Why Does My Dog Nibble On My Cat?

dog and cat getting along

There are several reasons your dog might nibble on your cat. It could be a sign of affection (nibbling is a way dogs express love), teething (if your dog is a puppy), anxiety, grooming, playfulness, or even herding. As long as the cat doesn’t mind, you have nothing to worry about. 

One of the great joys of pet ownership is watching two completely different species living harmoniously and developing close bonds, as is the case with cats and dogs.

Sometimes, animals have their own ways of expressing friendship that humans just can’t relate to. One of these is nibbling. Specifically, dogs nibbling on cats. It doesn’t hurt anything, but what on Earth is this behavior about?

Why Dogs Nibble on Cats and Other Pack Members

If your dog and cat are bonded, then your dog sees the cat as part of her pack and will treat him accordingly. Sometimes this will mean gentle nibbling.

Affection

Puppies will often nibble on one another when they’re cuddled up in the litter, and some dogs carry this behavior into adulthood.

It’s a way of expending energy, reaffirming closeness, and a natural tendency for relieving teething pain.

If your dog nibbles on your cat or other pack members, it’s most likely that he’s just showing his love.

Teething

As mentioned above, teething pains can lead to nibbling, although this nibbling tends to be less gentle and can actually hurt quite a bit, even though that’s not the dog’s intention.

If your puppy is teething, make sure to give him plenty of teething toys so he can work through the pain without causing pain to others.

Anxiety

Nibbling can be a symptom of severe anxiety and is common in shelter dogs and dogs who experience neglect.

It can range from situational anxious nibbling as a self-soothing mechanism or swing into a full-blown compulsion if the situation that’s causing the behavior persists.

Anxious nibbling can be done on anything near, including the dog’s legs, the furniture, and yes, the cat.

If your dog is nibbling out of anxiety, it’s a good idea to consult a pet behaviorist who can retrain the impulse, or it can worsen and lead to the dog nibbling away all of her own fur or harming other pack members that she may be nibbling on.

Grooming

Nibbling may be an old grooming impulse, which is linked to pack bonding. Many animals in the wild groom each other, and it’s thought to strengthen social bonds.

This directly supports the idea of nibbling as a sign of affection.

Herding

If your dog’s nibbles are persistent and causing your cat to move away, she might be acting out a herding instinct.

This is especially likely if the dog is a herding breed, such as a:

  • Shepherd
  • Collie
  • Australian cattle Dog
  • Sheepdog

This nibbling usually isn’t enough to hurt, but is more forceful than the gentle nibbling that denotes affection.

If it doesn’t happen often or your cat doesn’t seem to mind, the behavior’s not really hurting anything. But if it irritates the cat or if the dog is overly dominant about it, you may need to retrain the behavior to keep it from becoming a problem.

Playfulness

It’s not uncommon to see dogs nibbling on each other at dog parks, trying to instigate a play session.

If your dog is feeling playful, he might be nibbling on your cat to get a game going. If he’s more relaxed, the nibbling itself might be enough of a game, reminding him of nibbling his littermates as a puppy.

Attention Seeking

If your dog is feeling ignored and wants attention, nibbling can be a way of getting it. Often, if a dog is nibbling for attention, it will be accompanied by whining or pawing.

As long as the cat’s not annoyed, it’s fine. Still, an especially persistent dog can try any cat’s patience, so if he’s escalating the behavior or the cat seems to be getting tired of it, it might be a good idea to separate them and give the dog something else to do.

Warning

Dogs will often nip at people or other animals to warn them that a boundary is being crossed.

However, nipping and nibbling are very different since a nibble is usually a sign of closeness and a nip is a signal to back off.

The difference is pretty easy to spot:

A nibble is only the front teeth, in a repetitive motion, similar to when a dog is biting at an itch

A nip is usually one fast bite, involving more teeth further back in the mouth. It may be accompanied by a growl or defensive body language

If your dog nips at your cat, there’s usually nothing to worry about, as long as the cat gets the message and leaves the dog alone. After all, we all need time to ourselves, and dogs are no different.

However, if it happens regularly, or the cat ignores your dog’s warnings and persists in bothering her, the two should be separated until you can retrain the behavior.

How to Stop Dog Nibbling On Cat

As mentioned above, your dog nibbling on your cat is usually nothing to worry about, and is in fact a very positive thing, reinforcing their bond.

But if your dog’s nibbling is excessive or it’s not appreciated by the cat, then it might be a good idea to put a stop to the behavior.

The method you use will depends on your dog’s personality and the reason why he’s nibbling in the first place.

Separate Them

The quickest, easiest, and most surefire way to keep your dog from nibbling on your cat is to separate them.

Your dog can’t nibble on something he can’t get to. The main problems with this method are:

The logistics of keeping them separate in the same home can be tricky
If the dog does get to the cat, the behavior will resume
If the dog and cat are bonded, they may suffer from anxiety due to the separation

Provide an Escape Route

Depending on the personality and agility of both your cat and dog, providing your cat with lots of out of the way places that the dog can’t get to is another alternative. This will allow the cat to separate himself if he feels the need.

Provide Distractions

If your dog is harassing your cat out of boredom, try getting her a puzzle food toy, which will keep her occupied.

Dogs need mental stimulation in addition to physical exercise, so make sure to play with your dog and give her stimulating toys that will keep her entertained on her own.

Tire Her Out

Your dog might be nibbling on your cat as a way of burning off excess energy.

Try playing different physical games like fetch and tug-of-war, or take her for a run or extra long walk.

She’ll likely be too tired to bother your cat if she’s worn out.

Training

The most long-term solution for a dog who keeps nibbling on your cat is to train her not to do it.

This solution takes the most work and patience, but is often the most foolproof, especially if the dog is really bothering the cat.

Just make sure to use positive reinforcement for good behavior, rather than punishing the bad behavior.

Hire an Expert

If you’re not confident in your ability to train her yourself, call a dog trainer or dog behaviorist for help.

A Dog Nibbling on a Cat Is Usually a Good Sign

Although there are several things that you can do to stop your dog from nibbling on your cat, in most cases, it’s just not necessary. If anything, it’s usually a good sign that your dog and cat are so closely bonded.

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