How To Stop Your Cat From Being A Bully

Two Persians in front of a white backgroundAlmost all cats are quite swift and hard-headed; that much can be agreed upon. However, with all of the different types of cat personalities out there, you’re bound to encounter some issues when bringing together more than one feline. Sometimes, one cat’s personality can overpower another’s, causing stress and anxiety for the less dominant party. Some cats also play bully towards dogs. If you suspect that your cat is being a bully to one of your other pets, there are steps that you can take to relieve the stress off of your bullied pet, and help to calm your bully cat down.

There are two main reasons as to why cats fight:

Behavioral Imbalance: When one of your pets has an already dominant personality and your submissive pet then comes into the picture, your dominant cat might fall into the habit of constantly picking on them. The submissive animal will show signs of fear, by slinking around, acting fearful, hiding, and giving off other body language signals of distress. This may cause your dominant pets relentlessly pick on them at all times.
Stress: Cats can get stressed from a variety of reasons, and as most humans know, stress can make you act differently than you normally would. When a cat gets stressed out, their reactive behavior can be anything from making a mess on the carpet, to swiping at their owner or fellow pet. Your cat’s stress is causing them to not think straight and attempt to act out, and this can lead to a bullying situation.

If your cat is bullying one of your other pets, some body language and behavioral signifiers that you’ll notice include:

Staring: When you catch your cat staring at your other pet, you shouldn’t automatically assume that it’s love at first sight. Cats use staring as a method of intimidation, signifying that they are feeling aggressive.
Intimidating body posture: Cats will try to intimidate others with their body. Facing another animal head-on dictates aggression, as well as the classic arched-back pose. This is in an attempt for the cat to appear larger and scarier.
Hissing or growling: Whether your cat is actively hissing at another animal, or laying back and quietly growling, these vocal cues mean that your cat is feeling feisty in general, or towards another animal.
Blocking access: The bully may try to scare the submissive pet away from important common areas in an attempt to dominate them. This would include blocking their bathroom, their food bowl, their bed, and any other popular hangout spots.
Property marking: Cats are territorial creatures and can take to “marking” their area and property in an attempt to ward off other predators or curious creatures. They will do this by patrolling the area or object, rubbing their face and cheeks on the area/object, and mark their are with urine.

If you are having trouble with an aggressive feline, there are a few key steps that you’ll want to take to restore peace in your home.

Make more space: This may sound impossible, especially if you’re living in an apartment, however cats view space and territory differently. Add some new toys so that your cats won’t have to fight over their old favorites, and make sure that there are enough for each pet. Add some new perching areas with cat-specific slings for the window or cat trees so that your cats can get away from the rest of the family.

cat on table in roomSeparate litter boxes and food bowls: If you haven’t already, you’ll want to make sure that each cat has their own designated litter box and food bowl. Some cats are okay with sharing one litterbox, but if you’re having territorial problems, this one could get out of hand and quickly. The first thing that you’ll notice if your cat is bullying others away from their litter box will be accidents around the house. The same goes for food; if your cat is being bullied away from their food bowl, you’ll want to make sure that each pet has their own food bowl as well as feeding area.

Redirect aggressive behavior: Once you’ve figured out which cat tends to be the aggressor, watch them closely. When you notice your cat beginning the signs of aggression, redirect their attention with play. You can use a string toy, a laser, or any other interactive toys that you have around the house. Don’t redirect with food, treats, or attention. This will only teach your cat that they will be rewarded for aggressive behavior. With distracting play, their attention will be diverted and hopefully begin to associate things that they like with the other cat.

Child hand stroking head of white cat.Encourage positive behavior: When your cats are cohabitating peacefully and interacting in a positive and normal way, feel free to reward them both with treats. Cats are intrinsically-motivated, meaning that they only do things that will benefit them personally. If they start to notice that they are getting treats when they act cordially to each other, they may adapt to acting more peacefully in the hopes of a reward.

Interrupt the bullying: If you can’t successfully redirect your bully cat’s attention when they are acting aggressive, you may need to resort to interruption. This could be shooting a “warning hiss” out of an aerosol can, or spraying with water or air. You will need to keep at this, because as easy as it is for cats to remember positive associations, they’ll forget negative associations for as long as they can.

Purchase a dividing cat door: If your submissive pet is comfortable with wearing a collar, you can purchase a “keyed” pet door. The collar will contain a magnet that opens the door, allowing your submissive pet to retreat to their private room. You can designate a room to your submissive pet, or even the entire upstairs area. You’ll need to install the door, but it may be worth it if it solves the problem.

See your veterinarian: Talk to your veterinarian about the issues that you’re having. They may want to take a look at both pets to make sure that there are no physical indicators that would tell why one pet would be dominant and the other submissive. For instance, you may not have noticed that one of your pets is hard of hearing or has any other physical disability, causing it to be submissive or irritated. Another option that they may propose involves drug therapy. If your dominant cat is truly out of control, drug therapy may help to control the aggressive behavior.

Re-introduce: Treat your pets as if they’ve just met for the first time. Separate the two of them whenever you’re not around, and slowly re-introduce by holding monitored interactive sessions. Allow your submissive pet to have the upper-hand on an escape route in case of aggression. When re-introducing, use the previously described techniques to encourage positive behavior, and curb aggressive behavior.

Aggression between pets is natural, just as aggression between humans is natural. You can’t assume that two animals will automatically like each other. With time and patience, most two animals can live in harmony, or at least controlled tolerance. However, if your pets simply cannot get along, you may have to consider rehoming one or the other. This choice isn’t an easy one to make, but should by no means be considered as “giving up.” By separating the two quarreling animals, you are enhancing the quality of life for both.