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How to tell if a dog is aggressive towards cats
By Amanda Bower | August 15, 2017
Dogs, cats, and cats and dogs: They have often lived harmoniously in an ideal cat-dog relationship. But sometimes, for reasons yet unknown, dogs become aggressive towards cats. And for the cat who doesn't find the behavior acceptable, it can be hard to determine if it is the fault of the dog, the dog's owner, or both.
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"Noisy" and "Possessive"
It's a common misconception that dogs and cats don't interact and, because of this, there is no need to teach them how to play and interact with each other. While this may be the case for younger dogs or cats, it is not a fact for many of the dogs and cats who live together, says Michelle Cottle, DVM, a veterinarian and certified veterinary behaviorist.
"There is research that shows the cat-dog relationship is pretty similar to dog-dog, including that the cat and the dog interact through body language, eye contact, and social signals," Cottle explains. "Dogs, cats, and people are social animals. So there are similar social structures and behaviors."
As a result, some dogs may pick up on cues from their feline companions and start to adopt a possessive or controlling attitude. A simple example of this is that a dog may greet a cat friend in a greeting that is stiffer than a greeting he might give a stranger.
"If the cat returns the dog's greeting with a soft eye contact and the 'I'm not going anywhere' signal, the dog may interpret that and misinterpret it as the cat being hostile toward him," Cottle explains. "There's no reason to teach the dog to respect a cat. He already does. What you need to do is to help the dog see that he is interpreting the cat's behavior differently than he should."
When a dog starts to show possessiveness or take on a "watch me" attitude, it can cause the cat to become skittish and even hostile toward the dog. A dog that gets too possessive may be seen as a threat to the cat's social standing in the household.
This can cause the cat to make it hard to enjoy time with the dog. The dog may begin to take on the role of guardian over the cat, and that can lead to even more tension. A dog who can't handle social conflict well needs a lot of one-on-one attention to make sure he doesn't get too attached.
As the cat's relationship with the dog gets worse, he may stop eating as often as before, and in turn, this can make him appear to be less friendly and not as appealing to the dog.
How to handle this situation
Cottle says there are ways to minimize conflict and tension between a cat and a dog, and to help prevent the two from getting along in a bad way. You may have heard of cats that like to eat mice, for example. This is an example of a "mouser," who finds this form of food appealing.
"For most dogs, mice and cats look a lot alike, and a dog might try to eat one to see what it tastes like, not realizing the difference between a cat and a mouse," Cottle says.
This is a common occurrence when cats are allowed to roam, as they might even find the opportunity to hunt rodents in the house, and try to eat the mouse right in the middle of the couch.
In this case, it's easy to see how this can cause conflict between the two animals.
Cottle advises that if your cat seems to want to eat mice, there are some ways to limit the damage.
"It's hard to train cats, but for this particular habit, you can prevent it by using a mouse feeder, or a feeding dish that has a lid. When the cat comes around to try to eat, you can use the lid to trap it and keep it from biting the mouse or other mice from under the feeding dish," she says.
When you buy this type of cat food, look for the label that says a feeding dish or mouse feeder will be attached to the package.
Cats can get into an unpleasant habit of "scratching up" other people's food, Cottle adds.
"The best way to prevent your cat from doing this is to buy cat food, and only put it out on the counter or other surface where your cat is allowed to access it, so you can easily remove any crumbs before your cat eats it," she says.
Also, if you live in an apartment or other multi-unit building, where your cat might access other people's food, make sure you only buy food for your cat's dining area.
Don't leave any food out or in crumbly piles. And don't give your cat a way to reach food from other apartments' counters.
A food problem
For many pets, having a good, nutritionally balanced diet is just as important as cleanliness. Your vet will likely say that your cat's current diet doesn't provide all the nutrients he needs, but it may not be that simple.
"A cat's diet can easily become imbalanced," says Dr. Mimi Cottle. "Things that sound like a great idea can lead to a life of frustration for your pet."
One example she gives is feeding your cat some raw chicken liver. The liver is high in protein, and it is a really good source of nutrition for a cat. But if your cat gets too much of it, he might eat it raw, because it is hard to digest. The liver is also high in cholesterol, and that isn't a great thing for a cat's arteries.
Cottle says it is often not a matter of whether your cat is healthy, it is whether he is receiving a good diet. And sometimes just switching from one diet to another can give your cat the help he needs.
So what kind of diets do cats need? Some owners believe that their pets' food needs to be "all-natural," while others are convinced that a commercial-quality food will do fine.
The problem is that the label isn't always a true reflection of what your cat is actually eating.
In the supermarket, many cat foods are formulated so that they are easier to digest. Because of that, some foods are actually low in nutrients, but they still pass as a "healthy" diet.
That's why it's best to talk to your vet about your cat's diet, or at least ask if there is anything else you can do to make sure he's getting a proper one.
Cleanliness is next to food
If you don't have the funds for a professional house-cleaning service, you should at least try to keep your home safe for your cat.
Cats do very well in environments that are both clean and