Dogs and cats can get along. I have a cat and dog that play frequently. They seem to be good friends. However, sometimes a dog will get a bit out of hand. They may play too rough, or bite your cat’s neck.
Why does my dog keep biting my cat’s neck?
When your dog bites your cat’s neck, it’s natural to worry. Are they simply playing, or do they intend to harm your feline companion. Why do they do it, and what can you do about it?
Dog Wants to Play
Dogs will frequently play by gently biting the neck of the other animal. Dogs will typically initiate play by bowing or pawing at the ground. They may also bark and look at the cat, which is their way of saying, “hey, let’s play”.
Another sign that they are playing is taking turns. The dog will seem to win, and then they will change roles. The cat will seem to be winning the play fight.
This is similar to children sharing a toy, and simply means that they are enjoying each other’s company.
Strong Prey Drive
Your dog’s ancestor, the wolf, is a predator. Some of the instinctual prey drive in wolves is also present in your pooch.
Some dogs have a strong prey drive. This can manifest in different ways. Some dogs have a strong chasing or herding instinct. Other dogs will become fixated on a prey animal, and stare at it intently. Drooling and a stiff tail can also be a sign of a prey drive.
Cats are smaller than dogs. In fact, they are naturally a prey animal for dogs. Dogs tend to view any smaller animal as prey, this includes squirrels, rabbits, and cats. It’s a natural instinct.
Domestic dogs usually don’t have all of the prey drive instincts. They may chase an animal, but not catch or harm it. If your dog is biting your cats neck, however, it may be due to prey drive.
If a dog is hunting a cat or other prey animal, they will bite their neck to kill them. Even if your dog doesn’t harm your cat, this instinct may be behind the biting.
This is one of the more heart reasons your dog may bite your cat’s neck. They are simply grooming them. Dogs typically groom by using their tongue and teeth.
You may have seen your dog nipping at their own fur in an attempt to remove debris or fleas. If they have a close friendship with your cat, they will groom them in this way as well.
Grooming spreads the natural oils present on the coat, removes dirt, and can remove ticks, fleas, and other parasites as well. You may notice your cat returning the favor, and grooming your dog as well.
Dogs are pack animals who have a social hierarchy. It’s easy to see dominance in dogs or cats as a bad thing, but the truth is it’s part of their natural social structure.
Your dog should defer to you as the pack leader. However, when it comes to other animals, they will all have their own place. Dogs have an alpha, betas, and omegas.
Ideally, you are the alpha, or leader, of your pack. Dogs will submit to the alpha. Betas rule over the omega dogs, and only submit to the alpha. Omegas submit to both alphas and betas.
Cats have a similar social hierarchy, but it’s not as well defined.
While dominance can be a normal healthy behavior, it can also be problematic. A dog who is too dominant may not listen to you, and may be aggressive towards other animals.
Signs your dog is being dominant include growling at the cat if they enter the dog’s territory, mounting the cat, as well as biting their neck. If the dog is not applying pressure when doing this, it’s simply a message that they are dominant.
If your dog is being aggressive because they are dominant, it becomes a different issue. They may try to guard both their food bowls and the cats, or take the cats toys. They may not allow the cat in certain areas, or even near you.
Dogs and cats can both become jealous. They may be jealous of toys or other items, but often, they are jealous of the attention the other animal receives from you.
If you notice your dog biting your cat’s neck when you are playing with or petting the cat, this is likely the reason why.
How to get my dog to stop biting my cat’s neck?
There are some things you can do to get your dog to stop biting your cat’s neck. They may simply need a bit of training. However, serious situations require repeating the two animals.
Should You Step In?
Before we get into how to stop the behavior, take a moment to decide if it’s problematic. Does your cat seem uncomfortable, hurt, or intimidated? If so, then you need to do something about it.
However, if the cat is unphased when it occurs, or is playing with the dog, it’s probably ok to let them be. In this case, it’s wise to be on the lookout for any escalation. However, if both animals are happy, they are just being themselves.
If your cat and dog are new to each other, or the biting behavior is a recent issue, you’ll need to supervise them when they are together. If your dog does get too rough, you’ll be there to step in.
Supervising also allows you to see your cat’s reaction, and whether it’s causing them any distress.
When you can’t supervise them, you’ll need to separate them. It can be helpful to divide the house with a baby gate. This allows them to be near each other, but unable to hurt each other.
Either of them can easily move away from the other, so you don’t have to worry about bullying or your dog chasing the cat.
You should also separate them when your dog bites your cat’s neck. This will teach them that this isn’t a good way to play or get attention, hopefully quickly.
Avoid Scolding or Moral Judgements
It can be difficult and upsetting to see your dog “being mean” to your cat. However, you have to remember that animals don’t function within the bounds of human morality.
It doesn’t make your dog bad or mean. It simply means you need to be cautious about allowing your dog around your cat, and do your best to discourage the behavior.
Avoid Positive Reinforcement
Dogs learn based on positive and negative reinforcement. Sometimes we accidentally reinforce unwanted behaviors, because we don’t realize we are rewarding them for it.
Your dog bites your cat’s neck. Perhaps you pick up your dog and scold them, or simply talk to them calmly. If they enjoy attention, and what dog doesn’t, this can be enough to reinforce the bad behavior.
Of course, you do need to intervene. However, you should be as boring as possible. Don’t interact with your dog more than you have to in order to remove them from the situation. Don’t scold or console them. Simply separate them from the cat.