Aggression, Status & Dominance – Part 1

Yes, dominance in cats exist, just like it does with dogs. Perhaps not in the same way, but it may explain some fights going on. Some cats fight with each other because one has set a foot on the others territory, and sometimes it’s a case of ‘I’m the boss around here’.

Photo by Alex.

Photo by Alex.

Why Cats Fight

Cats who fight with each other can happen with many reasons. You can think of redirected aggression, dominance, pain, play aggression, and fear aggression, but also changed to the cat’s social group can suddenly cause some trouble around the house — think about rearranging (cat) furniture, or new feeding places or bathroom places. A small change in their routine can change your cat into a ticking time bomb and leave them stressed out, which may end up in your cats taking it out on each other.

You can also compare it with two humans that are put in a small space. It can cause some drama, frustration and stress. This can also happen with cats when you place them in a small space. Their territory is going to be the big issue. Cats mark their territory through rubbing their cheeks against things, patrolling, urine marking.

Sometimes, a dominant cat can use ‘power grooming’. This is a way of extremely licking the other cat to make him move away. But they may also challenge each other through hisses, growling, mounting behavior, nape bites or blocking access to food, play or attention.

Photo by LPay4smee.

Photo by Play4smee.

Signs that your cat is being dominant towards your other cat can be:

  • Power grooming
  • Neck biting
  • (spray) marking their territory
  • Wanting to be on top during (play) fighting (but that’s my experience)

A Case Of Territory & Status

Territorial behavior is normal for cats after they reach social maturity. It’s their biological clock that tells them somewhere between two and four years old, that it’s time to set up social ranks and territorial rights. A cat needs a lot of territory to get a higher rank. If both cats, or one of the other cats suddenly starts taking in territory, your cats who used to be best mates, can suddenly end up in archenemies.

Most of the time the cause is the newcomer to the household, this means that the resident cat starts the territory “fights”, but sometimes the newcomer is the troublemaker.

Photo by Jonner.

Photo by Jonner.

What To Do?

If your cats are aggressive towards each other, it’s best to look for the following signs: Staring, lifting hind quarters, hissing, swatting, lying in wait (on the way to the litter box?), spraying, vocalizing, one cat’s relentless pursuit of another animal/cat.

More signs to look out for when there is increasing tension between the cats is: staring, tail flicking, your cat looks suddenly fluffier, flattened ears or rotated out, body stiffening, walking with a slow, tense gait. Dilated pupils, lip licking and vocalizing.

It might be the best idea not to let aggressive behavior or staring continue. Because it can lead to fighting and it’s not always a good idea to let cats fight it out. You may want to interrupt the staring and other behavior that can lead to a fight.

Try tossing a toy into the room, a crumbled up piece of paper or another small weight item on the floor nearby to distract them from what they are planning to do. It’s best not to yell or clap your hands, because you’re using something negative, for something negative and that may only make the problem worse. I have to admit, for some cats the clapping works. With Suki and Hiro it sadly doesn’t work, and they always return to that same spot where I started clapping and just continue their fighting.

After you have distracted them, grab an interactive toy, a string or wand and use it before the cat is jumping into the attack. If you play with him after he has attacked, you’re actually rewarding him for attacking. If you got your cat interested in the toy, slowly and gentle move him away from the other cat.

Is your cat a dominant cat?

The Cat Whisperer by Mieshelle Nagelschneider

I’ve read about this in one of my new books from Mieshelle Nagelschneider the Cat Whisperer. I wasn’t sure if those techniques would work, but as I was writing this, it actually made a lot of sense to me. Hiro and Suki fight as well, and I know from experience, despite what the others say that it is not play fighting but a case of dominance I think. It’s difficult to be there on time before the attack, but most of the time playing with them before they attack has been pretty helpful, as I’ve tried it out the last couple of days. And playing is so important, and it really gets the rough and sharp edges of your cats when they are around each other. When I play a lot with Suki and Hiro, they barely fight!

17 Responses to “Aggression, Status & Dominance – Part 1”

  1. purrfectkitties

    I appreciate your research. I didn’t know some of those things so thanks for sharing! :-) It’s really interesting to read about stuff like that. Have a nice weekend, Lidia! :-)

  2. Dennis

    I want to get a second kitty one day. Not only because I like cats. Rather because I think that it might be better for my cat to have a playfellow. But the subject you writing about in this article is something I always worried about.

    I know much about cats but not so much about having more than one cat. I am not sure what I can expect if I get a second one, while I have read many stories about it in the web. I expect to see dominance games then but I am afraid they could hurt each other. Hope this wont happen if I find a second one in the future.

    • Cats & Co

      How you introduce the cats to each other is very important, but in the end it all depends on your cat and the newcomer! You can’t predict the future with those kitties, so it’s best to choose one who goes with the character of your own, and follow your own instinct and watch the new cat in his own surroundings.

      If your cat is very playful, don’t pick a timid more laid back cat, but one who wants to play as well. That’s what I would do personally. :)
      The people at the shelter told us Hiro was laid back. He is everything but laid back, haha!

      • Dennis

        That´s what I thought, would be good yes. But after 6 years it´s still hard to judge about my cat lol. Her behaviour is a bit of everything :D She´s very erratic, I would say. :) But I would say she´s a bit shy until she knows you and then she can become very extrovert at times lol. But I know her behaviour, I should just choose a similar erratic cat :) Agree with you that it is not only about us but rather about the cats and if they fit together. I think too that this should be considered.

      • Cats & Co

        Just follow your feeling and instinct!
        If you feel about a cat that it wouldn’t be a good idea, then stick with your gut feeling. :) if you hesitate > Don’t do it. Make sure you’re very certain about it! Sure, there are a lot of kitties who need a home and a warm place to stay, but you also have to think about your own cat, and about your family. :)

  3. rmudge

    Great info! I have 2 cats and we have a lot of little battles. A lot of the fighting is just play between them, but they do get angry with one another from time to time. The dominant one of my cats is actually the younger female cat.

  4. mythreemoggies

    With three moggies they each cover one of the above signs arghhhh :-) informative as ever I will share this post to some people I know need it xxx

  5. Tom Duhamel

    I’m lucky my cats go together perfectly well. They play with each other, but seem to know when the other one doesn’t want to play anymore. They sleep together.

    Power Grooming is new to me. Juliette would fit the definition of “extremely licking the other cat”, but her reason is obviously not to make the other cat move away. She obviously assume a lower rank than the others. She comes to see me only when I am not already in use by Tigra.

    • Cats & Co

      Hiro does the power grooming, especially when Suki lays on a spot he wants to lay on. It usually ends up in her walking away because the excessive grooming is annoying her, or it ends in a fight.


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