Why Do Dogs Chase Cats?

If your dog won't stop chasing cats (or other small animals), what should you do?

It’s a relationship that you probably just think of as the natural order of things, established in everything from books to cartoons: Dogs chase cats, and cats and dogs hate each other. It’s somewhat of a given of the animal kingdom…or is it? After all, there are plenty of multi-pet households that have a dog and a cat that get along, not to mention all of these adorable photos of dogs and cats being best friends. So what’s the story here? Why do dogs chase cats? Is it because of dogs’ natural instincts, and, if so, how can you prevent it?

Why do dogs chase cats?

Sure enough, it’s instincts, says Dr. Jesus Aramendi, Senior Veterinarian at Chewy. “Some dogs may have the tendency to chase cats as part of an instinctual behavior,” he told RD.com. Many dogs have innate hunting instincts born out of their wolf ancestry, and unfortunately, that manifests in dogs chasing things that are small and speedy. Dr. Aramendi says that this can manifest much more strongly in certain dogs than in others. “If you have a herding or hunting breed such as Shepherds, Cattle Dogs, Retrievers, or Pointers, they may be especially inclined to chase after cats,” he says.

But this instinctual behavior doesn’t mean that dogs inherently dislike cats. In fact, though the dog/cat relationship might get the most press time, as it were, it’s not like they specifically have it out for cats. Small critters like squirrels and rabbits can trigger dogs’ chasing instincts as well—and so can inanimate things like balls and sticks. Find out some more “facts” about dogs that are totally false.

How can you stop your dog from chasing cats?

Countering instinctual behavior is no small feat, but it can be done—and nor does it really mean that your dog is “bad.” “Your dog may have very little control over the rush it feels when chasing a cat or an animal,” Dr. Aramendi explains. But that doesn’t mean that you should throw up your hands and let it persist.

If your dog chases cats—or squirrels, or rabbits—frequently, and it’s becoming a problem, you should consider seeing an animal behavioral specialist. It’s a problem that might be difficult to tackle on your own. Of course, you should be trying to redirect your dog’s love of the chase with toys that she can run after instead of living things. But if you’re noticing that the problem persists, consider outside help. “Chasing cats and other animals may be a feeling that your dog cannot easily overcome, and further assistance and training will be needed to help your pet cope with this,” Dr. Aramendi says. These are the six dogs that are easiest—and six that are hardest—to train.

What if you have both a dog and a cat?

So you took the plunge and got both adorable four-legged critters…and they don’t seem to like each other. Now what? Well, Dr. Aramendi has some advice. His most pressing piece of advice? Confront the problem sooner rather than later. “I highly recommend not waiting to take action,” he says. “If you have both a dog and cat and your dog antagonizes your cat, this could potentially result in a dangerous fight where one pet or both could end up injured.”

He says to make sure to keep a close eye on your pets and, if you start to see signs of conflict, keep them separated as best you can. And, yes, training can help. “One training tactic can be rewarding your dog with a treat when they are obeying your command to ‘stay’ or ‘sit’ in the presence of your cat,” Dr. Aramendi says. And if these methods don’t work, consider getting help from an animal behavioral specialist.

What if you want both a dog and a cat?

If you’re thinking about getting both a dog and a cat, or have one and want the other, don’t let dogs’ chasing instincts stop you; just make sure you’re doing it right. Breed can make a significant difference in how your pets treat each other. For instance, these are 12 cat breeds that get along with dogs. Dr. Aramendi even recommends talking to, again, an animal behavioral specialist for “information about specific breeds’ behaviors and characteristics.”

Also, just like with people, first impressions can be incredibly powerful. When you’re introducing your new pets to one another, don’t just throw them into the deep end. “Do a few trials before you introduce them definitively,” Dr. Aramendi says. Our guide to pet combinations that do and don’t work together has some great advice on how to do this. And your pets will do some of the work themselves, too. “Ultimately the cat will let the dog know what their boundaries are and what lines cannot be crossed,” Dr. Aramendi says. Next, find out more explanations behind your dog’s perplexing behavior.

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.