A quick YouTube search will provide plenty of content on dogs looking terrified when they encounter cats.
And while it’s comical to see even a big dog like a German Shepherd or Rottweiler so afraid, why are they so scared of a small cat?
Why Are Dogs Scared of Cats?
Dogs are afraid of cats because even though they are smaller than most dogs, they are very dangerous when cornered.
Dogs can also be scared of cats if a cat has attacked them in the past.
A dog scratched or bitten by a cat may develop a natural fear of all cats.
Let’s look in-depth at some of the potential reasons some dogs develop a fear of cats.
Cats Can be Very Scary When Cornered!
if a dog sees a cat outside, it may often chase after it.
The dog’s prey drive kicks in, and it tries to catch the cat on instinct.
The cat, of course, will get scared and run away from the dog, usually trying to get up the nearest tree for safety.
However, the dynamics can be very different if the cat is inside and when the dog sees it.
If a cat feels trapped or cornered and can’t get away from the dog, it will become very aggressive.
It will arch its back, hiss loudly, and swipe its claws at the dog to warn it away.
Most dogs will find this very scary. Their instinct will often be to cower or slink away quietly in this situation.
Dogs understand that a cornered cat is very dangerous, which is one reason why dogs are scared of cats.
This video has some great examples of this. You can see how terrified of the cats these dogs are:
NOTE – You might also want to read this post answering the question: what do dogs think of cats?
A Previous Traumatic Encounter With a Cat
In some cases, a dog will develop a fear of cats if they’ve had unpleasant encounters with one in the past.
Cats are usually solitary animals who prefer to be left alone most of the time.
Even when cats greet each other, they tend to be careful and gentle, often allowing only their noses to touch in recognition.
On the other hand, dogs are more sociable animals and greet each other with unbridled enthusiasm.
And they approach almost every encounter in life with the same curiosity and energy.
So if a dog approaches a cat slowly, assuming the cat hasn’t run away, it will attempt to befriend it in an excitable manner, and the cat might not be a fan of this approach!
Most cats will arch their backs when a dog approaches, hissing and making loud noises.
Many dogs will back off at this point, clearly picking up on the aggressive body language.
However, some may not get the hint and approach anyway.
The cat will often respond by lashing out with its claws as they get closer, and, as is often the case, the dog’s nose is usually in the way and is sure to get hit.
The muzzle and nose are sensitive, and getting scratched here can be incredibly painful.
Most dogs or puppies who have had this experience early on in life will begin to associate cats with the painful shot to their nose and be reminded of this every time they encounter a cat.
So if you see a dog that is terrified of cats, it may be due to an experience with an aggressive cat.
NOTE – click here if you want to learn how to tell if your dog is scared of you.
Other Possible Reasons for a Dog Being Scared of Cats
As discussed, one of the most common reasons why dogs are afraid of cats is due to past traumatic experiences.
However, dogs may also exhibit a fear of cats for other reasons.
Fear of the Unknown
In most cases, when a dog approaches a cat, the cat will run, and the dog will chase.
This natural reaction happens because dogs love to chase small, fast-moving objects, and cats accurately fit that description.
Moreover, a dog’s predatory instincts kick in when it’s giving chase, so it’s not focused so much on “what” it’s chasing. Instead, the dog is simply hunting as its ancestors would.
However, if a cat is sitting still when your dog approaches it, predatory instincts don’t immediately kick in, and the dog becomes curious instead.
And just like us humans, dogs have a healthy fear of the unknown.
So, while it may seem comical for a dog to be afraid of something smaller, its fear could be rooted in the fact that it’s never encountered a cat before or isn’t sure how to react to that particular cat.
NOTE – You may like to read this post asking the question: what do cats think about dogs?
Getting Blamed Unjustly
Conflict is common in households that host both cats and dogs, and it’s the owner’s job to stop the fight.
Most of the time, cats tend to be the aggressors as they like to have their own space, and dogs sometimes invade this personal space without meaning to.
As such, the cat will usually hiss or scratch the dog as a warning.
The dog, in retaliation, may growl or bark at the cat.
When an owner hears these noises, they’re often quick to respond to try and break up the fight.
However, most owners will immediately scold or punish the dog since it’s the bigger animal.
A dog who is punished or blamed for interacting with a cat will fear further interactions with the cat to prevent the negative attention from its owner.
As such, you may notice house dogs keeping their distance and even acting fearful when the cat comes near them.
While your dog may have legitimate reasons to be afraid of cats, it’s possible to relieve them of this fear with proper training and reassurance.
Final Thoughts on Why Dogs Are Afraid of Cats
Dogs can be afraid of cats for a few reasons, but the most common cause is usually a negative experience with a cat.
While their fear may seem funny at times, it’s also stressful for your dog, and if you have one at home with a fear of cats, it’s best to try and rectify the issue with socialization between the two animals.
Tim is a proud, vetted, and experienced dog foster carer for a charity helping dog owners escape domestic abuse.
He has years of experience training and caring for dogs, both his own and other people’s.
He is an expert in canine behavior and is highly skilled in dealing with all dogs but specializes in the difficult ones that other people may struggle with.
When he isn’t fostering dogs, he is making friends with other people’s pups!