An increasing number of households across the world have both a dog and a cat. Society is under the misconception that these two animals will always “fight like cats and dogs”, but the truth of the matter is that dogs and cats can actually get along quite well!
One of the most common behaviors you will see between a dog and cat from the same household is nibbling and gentle biting from the dog. While that may seem scary, it’s usually a good thing to see!
But why might your dog nibble on your cat?
Dogs may nibble on cats as an act of bonding or grooming. Gentle biting of the head and neck may also be seen. Rarely is it because of aggression, and most cats are very receptive to the nibbling and may even return the favor.
Below we will look at three possible reasons as to why your dog may be nibbling your cat, as well as possible reasons your dog may be biting and grabbing at your cat’s head and neck.
We’ll also look at the different types of nibbling and biting, how to determine if you should stop the nibbling and biting, and what you can do to keep your dog from nibbling and biting at your cat.
Why Does My Dog Nibble On My Cat?
Reason 1: Grooming
When you see your dog lightly nibbling on your cat, it is likely because your dog is grooming the cat.
Grooming is not only a way for dogs and cats to keep clean, but it also acts as a bonding experience. Both cats and dogs engage in what is called mutual grooming, or “allogrooming”. While some species of animals only groom others of the same species, cats and dogs have been known to engage in mutual grooming with animals of another species (including people!).
When your dog is nibbling gently on your cat, you may also see them licking the cat over their entire body or sometimes just around the head and neck area.
Reason 2: Play
If your dog is being a little more enthusiastic in their nibbling, or if they are also grabbing at the cat lightly with their entire mouth, it might also be because they are trying to initiate play with the cat.
Both dogs and cats utilize their mouths when playing, and this includes nibbling and biting. As long as the dog is being gentle with the cat and the cat does not seem stressed, it is likely that your two furry friends are just engaging in a relaxing wrestling match with their mouths.
You may even see your cat return the favor and nibble or lightly bite back at your dog!
Reason 3: Anxiety
Dogs who are suffering from an anxiety issue will sometimes show their anxiety by lightly nibbling on different objects, people, or animals (including cats).
The nibbling can either be light or it can be a little more intense depending on the anxiety levels of the dog. As your dog is nibbling your cat, you may see other signs of stress such as wide eyes or ears that are pulled back and down.
Nibbling due to anxiety can be incessant and cause some issues with the cat’s fur and skin, not to mention their annoyance at having it done so often.
If you suspect anxiety is causing the increased nibbling, a trip to the vet is probably in order.
Why Does My Dog Bite At My Cat’s Neck?
Sometimes you may see your dog do a little more with their mouth than just nibble at the cat, and you may see them actually bite and grab at your cat’s neck and head. There are a few possible reasons as to why your dog may be doing this.
Reason 1: Play
Since both dogs and cats use their mouths while playing and interacting with each other, it is likely your dog will attempt to grab and bite at your cat’s neck, head, body, or feet while they are playing with each other.
It’s almost like a lazy sparring match and both animals tend to be fairly relaxed while engaging in it. If your dog is really enjoying playing with or grooming your cat, you may also see them do a “grab and hold” at the cat’s neck to keep the cat from leaving so they can continue their interaction.
Reason 2: Communication
Sometimes your dog may become irritated by something your cat is doing to them, and they can show their annoyance by lightly biting and holding the cat by her neck or head.
The pressure is usually very light, but it is the dog’s way of saying “please stop doing that, I don’t like it”. Your dog will go completely still after grabbing the cat, and you may even hear some quiet frustration noises from the dog while they are holding the cat.
Most of the time your cat will probably respect the dog’s warning and will wander off after the dog releases her.
Reason 3: Aggression
Aggressive biting of the cat’s neck is rare if the dog and cat are generally friendly around one another and have been introduced properly. Even larger breeds such as Rottweilers and German Shepherds can be taught to be gentle around smaller animals such as cats.
If you have a dog who has never really been around cats or who has a high prey drive (which is most common in herding breeds such as Border Collies, terrier breeds such as Rat Terriers, or in sighthound breeds such as Greyhounds, though any dog of any breed may have a high prey drive), then it is wise not to leave your dog around your cat unsupervised.
If the dog is provoked by the cat in any way, or simply if the cat runs and activates the dog’s prey drive, there is a possible risk of the dog grabbing onto the cat’s neck and injuring the cat.
For dogs who have a history of behaving aggressively (or even if they are too enthusiastic with cats and could accidentally injure the cat), it is best to keep them away from cats completely.
Different Types of Nibbling And Biting
While you are watching your dog nibble at your cat, you may see them apply different amounts of pressure, use specific parts of their mouths, or they may also include other behaviors at the same time they are nibbling at your cat.
Front Teeth Only
Dogs will nibble with just their front teeth when they are grooming, generally when grooming for bonding rather than cleaning.
It is a light, gentle nibbling rather than a pinching motion (though an enthusiastic dog may still pinch!) and the dog may use it on any part of the cat’s body.
Some dogs will also use this light, front-teeth only nibbling if they are feeling anxious and want to calm themselves.
Noisy Nibbling with Licking
If your dog is really interested in a good grooming session with your cat, the nibbling might be much more audible and be accompanied by periods of licking in-between some very enthusiastic nibbling.
Your dog may use all of their teeth for this type of grooming, or just their front teeth. This type of noisy nibbling is generally much rougher than the nibbling typically seen in bonding sessions, but it should still not be painful for the cat.
Grabbing & Holding Cat Still
When your dog is interacting with your cat, you may notice them occasionally grab your cat by the head or neck and then both animals go completely still.
The pressure is very light and is generally either a warning by the dog for the cat to stop what they are doing, or the dog may be preventing the cat from moving away so that the dog can finish whatever they are doing with the cat (either grooming or playing).
Unless your dog has poor bite inhibition, you see other predatory or aggressive behavior at the same time, or your cat is older or has a health condition, this type of “grab & hold” is not something to worry about and is a normal part of communication between the two species.
Grabbing & Shaking the Cat
If at any point you see your dog approach your cat and attempt to grab and shake him, you should immediately intervene and separate the two.
Grabbing and shaking is an instinctual predatory behavior, and your dog can cause severe damage (or even death) if he grabs a cat by the head, neck, or body and vigorously shakes it.
These instincts are natural in dogs however if dogs have been properly socialized and trained to be gentle with cats you will not usually see them.
If your dog has any history of reacting in a predatory way towards any small animal, you should always supervise them when they are around your cat for safety reasons.
Is It Normal For My Dog To Nibble On My Cat?
It is completely normal for your dog to nibble on your cat! If your dog and cat have a good relationship with each other, you will probably frequently see them both nibbling at each other during bonding sessions, grooming sessions, or during playtime.
Similarly, if your dog never nibbles or grooms your cat, that’s totally fine too. Some dogs are just not interested in forming that kind of relationship with a cat, or they do not feel as comfortable about being around the cat.
Should I Stop My Dog From Nibbling On My Cat Or Biting My Cat’s Neck?
If your dog has good bite inhibition, is being gentle, and your cat does not appear stressed or in pain, then it’s probably OK to leave them alone.
If at any point your dog becomes too rough with the cat, or the cat indicates it is stressed or in pain, then you should separate them.
If you notice your dog reacting in an aggressive or predatory way towards your cat, you should separate them immediately and never leave them alone together unsupervised.
If your cat has any kind of injury or topical flea or medical treatment on them, you should also prevent your dog from nibbling and biting at your cat’s body. Your dog may accidentally ingest whatever treatment is on the cat, or further injure the cat if they are already recovering from an injury.
Young puppies should also be monitored as they are still developing good bite inhibition and they may accidentally injure the cat.
How Do I Stop My Dog From Nibbling On My Cat Or Biting My Cat’s Neck?
If you do need or want to stop your dog from nibbling or biting at your cat, there are a few things you could do.
You could work on training the “leave it” cue with your dog to inform him when he should stop nibbling on the cat, or you could teach him to avoid the cat completely so no nibbling or biting ever occurs.
If you do not want to train your dog or you have a dog and cat duo who do not really get along, then you can prevent access to the cat completely by either keeping the two separated at all times using baby gates and door blocks, or by allowing the cat plenty of areas where they can jump up and away from the dog.
If you have an enthusiastic dog who nibbles and bites at your cat due to high energy and play levels, then providing other outlets for that energy is wise. Using puzzle toys, playing games such as Tug of War, or just going for long walks or runs are great ways to help get that energy out.
For aggressive dogs or dogs who have high prey drives, it is best to prevent any access they have to the cat completely unless they are under close supervision. You can also speak to an experienced dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist for additional help with your dog.
For the most part, if you catch your dog nibbling at your cat or biting at your cat’s neck, it is merely harmless fun or an act of bonding.
Rarely would it be due to aggression issues, but if you are concerned about your dog injuring your cat (accidental or otherwise) then it’s probably best to keep them separated.
If your dog and cat seem to have a good relationship, though, then feel free to leave them be!