It is common for cats who live together to exhibit some sibling rivalry. Examples of this cat behavior can be gentle ear biting, grabbing, chasing, and other mannerisms as a part of their playful activities.
These common cat behaviors are instinctual and develop when a cat is a very young kitten. It seems these cat behaviors are understood by well-socialized cats, but cats who were not well socialized may not know how to communicate with other cats. Dominant cat behavior or pushy cats can be problematic, especially in a multi-cat household.
What happens when a cat’s behavior becomes too dominant or aggressive?
Insecure and Dominant Cat Behavior
Cats thrive on feeling safe and secure. Cat behavior problems develop when their sense of security disappears. You might be surprised to learn that an insecure cat won’t necessarily hide away in a corner. In fact, most of the time insecure cats become more aggressive.
This aggressive or dominant cat behavior could be to make up for their feelings of inferiority. Some cats overcompensate for insecurity by trying to make themselves the most feared in the room. Think of it like a bully who only hurts other people, so they won’t be hurt first. A cat who’s always hissing and scratching at you might actually just really be scared.
Cats who are more dominant than other cats will display some specific cat behaviors. Dominant cat behavior can appear at a young age, but it will become more prevalent once the cat is socially mature. This is typically about two to four years of age. At this age, cats typically test their boundaries with other cats to establish a hierarchy.
In a technical sense, the idea of ‘alpha’ or ‘beta’ aren’t really a thing with cats. In fact, there isn’t a strict hierarchy at all. Researchers theorize that a cat’s behavior to form groups is a recent development. Almost as recent as their domestication. However, the social pattern of cat groups is actually very different than dogs or even primates. With these groups we see one of them needs to be in charge of others. That is not the case for cat behavior.
Cats have only recently (and infrequently) needed to form social groups. As such, cat behavioral patterns witnessed in clowders are too inconsistent to be deemed a true hierarchy. More social animals (such as primates and dogs) tend to have a hierarchy that is much more stable and predictable.Dominant cat behavior can appear at a young age, but it will become more prevalent once the cat is socially mature. Click To Tweet
Causes of Aggressive or Dominant Cat Behavior
Aggressive behavior is defined as threatening or harmful behavior directed toward a person, another cat or other animals. Causes of aggressive cat behavior can be complex. This is true both in terms of triggers and targets; making it challenging to find strategies to eliminate aggressive cat behavior. According to some Scientific Reports, aggressive behavior in cats can largely be due to early weaning. Cats, in general, try to avoid fights as often as they can. Hormones lead male cats to experience heightened levels of aggression when a nearby female is in heat.
Consequences of Aggressive or Dominant Cat Behavior
The consequences of aggressive behavior in cats can be significant, ranging from injuries to other cats and people to the surrender of aggressive cats to shelters. A recent study reported that 27 percent of cats relinquished to shelters for behavioral reasons were surrendered for aggression. Given these high stakes, it is important that cat owners understand the cause of their pet’s aggressive behavior in order to develop a plan to successfully intervene.
Medical Reasons for Aggressive or Dominant Cat Behavior
The first step in managing an aggressive cat behavior is to ensure there is no medical reason for aggressive behavior. A medical workup is essential for cats displaying aggressive or persistently dominant cats. Diseases such as hyperthyroidism, osteoarthritis, dental disease, and central nervous system problems may cause aggression. Consult with a veterinarian before attempting to manage aggressive cats through behavioral and/or environmental modification. If a medical problem is detected, it’s crucial to work closely with your veterinarian to give your cat the best chance at improving.
Helpful Tips to Manage Aggressive and Dominant Cat Behavior
Regardless of the cause, recognizing the signs that a cat is fearful or aggressive can help prevent injury to pets and people. Pay attention to your cat’s cues. Early intervention is the best prevention. When you notice aggressive signs, try to separate the cat from the situation. Try to maintain positive reinforcement instead of punishment. Once they’re ready to be reintroduced, use calming toys or food to help take the stress off the situation.
Types of Aggressive and Dominant Cat Behavior
Most aggressive cat behavior can be labeled into a few main categories. Knowing which type of aggression your cat displays can help identify and manage the cat behavior before it escalates.
Play aggression: seen in cats that have not been properly socialized
Fear aggression: caused by unfamiliar stimuli
Petting-induced aggression: may be due to overstimulation
Redirected aggression: caused by an exciting stimulus that a cat cannot directly respond to
Pain-induced aggression: seen in cats experiencing pain/discomfort
Status-induced aggression: directed toward individuals to assert social dominance
Territorial aggression: directed toward individuals to assert dominance of their space
Maternal aggression: protective behavior seen in female cats that have recently given birth
Preventing Dominant Cat Behavior
Most people aren’t able to oversee every stage of their cat’s life so it can be hard to make sure the first eight weeks of a kitten’s life won’t contribute to dominant cat behavior. There are things a cat parent can do to decrease dominant cat behavior in their kitten or adult cat.
Be sure to discourage any aggressive play and don’t allow your cat to bite or grab you. If you have multiple cats, be careful that you don’t give one cat more attention than the another. This will lead to jealous behavior. Feeding multiple cats in separate locations is also encouraged to decrease dominant behavior.Cats are smart creatures and will tell us what they need, if we just listen. Click To Tweet
Socialization Helps Deter Dominant Cat Behavior
Socialization as a kitten is an important part of growing up. Kittens who don’t have an opportunity to play and interact with litter mates may exhibit more dominant behaviors because they didn’t learn limitations or develop self-control. Feral kittens, kittens who needed to fight for their food, and kittens that were allowed to play too aggressively may also grow up to be dominant cats.
Resource Guarding with the Litter Box
Bathroom habits are serious business when it comes to cat society. Dominant cats will often show their power through their bathroom behavior. Two things often happen with dominant cats.
- Some cats will sense another cat’s dominance and be reluctant to use that box without the other cat doing anything. They will try to find other places to go that aren’t already “claimed,” which can be a problematic if you don’t have other boxes in the house.
- In other situations, dominant cats will actually “guard” their litter box and attack another cat if they go near it. This causes the second cat to look for alternative places to urinate and defecate. If you have enough boxes and locations that are appealing, this other location will probably be in a different litter box. If you don’t this may be an inappropriate location such as your bed, laundry, or carpet.
Indoor cats can still have an insecurity that they need to protect resources from other cats, pets, or even humans. In the beginning, a cat may seem a little over enthusiastic about their resource, or hang around it a bit more, but if there are any signs of resource guarding, it’s important to nip it right away. Resource guarding behavior can turn aggressive, which is dangerous for people and pets. It can also lead to litter box aversion, causing cats to house soil outside of the litter box.
Maintaining litter box cleanliness is also very important, especially if they’re not burying their waste. We love using Scoop Buddy for quick and easy cleaning. Easily attaches the waste bag to litter box to make scooping more efficient! Daily sprucing is necessary to make the box appealing to avoid eliminations outside the litter box.
Reinforcing Positive Cat Behavior
Using positive reinforcement to reward good behavior is a far better approach than trying to punish your cat. If your cats are spending time together nicely be sure to give them treats and pet them to encourage the behavior you want to see. Play with them together to make sure no one feels left out and praise them when they’re getting along well. This will reinforce the type of behaviors you want to see in your cats, even if one of them is more dominant or pushy than the other.
How you Can Help Minimize Dominant Cat Behavior
If your cat is insecure, make sure to establish areas in the home where they feel safe and have more control. Try adding some vertical space where your kitty can perch. Vertical space gives your cat a way to be part of the action from a safe distance.
Height gives cats comfort and security since it provides a vantage point without feeling vulnerable. Also adding vertical space in a quieter area of the house provides a retreat where your cat can go when they need a private place to get away.
Using catnip and cat toys to give your cat a feeling of ownership in certain spaces in the house can help as well. CBD oil or calming treats are great homeopathic remedies to try and help calm some tension. These will help kitties mellow out a bit and find some Zen. These also have some other health benefits for your cat as well. Try using other calming techniques like the addition of furniture such as a calming cat bed. This may just be what your kitty needs to help promote relaxation.
Try some simple solutions to help them destress a little bit. If you’re having a particularly hard time with your cat adjusting or misbehaving, there are cat behaviorists that can help. Do your research and see what would be a right fit for you and your cat.
If All Else Fails
If your cats are fighting, of course don’t allow the fights to continue. Cats are so territorial and since they do not have firm dominance hierarchies, they won’t be able to work things out as dogs sometimes do. The more frequent cats fight, the worse the problem is likely to become.
To stop a fight in progress, try startling them by making a loud noise, such clapping your hands, or even squirting the cats with water. As a last resort, you can try throwing something soft at them to break up the fight. Do NOT try to pull them apart.
Prevent Future Fights to Minimize Dominant Cat Behavior
Preventing future fights is very important to minimize dominant cat behavior. This may mean keeping the cats totally separated from one another while you’re working on the problem. Preventing contact between them in situations likely to trigger a fight is also helpful. Make sure to supervise them closely when they are together to pick up on cues and help them manage their behavior. Understanding your cat’s body language is essential for cat parents. This is what tells us how they’re feelings for us to step in and guide the behavior we want to see. Cats are smart creatures and will tell us what they need, if we just listen.
Do you have an insecure or aggressive cat at home? What has helped you? Let us know in the comments below!
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