Cat Bullying: What It Is & How to Stop It
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In a multiple cat household, there's bound to be a disagreement or two between kitty siblings. But when you've got a bully cat on your hands, you'll want to take steps to stop the one cat bullying another.
First, it's important to identify how and why your cat is being a bully. Then, you can work to curb this unwanted behavior.
What Is a Bully Cat?
Cat are inclined to be territorial, even if they've lived with other pets their entire lives. When one cat kicks it up a notch and makes life difficult for another, however, it's more than just playing around.
Pay close attention to your cat's body language. Some common signs of cat bullying include:
- Aggressive body posture, arched back, puffed-out tail, angled or flattened ears, dilated pupils
In some cases, the reason for cat aggression is obvious: the introduction of a new cat or other pet, or even a human baby. The more evident types of aggression — e.g., biting, attacking, etc. — often result in physical harm. But bullying is usually about asserting dominance, not an intent to terrorize.
As the American Association of Feline Practitioners points out, "Aggressors can control access to food, litter boxes, resting and perching spots, and attention, and the victim usually becomes withdrawn." Unless you're paying close attention, you may not even notice the intimidation.
Why Do Cats Bully?
Bullying behavior stems more from the top-dog, so to speak, cat asserting their dominance, explains Sharon L. Crowell-Davis, DVM, in an article for VetFolio. It can be more discreet than clear-cut aggression. In fact, because they're so good at throwing subtle shade, you may not even realize that one of your cats is behaving badly.
"Some high-ranking cats are bullies; that is, they regularly exhibit intense dominance displays and aggression to lower-ranking cats, even when the low-ranking cat is clearly signaling submission and is attempting to avoid interaction," writes Dr. Crowell-Davis. This type of bullying usually occurs in households that are socially stable with no outward stressors except that one cat wants to assert dominance over important things such as food, water, the litter box, toys and bedding.
In other words, some cats just want to be the boss. This desire can increase with age, says the ASPCA. So speak with your veterinarian if you notice increased aggression or other behavioral changes in your aging cat.
How to Stop Cat Bullying
Living with a bully cat is stressful for all family members, including humans. To stop one cat bullying another, start by observing your cats' daily routines for signs of covert bullying. But keep in mind, when a cat exhibits aggressive or domineering behavior, it doesn't necessarily mean they're an aggressive or domineering pet.
"Aggression is not a diagnosis or a description of a cat's temperament but a consequence of an emotional state," explains International Cat Care. A bully cat — or any cat, for that matter — shouldn't be punished physically because it can lead to more fear and even more extreme aggression. Instead, focus on calming your aggressive cat.
Do this by putting an end to roughhousing and play fighting, as it can validate this intimidating behavior. Consider separating the cats during mealtime and installing more litter boxes so each one can feel like they have their own territory. You may want to double up on toys and cat perches, too.
Cats may not want to share their pet parents, either. Does your cat hiss or growl to prevent another cat from snuggling up with you? That's their way of asserting dominance. By (safely) removing the bully cat from the situation, you can relay that this behavior isn't acceptable. Never intervene between two brawling cats, though, as you may be injured. Redirect their attention by making a loud noise or throwing a toy in the opposite direction.
Keep up the positive reinforcement of good behavior, as it may take a few weeks or months to influence their actions. If the bullying becomes too extreme, speak to your vet to rule out any underlying medical issues.
Your cat kids may not become BFFs with each other, but by patiently working with them to achieve at least basic civility, you can create a happy, harmonious home for everyone.
Christine Brovelli-O'Brien, Ph.D., is a professional member of the Cat Writers' Association (CWA), a STEAM educator and a devoted cat parent. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien