the opportunity.

The key to managing high prey drive is proper training and supervision. Obedience training can teach the dog to control their impulses and refrain from chasing when commanded (1). Starting training early also helps. Additionally, the dog should always be leashed or separated from cats when unsupervised. Slow and gradual introduction can help desensitize some dogs to cats’ presence (2). However, high prey drive likely can’t be fully “trained away,” only managed.

Breeds like terriers, hounds, and herding dogs tend to have higher prey drive. But each dog is an individual. Some specific things that can indicate high prey drive include staring intently at cats, shaking with excitement, and lunging or chasing when seeing a cat run. If your dog shows these tendencies, take precautions. Never leave high prey drive dogs alone and unsupervised with cats.

(1) Successfully Introducing Cats and Kittens to Dogs, Greenville Humane Society.
(2) Reddit user comment, Can a dog with prey drive get along with cats?, r/Dogtraining subreddit.


Desensitization training is a method of gradually exposing dogs to the presence of cats in a controlled, positive manner. The goal is to teach the dog to remain calm and relaxed around cats over time. As described in this source, the basic process involves:

– Containing the dog while bringing the cat into view at a distance where the dog remains calm.

– Slowly decreasing the distance between dog and cat over multiple sessions, while reinforcing the dog for non-reactive behavior.

– Allowing the cat freedom to enter the dog’s space while keeping the dog on-leash and under control.

– Repeatedly rewarding the dog for ignoring the cat in close proximity.

When performed correctly and consistently, desensitization changes the dog’s association with cats from stressful/exciting to neutral. It creates new learned behaviors of remaining relaxed and non-reactive around cats. This allows dogs and cats to coexist peacefully in the same home.

When to Be Cautious

There are some signs that indicate a dog may be overly interested in chasing or hurting cats. These include:

Staring intently at cats

Hackles raised when seeing cats

Growling or barking at cats

Trying to chase after or lunge towards cats

Some behavioral signs like these may indicate high prey drive or lack of socialization. It’s important to be very cautious in supervising dog and cat interactions.

In some cases, dogs may be so driven to harm cats that rehoming is necessary. If a dog has severely injured or killed a cat before, keeping them together likely isn’t safe or ethical. Rehoming to a cat-free home is kindest for all animals involved.

Extreme aggression like attacking on sight, causing significant injury, or killing requires immediate separation at minimum. Euthanasia may even be considered if the risk to cats is very high and unable to be resolved through training or medication.

While not all dogs with high prey drive can live peacefully with cats, proper training and precautions from an early age can prevent tragedy. When severe aggression exists, be honest about the dog’s limitations for a safe, responsible decision.

Source: How to Stop a Dog From Being Aggressive Towards Cats

Creating Harmony

When introducing a new cat and dog, go slowly to set them up for success in creating a harmonious home. With time, patience and proper training, you can teach them to get along. While instincts may sometimes take over, the right conditioning and supervision can help them ignore their primal urges and learn to co-exist. Never leave them unsupervised until they have proven themselves trustworthy.

Creating harmony ultimately comes down to responsible pet ownership. You must provide proper individualized training for each animal, give them outlets for their energy, and allow them their own spaces when needed. Be aware of behaviors to watch out for, and intervene at the first sign of trouble. With time, positive interactions and rewards, they can adapt.

No two pets are alike. Much depends on their individual personalities and willingness to get along. Some may become the best of friends, while others may never fully accept each other. You know your pets best. Gauge their interactions, be reasonable with your expectations, and act in their best interests.

With care and vigilance, you can have both cats and dogs living together successfully under one roof. It simply takes patience, training and an understanding of their natures. If you stay alert and invested, harmony is possible.

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