Understanding Cat Dominance & How it Can be Stopped

Defining Dominance in Cats

While cats are small, dominant behavior in cats can cause big problems. Dominant cats can become threatening to other pets in the household. Dominant cats will swat at, pounce on, growl at, hiss at, scratch and bite other animals. They may steal other pets’ food and toys, acting out the way a bully would. If this type of behavior is not discouraged and dealt with quickly, cats can turn their behavior towards the people in the household.

Is the Dominant Cat Spayed or Neutered?

Cats that are not spayed or neutered will eventually begin to display dominant behavior over other animals in the household. This is particularly true in non-neutered male cats. Spaying and neutering your cat will help to prevent dominant behavior from developing, and it will curb other unwanted behaviors like spraying.

If you live in a multiple-cat home, it will be important to spay and neuter all cats, not just those expressing dominant behavior. Leaving a once-dominated cat “unfixed” will only cause that cat to become the dominator once the other cats are neutered. If you are nervous about the procedure, speak to your veterinarian. Educating yourself on just what the spaying and neutering processes entail can help ease your own fears and apprehensions.

Have You Contributed to Dominant Behavior?

Pet owners can sometimes accidentally encourage dominant behavior in cats without realizing what they are doing. When a kitten pounces on your hands and feet, or other pets in the house, it is cute. However, transfer that behavior into an older cat, and suddenly pouncing isn’t nearly as adorable. If you allow your kitten to attack you or your other pets as a kitten, this play behavior can eventually turn into dominant behavior.

Giving one cat more attention than other cats in the household will also encourage dominant behavior. Try to give all animals the same amount of attention each and every day. During meals, feed a different cat first each and every time so that one cat doesn’t develop a sense of superiority over the others. Remain in the room and supervise feeding times to nip any dominant food behavior, such as pushing another cat away from a food bowl, in the bud. In some cases, it may be necessary to feed each cat in a different location.

Address the Dominant Behavior Immediately

From time to time, a cat may test dominant behavior on other pets or people in the home. This type of behavior can include attacking, hissing at, scratching, or hitting other pets or people. If a cat or kitten starts to engage in this type of behavior, remove the cat to a quiet and secluded place where it can calm down. If the behavior continues, lightly spray the cat with water from a water bottle when you see this behavior occurring. Immediately addressing any tests at dominance will stop the progression of behavior in your cat.

Don’t Treat Dominance with Dominance

It can be tempting to swat a cat that is engaging in dominant behavior over the other pets in your house. However, you should never raise a hand to your cat. Spanking and swatting will only cause fear. Squirting a dominant cat with a water bottle is also ineffective. If you accidentally spray the cat being dominated, he will not understand what he did wrong, and he may become fearful of you. When all else fails, simply pick up the dominant cat and separate him from everyone in the house for a period of time to let him cool off.

Ask Your Veterinarian

If you cannot isolate or curb dominant behavior on your own, it can be worthwhile to schedule a visit to the veterinarian. Some adult cats’ behaviors will suddenly change if they suffer from an illness, infection, or injury. If there is no obvious cause of dominance, something may be going on internally that is causing the cat to act out.

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