The stereotype is for dogs to be aggressive towards cats, and the cat to be fearful of the dog. It’s also common for them to simply not like each other, with the cat acting aloof and avoiding the dog. What happens when the roles are reversed, and your dog is scared of your kitten? Why does this happen? 

Why is my dog scared of my kitten?

Your dog might be significantly larger than your kitten, so why are they scared of them? Kittens are cute and cuddly. What is there to fear? 

Signs of Fear

Before we look at why your dog is scared of your kitten, it’s important to know the signs of fear your dog displays. This can prevent you from misinterpreting signals of other emotions as fear, and allow you to help your dog when they are afraid. 

A scared dog will show it in its body language. It may flatten its ears, lower its tail, and cower. The hair on the back of its neck may stand up, which is known as raised hackles. Other signs include yawning, scratching, lip licking, and avoiding eye contact. Vocal signs include whining, barking, and growling. 

Cat Aggression

Your cute cuddly kitten can be a formidable adversary. When a cat is scared, it will often act aggressively to defend themselves.

It starts by raising its hair. Cats can raise the hair on most areas of their body. This makes them look bigger, and more dangerous. Their posture may be slightly crouched, prepared to pounce. 

Cats have very sharp claws and teeth, and they can move very quickly. An angry cat can cause injury to a person or a dog. They pounce on their enemy and slash with their claws and bite with their teeth. 

Negative Association

If your dog has had a fight with a cat in the past, it’s not surprising for them to fear them. Dogs have a strong associative memory. This means they remember the feeling associated with a situation, but not exactly what happened. 

Positive association helps your dog bond with you and learn commands. When your dog sits, they get praise. This creates a positive association. When they develop a negative association, they will fear or try to avoid the situation. 

First Cat Encounter

Cats are quite different from their canine counterparts. Dogs, like people, usually fear new things. If your dog has no experience with cats, they will likely be afraid until they become familiar with them. 

If it’s your dog’s first cat encounter, it’s essential to make it a pleasant experience. They will develop an association, and how the meeting goes will determine if the association is positive or negative. 

Fear of Hurting Kittens

Your dog may be scared of kittens because they are afraid of hurting them. If they see them as small, fragile beings, it’s natural for them to be aware that they are bigger and stronger. 

Humans experience this as well. Many people, particularly men, are afraid of holding babies for the same reason. They are tiny and fragile. They require special care to avoid hurting them. 

Fear of Getting Into Trouble

Your dog may be afraid of getting into trouble. Perhaps they are tempted to chase the kittens, but aware that they would be scolded for this behavior. 

Some dogs instinctually want to attack smaller animals due to their prey drive. Your dog may be fighting these instincts, afraid that you will punish them if they give in. 

If the kitten’s mother is present, your dog may fear her. Mother cats will quickly defend their babies. The dog may give the kittens a wide berth, to avoid problems with their mother. 

Reinforcement

Your dog might be afraid of the kittens because you are unintentionally reinforcing it.

Conventional wisdom says if your dog is scared of a kitten, and you give them comfort, praise, or treats to calm them, this can lead them to repeat the behavior. It essentially trains them to be afraid, because it results in something they enjoy. 

However, this doesn’t stand up to logic. Your dog doesn’t want to be afraid. The resulting comfort is not worth the fear, so it’s not something your dog would want to repeat. 

You may still be reinforcing your dog’s fear if you are concerned your dog will be afraid. Dogs are masters of body language, particularly when it comes to their owners. If you are tense or nervous, they will notice. They will assume that there’s something to be nervous about. There must be some type of danger.

If you are anxious when your dog is around the kitten, they may assume this is the source of your anxiety. They won’t understand the full reason, and assume the kitten must be dangerous. 

Phobia

It’s well known that people have phobias. Some are afraid of heights. Some are terrified of spiders. Some, myself included, are scared of clowns. A phobia is a type of irrational fear. The odds of falling from a tall building are low. A spider isn’t likely to bite and cause harm. And clowns are generally genial and fun. Those with a phobia can understand these things logically, but still experience intense fear. 

Dogs can also develop phobias. Fear of loud noises, the vet, and car rides are common phobias for dogs. They can also develop a phobia of cats. This intense fear can cause them to panic or have anxiety attacks. They may feel unable to control their fear. 

If your dog has a cat phobia, it will take lots of time and patience to help them overcome it. However, just like people, dogs can face their fears and overcome a phobia. 

How do I get my dog to stop being scared of cats?

If your dog is scared of cats, the best ways to solve the problem are counterconditioning and desensitization. This means you’ll expose your dog to cats, and reward desired behavior. 

Introduce Them to a Friendly Cat

If you know someone who has a dog friendly cat, introduce them to your dog. They are more likely to have a positive experience if the cat is comfortable and used to interacting with dogs. 

Expose Them to Cats Early

Puppy socialization doesn’t only include puppies. You should expose them to anything you expect them to encounter in their day-to-day environment. Car rides and loud noises are excellent examples of things you should introduce your dog to as a puppy. 

You should also introduce your puppy to cats early on. This will help desensitize them to cats. Once they are out of the puppy stage, getting them comfortable with cats becomes more difficult. 

Control Interactions

Anytime you are introducing two animals for the first time, or introducing animals that may have conflict, you’ll need to control the interaction. You should be able to physically control one or both animals. 

This may mean holding the cat in your lap, or keeping your dog on a leash. You can also place the cat in a carrier for first introductions. Another option is to put them in separate rooms separated by a baby gate. 

This option leaves your hands free to offer direction or comfort. It also ensures the safety of both animals because there’s less chance of them harming each other through the gate. 

Professional Help

If your dog has a severe phobia of cats, or your efforts don’t seem to get anywhere, consider professional help. A dog trainer can help your dog work through their fear. 

You should also consult your vet to be sure there’s no underlying medical issue. 

How do I get my dog to accept a cat?

If you are dreaming of a dog and cat household, you can teach them to get along. You’ll need to take it slow, and work in stages. Begin with them completely separated. Confine the dog to one area of the house, and the cat to another. Don’t worry, it’s temporary. 

Use Smell

Dogs and cats both have a keen sense of smell. You can use this to get them comfortable with each other. Take something with your cat’s smell, a collar, blanket, or toy, and place it with your dog. Do the same for your cat, bringing them something that smells like your dog. 

Don’t worry if you can’t smell their scent on the object. Your pets have a much stronger sense of smell. As long as it’s something they’ve interacted with, their smell will be there. 

You can do this once, or trade objects once a day for a few days to keep the smell fresh. This allows them to get familiar with each other through smell. They don’t have to worry about being attacked, because the other pet isn’t physically present.  After 2-3 days, it’s time to introduce them. 

Introduce Slowly

Introduce them slowly. Keep control by holding, crating, or leashing one of the animals. Allow them to interact for a few minutes. At the first sign of dislike or aggression, end the session. Keep them separated other than introduction sessions. 

If you have a baby gate, you can allow them to interact on their own at the gate once they’ve been introduced once or twice, if the introductions go well. 

Good and Bad Behavior

When your pets get along, give them praise or treats. This rewards good behavior, which is an essential component of training. 

Some experts believe that you should also punish negative behavior. This should be used cautiously. It can contribute to fear or dislike of each other. However, if your cat or dog is acting with aggression, a spray bottle of water can be all it takes to get them to stop. 

Will my dog hurt my kitten?

It’s possible. Your dog is certainly physically capable of hurting, and even killing, your kitten. However, most dogs coexist with cats without harming them. 

Dogs have a prey drive. It allows them to hunt in the wild. All dogs maintain some of this prey drive instinct. This is why they give chase to everything from balls to other dogs.

Some dogs have a stronger prey instinct than others. Some dogs will see certain animals as prey, while others don’t. Your dog may chase a squirrel, but pay no attention to a bird. Another dog may attempt to catch birds, but not mind squirrels. 

Dogs are perceptive. Introduce them carefully and treat your kitten as a pet, and your dog should understand that they aren’t prey or food. Your dog may also hurt your cat if your cat attacks, so be mindful of your kitten’s behavior as well. You will need to monitor your dog and cat closely early on. Don’t leave them alone until you know they will not harm each other. 

Why does my dog whine at my kitten?

There are a few reasons your dog may whine at your kitten. These range from a desire to play to a desire to make the cat its prey. 

Prey

The most concerning reason is that your dog views the kitten as prey. If this is the case, you may also notice your dog stiffening it’s body. It will also be intensely focused on the cat if it views it as prey. 

Wants to Play

Your dog may whine at your kitten as a way of asking it to play. Dogs and cats can play together. It’s adorable to watch. Just monitor them closely to ensure that it’s only play. 

Scared

Your dog may also whine at your kitten because it’s scared. Whining can express sadness or fear, similar to a human cry. If you notice other signs of fear, like flattened ears and a tucked tail, your dog is likely scared of your kitten. 

Scratched 

Dogs also whine if they are in physical pain. If your kitten scratched your dog, they may whine. If this occurs, you’ll need to chastise your cat, and separate the animals. 

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.