America’s schools are all abuzz with bully abatement, but did you know that cats can be bullies too? Here are the red flag warnings that your sweet little kitty is really a big bully to the other cats in your household or neighborhood.
2. Pouncing on another cat while that cat is sleeping or resting
3. Blocking thoroughfares such as in the middle of a hallway or in front of the cat flap to deny exit or entry
4. Attacking, growling and hissing at another cat without apparent provocation
5. Blocking access to indoor litter box
6. Forcing another cat away from food bowl
7. Claiming resting areas and/or access to human by physically pushing other cat away
Cats are territorial by nature and in territories where there is more than one cat (indoors and out) a hierarchy is likely to develop. The biggest cat often, but not always, will dominate the top rung of the ladder. If you do observe the above listed behaviors in one or more of your cats, and it lasts for more than a couple of weeks, then you likely need to intervene.
The first step is to assess whether your dominate cat (the one being the bully) is getting the respect he/she deserves. This situation happened in our household. Sushi, our Maine Coon, who weighs about 24 pounds is the undisputed top cat in the household. However, he is not the family favorite as he doesn’t like to cuddle and he is quick to use his claws. The family favorite is Mittens, our skinny little polydactyl cat that has an amazing personality, loves to cuddle, and is light enough for the children to pick-up (which he completely tolerates). Riki Tiki Tabby is also well-loved, but since he doesn’t like to sit on laps or be held, he takes second place to Mittens. The result is everyone in our household greets Mittens first, plays with him first, rubs his belly first and gives him lots of treats. It got to the point where Sushi was almost being ignored. I guess Sushi said to himself, enough is enough, because suddenly one day, he started attacking Mittens quite aggressively. I was actually shocked as it seemed to come out of nowhere.
This went on for a few weeks and it was causing our household significant strife. Mittens was a nervous wreck and developed chin acne ( a sure sign of stress). My husband was finally astute enough to suggest that maybe Sushi was jealous and that he (Sushi) felt he was not getting the respect he deserved as top cat. So, we started greeting Sushi first when we came home, giving him lots of chin rubs, and making sure he was the first to get a treat, the first to get brushed and the first to be fed. Like magic, Sushi suddenly stopped bothering Mittens!
Other issues that can stimulate bullying behavior in cats include having too many cats in too small of a territory and/or having too few resources. Most cat experts will say that you should have at least one bowl of food, one bowl of water and one litter box for each cat. Some vets suggest even having one extra, especially in the case of litter boxes. Cats that have not been spayed/neutered or were fixed later in life, tend to be more naturally aggressive and territorial.
Please note that recently introduced cats do need to work out where each fits into the social hierarchy and this will inevitably involve staring, posturing, and hissing until the dust has settled. It may even involve one major tooth and claw brawl for the pair to learn who really is the dominate cat. If you intervene too often during this transition, you will likely only extend this limbo period which can cause even greater stress to you and your cats than if you just let them work it out. Some cats will never be friends – such as Sushi and Mittens, but others will bond beautifully like Riki and Sushi, and Riki and Mittens (Riki is the affable, agreeable go-between who loves everyone!), but they should be able to create a truce.
If your newly introduced cats are really have a hard time adjusting to each other, try playing with both of them at the same time. Use a string toy that they can both follow and pounce on together (preferably not at exactly the same moment, as that would really freak them out!). Over time, the serotonin rush that they get with chasing “prey” sometimes will help overcome the bad feelings they have about each other.
Do you have other ideas about how to deal with a bully cat? If so, please share with us in the comment section below.