Best Ways to Stop a Cat From Being a Bully
For those that are casual cat fans and not mutliple-cat owners, you may not realize that within any group of cats there is a hierarchy of order. Each cat has a role within the cat family and a place.
When a new animal, most notably, another cat, is introduced into a household, it turns this hierarchy upside down and creates chaos while everyone re-establishes their place. Sometimes within that situation one of the cats becomes a bully and the other the target.
There are some ways to both help the cat (or dog) being bullied and redirect the bully cat.
The Social Structure of Multi-Cat Households
When you have more than one cat in your house, there is a social structure. Depending on the personality of the cat and the age, the cats may seek each other's company, may ignore each other, may actively dislike each other, or may have a bully/victim relationship.
Following are some cat bully scenarios along with an analysis of the situation and suggestions for correcting the problem or easing the behavior issues.
First Things First
The rest of the following advice is predicated on the idea that your cat has been spayed or neutered.
If you are having behavioral or bullying issues between your cats, making sure they are fixed is the first step in reducing the problem.
This not only calms both pets down but it is also important as a public service. Tens of thousands of healthy cats are euthanized every year because of a lack of homes. Allowing your pet to reproduce adds to the problem.
Be a part of the solution.
Scenario One: A New Cat Is Introduced To The Home
In this short Simon's Cat video, many of the problems that occur when a new cat is introduced into the home are depicted.
In this cartoon a new kitten is introduced to the home. Immediately, the established cat begins hissing. He feels that he is now in competition with this new cat for:
There are ways to help minimize a cat's stress when a new cat is introduced into the home. If you help to ease the transition, you are likely to also reduce the need for either the established cat or the new cat to feel the need to bully.
Introduce the new cat slowly. When you first bring the new cat home, keep him or her in a separate room away from the other pets in the house. If possible, allow them to interact under a door (for example) and hiss and fight and stick their paws out.
Bring the new cat out into the home in a cat carrier. Allow the other pets to sniff, interact and even hiss. This is all part of their introduction and warning to each other.
Finally, begin allowing the other cat out into the house for short periods of time with you supervising. Be ready to separate and remove the new cat back to its room if the situation gets to stressful.
Some hissing, paw slapping and arching of back is normal. Establishing a new pecking order takes time---sometimes months. I even once had an older cat that took about a year to acclimate and find his place in the home.
The key is to be patient.
If you think about it, most domesticated pets still have remnants of their feral ancestors. One of the resources that was the hardest to find in the wild was food.
Even though the cats get plenty of food and water in your household, some of that instinct to be territorial about their food remains. After all, in the wild, it could mean the difference between life and death.
As cats become acclimated they may be fine with sharing a food bowl, but until then and even after the new cat is let out into the shared areas in the home, make sure to maintain separate food bowls and keep them in different parts of the house if possible.
If bullying occurs while the cat is eating, put the cats in two different rooms and close the door so that they can eat in peace.
Another important component in establishing a new cat and preventing bullying behavior is to have enough litterboxes.
When a cat uses the bathroom he or she is at its most vulnerable. If the cat feels threatened he may forgo the litterbox and find a "safer" place to do bathroom business.
I have a cat who likes to take advantage of other cats using the litterbox to pick a fight.
To help alleviate this problem I have added more litterboxes in other parts of the house.
If you have a cat who is bullying other cats in the litterbox and the litterbox is covered, consider taking the top off, at least for awhile. This allows the dominated cat to feel like he or she can see around and fend off an attack.
In addition, make sure the litterboxes are cleaned at least daily to encourage use.
Scenario Two: When Dogs Are Bullied By Cats
Despite the old adage that dogs will chase cats, it's often the other way around.
While it may make for a funny video, cats bullying dogs and dogs being afraid of cats actually creates a stressful situation for both of the animals.
The cat is feeling defensive (notice how some of the cats have flattened ears in the video) and the dog is scared and anxious. Long term this is not good for either pet.
If you are establishing a dog to cat relationship, some of the above advice for establishing a new cat applies. Also, consider this:
- Introduce them slowly.
Allow the established pet to stay in the main part of the home and place the new pet in a closed room or crate. Introduce them slowly and keep the dog on a leash.
- Give them time apart.
Give the cat and dog breaks from each other. While they are new, make sure that they sleep apart.
- Make sure to show both pets attention and love.
When they are out together, reassure both pets with love, attention and treats to let them know that you care about them equally.
- Discourage bullying behavior.
Try to discourage bullying and domination by either pet. It is not only stressful but can lead to injury.
Other Methods for Stopping the Bullying
- Verbal Reprimand
When you are trying to stop a cat from being a bully, make sure you tell that cat "no" in a firm and solid voice when he or she is being dominating. Saying "no" while redirecting the cat will help the cat to learn what behaviors are acceptable and what are not.
- Water/Spray Bottle
A simple spray bottle (like the kind you might use to water houseplants) can be an effective tool against aggressive behavior. Be sure that the cat only gets a squirt of water when it is displaying the unwanted behavior. The water doesn't hurt the cat but along with a firm "no" from its owner, the cat begins to learn that the behavior is unacceptable.
The water bottle method works in many instances where a cat needs to be redirected from negative behavior.
*Important: You should never hit an animal that is misbehaving. The messages they get from being hit are that their owner is a bully and is willing to hurt them. This is not a great way to establish a loving pet/owner relationship.
Scenario Three: When Bullying By Your Cat Is A Good Thing
And then, sometimes, your cat being a bully is exactly what you need.
In this case an aggressive dog meets a bully cat and the result is wonderful.
This cat saved its four year old owner from a dog attack by bravely chasing the dog away as it pulled the child off his riding toy.
In this case the best action is some treats, a new scratching post with catnip and lots of pets and snuggles.
Bullying is not always an action you want to discourage.
Multiple Pet Households Can Work
The key to having a harmonious, multiple pet household is patience, love and a little bit of training. Aggressive cats can learn to stifle their behavior.
After the posturing, hissing and fighting is over, the cat may discover that he or she has a new best friend.
A bully cat can be a frustrating experience. Keep working with your pet and consult a vet if the behavioral issues are worrisome, a pet gets injured, or the situation does not improve.