While not the cold, unfeeling animals that some would have you believe, cats are very independent. A big part of this is the territorial nature of felines. Once a cat has declared a location theirs, they’re reluctant to share it. This leads to dominant behavior, which is how they show authority.
This behavior is hardwired into felines, whether domesticated or feral. If you have multiple pets, you’ll notice a cat dominance hierarchy in your own home. Learn how to identify a dominant cat’s body language, and how you should react if it becomes problematic.
- 1 Dominant Behavior in Cats
- 2 How to Tell Which Cat is Alpha in a Pack
Dominant Behavior in Cats
Kittens grow up to be cats, and cats are dominant creatures. Once your cat reaches the age of 2, they will start to test their boundaries. All cats want to know where they fit into the family hierarchy.
This usually starts with body language. Cats will engage in a staring competition and arch their backs, hoping one will back down. If they don’t, things will become vocal with hisses and growls. Beyond this, a physical confrontation is possible – and even likely.
How to Do Female Cats Assert Dominance?
Female cats can be less aggressive than males, due to the lack of testosterone in their bodies. This does not make a female cat any less territorial, however.
What you may notice is that a female cat is pickier about their territory. She may declare one corner of a home to be hers, and dominate it accordingly. Males, on the other hand, may decide that the whole street belongs to them.
A female cat is likely to display her dominance in subtler ways than a male. She will often spray on a territory, which is often confused with urinating.
When a female cat sprays, she releases a strong-smelling scent. This is an unmistakable message to other cats that this is in her territory.
How Do Male Cats Assert Dominance?
Male cats are as dominant as females, and display many of the same behaviors. These could include spraying. However, male cats are also more likely to fight with each other. Males often go to war over potential mates. Male cats will also often seek alpha status in the feline power hierarchy.
Two male cats will gravitate toward aggression quickly when attempting to assert dominance. In a best-case scenario, this will only take the form of ballast and bravado.
A showdown will always begin with posturing, howling and yowling. If one cat relents and walks away, that’s as far as it goes. If neither cat is prepared to back down, however, a fight is inevitable. This could last for moments or hours, depending on the stamina and aggression of the pugilists.
Never get between two fighting cats. That’s a quick way to get some bites and scratches. Wait for the conflict to end, or at least pause. At this point, separate the cats so they can cool off.
Check them for any sign of injury, and act accordingly if they’re hurt. Keep the cats away from each other for a couple of hours after this. They’ll forgive and forget eventually, but don’t tempt fate.
Will Spaying or Neutering My Cat Reduce Their Dominant Instincts?
More often than not, a cat that has been fixed will be less dominant. This is especially likely in male cats. When they lose the urge to fight over females, they care less about ‘owning’ territory.
Spaying and neutering a cat does not force a wholesale personality change. If your cat is reluctant to share by their very nature, that will always be the case. If dominant behavior is problematic, however, a trip to the vet may calm your pet down.
Don’t just fix one cat if you have several. Spaying or neutering a dominant cat will move them down the feline pecking order. If one cat loosens their control of a power hierarchy, another will take their place.
Nature abhors a vacuum, after all. Making sure that all your pets are spayed and neutered does more than prevent unwanted pregnancy. It also goes a long way toward creating a happy and well-balanced power dynamic.
Why Do Cats Sit On Each Other?
Cats transfer pheromones through their feet, as well as their faces. This is why they often like to clamber onto things that you’re using, such as computers.
Your cat has acknowledged that the item is important to you. It must be, if you’re giving it any attention that could be provided to them. By sitting on it, they are marking the item as ‘theirs’ and claiming ownership.
The same applies between cats. A classic display of dominance is to declare ownership of another pet. If one of your cats gets more attention than the other, this display may follow. Alternatively, if one feline is not naturally submissive, another will make sure they know their place.
This behavior is also very common when you bring a new cat into an established home. The new arrival will need to carve out ‘their’ territory. Sadly, they may have to learn the hard way. If you have a particularly dominant cat, think carefully before introducing them to another.
How to Cats Show Submission?
Not all cats are desperate to assert dominance over their fellow felines. Some pets will be quite content to acknowledge a place lower on the totem pole.
This is likelier in young cats, which are sometimes happy to defer to an older pet. Don’t get complacent, though. A younger cat may just be biding them time until they attempt a coup.
You can usually tell if a cat is submissive by their body language. A cat with no interest in asserting dominance will appear almost shy. They’ll avert their eyes, preferring not to make eye contact. If a cat initiates a rubbing of faces with another, they will be the submissive party.
A dominant cat will stare. A submissive cat will also display vulnerability, such as rolling onto their back or side. A feline with designs on dominance will never expose their soft underbelly.
WebMD discusses the classic cat poses in more detail. It’s crucial that you learn what your cat is telling you through their body language.
There can be a thin line between submission and aggression. If a cat feels that their trust has been betrayed, they will react angrily very quickly.
How to Tell Which Cat is Alpha in a Pack
Even though cats are independent by nature, they are capable of forging a hierarchal structure. This is especially likely in feral and stray cats. Cats will often group themselves into matriarchal colonies in such circumstances. Male cats are frequently made to feel unwelcome.
Even within a domestic setting, a pecking order between cats will often present itself. We refer back to a word that we have frequently used already – hierarchy.
Most homes have an alpha cat, and any others will arrange themselves accordingly. The title of the runt of the litter is not the sole reserve of kittens, it seems.
Typical signs that a cat enjoys alpha status in a household include:
- Walking with their tail higher than any other. Think of your cat’s tail as a flagpole. Beta pets need to keep their tails at half-mast to avoid confrontation.
- Never instigates play or interaction with others. The alpha will stand back, and wait for a submissive pet to approach them.
- Tends to be attacked by other cats. This will be a beta feline attempting to take the top spot by force.
- Always end up with the best sleeping spot. This could be an armchair by the fire, on the sofa, or the comfiest cat bed.
If all the cats in your home seem happy with this arrangement, leave them to it. Sometimes the path of least resistance is the way forward. If one cat’s behavior is distressing others, however, it may be necessary to step in.
My Cat is Bullying My Other Cat
Some cats may be naturally submissive, and content with this. If they are being bullied, however, this needs to stop. Signs of one cat bullying another include:
- The alpha cat refuses to let the beta felines eat.
- The alpha cat attacks the betas, seemingly at random.
- The alpha cat never lets a beta settle. If the beta is trying to nap, the alpha will move them on. If the beta is enjoying playtime, the alpha will muscle in. Beta cats do not get to enjoy their lives.
Bullying among cats must be stopped. It leaves the victim stressed and anxious, and cats do not cope well with stress.
If one of your cats is bullying another, keep them separate as much as possible. That means separate feeding stations, separate beds in different rooms, and even individual litter trays. This gives them less reason to interact – and to fight.
If this dulls the edges of the alpha cat’s dominance, slowly reintegrate the pets. While they are calmly interacting, make a fuss and offer treats as a reward. If the bullying starts again, stop the treats and separate the cats. The alpha feline will realize that it’s gentle, sharing behavior that gets results.
Do Cats Attempt to Dominate Humans?
Some might say that the moment you bring a cat into your home, they dominate you. After all, most pet owners dedicate their lives to keeping their cats content! In reality, however, there are warning signs that a cat is attempting to rule the roost. These could be physical or mental.
Physical signs of domination toward a human are similar to those shown to other cats. A cat without designs on domination will rarely make eye contact with an owner. They will also typically rub themselves against your ankles when you arrive home.
This will not be the case if cats see themselves as the alpha of the house. They’ll stare at you unblinkingly, while flattening their ears and raising their back to look bigger.
Dominant cats also wait for you to approach them, unless they’re attacking your feet or ankles. Cats that consider themselves head of the house will bite toes to announce feeding time.
The mental warfare of a dominant cat is a little subtler. It primarily involves ignoring every instruction that you give them. If your cat is not allowed on the kitchen table, they’ll know it.
A dominant cat will continually jump atop the table anyway. If you cave in and stop laying these ground rules, your cat will become ever more dominant. They’ll mark the aforementioned kitchen table as their territory, and move onto the next target.
A cat displaying dominant traits may be entirely natural, but they need to be managed carefully. If a cat is given an inch, they’ll take several miles. You cannot expect a cat to be entirely subservient. That’s unrealistic. It is, however, reasonable to expect them to respect you, and their fellow pets.
Some cats are more dominant than others. Observe your pet’s foibles, and react accordingly. Cats can be trained, and taught to observe a social hierarchy.
This is especially likely if your pet has been spayed or neutered. You may need to display patience and consistency in rounding off their rougher edges.