Why Do Dogs Guard Food From Cats?

Adrienne Farricelli

Many dogs guard food from cats and will do whatever it takes to send any inquisitive felines away from their chow, but why do they that? Why can't cats and dogs peacefully coabitate without going through disagreements?  Turns out, dogs will be dogs and cats will be cats, however, we can take some steps to decrease the risks for scuffles and try our best to keep everyone safe.

When dogs guard food from cats, dog owners worry about the well-being and safety of their furry friends. And these concerns are very valid: dogs who guard food or any other valuables put up quite a scary display with a threat to escalate to biting. Cats, on the other hand, can scratch when defensive and they often aim for the dog's face. Safety is therefore paramount in the case of dogs who guard food from cats. 

Fear of Loss

Food-related guarding tendencies in dogs may be restricted exclusively to the food dogs are fed and very special treats (such as pig ears, bones, treats), but may also involve unexpected things such as crumbs under a table, an animal carcass or even droppings of other animals.  

Most dogs who resource guard do so for the fear of losing access to the items they perceive as valuable. While this may sound like an unreasonable behavior considering that most dogs are at no risks for food shortages while living in a home, at a closer insight, we can see why this instinct remains so deeply ingrained in some dogs. 

In the olden days, long before dogs were fed food from shiny bowls and bags of kibble, food was everything. Essential for survival, it would have therefore been a highly maladaptive trait (not helpful for survival) for canines to share food with other species in the wild. 

It can therefore be concluded that food guarding tendencies in dogs may be tightly coupled to survival skills that have been honed over years of evolutionary time, explains veterinary behaviorist Karen Overall, in the book: "Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats."

Curiosity Killed the Cat

It doesn't help that some cats can be quite inquisitive in nature and therefore Fluffy may want to approach Rover when she sees him eating something tasty. Some cats may even be bold enough to take a munch from Rover's bowl when he's not looking. 

On the other hand, kitty may have no fault on her own, she may just be casually walking by right when Rover is eating. Cats as predators, are always open to new opportunities to explore their surroundings and can be quite active inside the home. 

It also doesn't help that cats tend to have mind of their own and that they have a strong need for having their space and independence. 

All of this can make them prone to trouble such as cats entering properties in homes with dogs and cats sometimes taking some bold moves and approaching dogs when they aren't supposed to.

Daring Kitties  

Sometimes, you may stumble on some bold cats that may even act like bullies. These are cats that will tease your dog to get your dog to chase them, making it appear as if your dog is the instigator, when the cat started everything. 

Some cats may therefore approach the dog when he is in possession of something tasty, provoking the dog and getting him to chase them. It's unclear on whether they do this to just get a kick out of enraging the dog, or if they are truly interested in the dog's possession. 

Gayle Ballinger, head trainer at Pawsitive Steps Dog Training claims in the book: "How to Raise Your New Puppy in a Cat Family, The Complete Guide to a Happy Pet-Filled Home" that she frequently sees cases of cats tormenting and teasing dogs. 

She says:"They run off, the dog gives chase, and then the dog is the one in trouble for being naughty when the cat started it all..."

Know That You Know...

As seen, dogs have their own reasons for guarding food from cats. Because it can be very difficult to work on resource guarding when targeted towards other animals, your best bet is to keep every one safe and therefore feed cat and dog in separated areas. 

  • Use management. Management is the best option when it comes to dogs who guard food from cats. This simply means keeping the dog and cat separate from each other when there is food around. You can erect a baby gate that that the cat can’t go over or you can put kitty in another room until meal time is over. Alternatively, you can feed your dog outside in the yard where kitty is not around. This can help your dog relax and gain some confidence knowing that his food won't suddenly go missing. 
  • If you leave food out for your dog all day (free-feeding), it would be ideal to stop feeding at scheduled times, leaving the food bowl down for 10 minutes and then picking it up whether your dog ate or not and feed again at the next serving. Of course, keep your cat away during these scheduled feedings. 
  • Consult with a professional. If you aim to have your dog and cat co-habitat peacefully you can try enlisting the help of a dog behavior professional. Look for one using force-free behavior modification. The goal here is to create positive associations with the cat walking by. For example, high-value treats may be added to Rover's bowl any time the cat walks by at a distance. If the cat's safety may be at stake, keep dog and cat on different sides of a baby gate or keep your dog on a leash while doing these exercises. When not doing these exercises, food should not be left around for safety and to prevent your dog from rehearsing the problematic behavior. 
  • Supervise your dog and cat at all times. It's unfortunate, but accidents can and do happen. Don't let your cat become another statistic. Each year, countless cats are injured and killed by dogs, sometimes even those with a history of living together peacefully.
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