If you’ve got more than one cat or a cat as well as other pets, there’s bound to be drama at some point. If you’re wondering how to stop your cat from bullying your other cat, the answer might not be so simple, and you’re going to need to step in.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell if your cats are playing or really fighting. But if your cat is exhibiting the following behaviours, these are signs you’re dealing with a cat bully:
- puffing up fur
- growling and hissing
- physically injuring the other cat or pet (clawing, biting, etc.)
But don’t worry. If you’re dealing with a cat bully, there are steps you can take to resolve the problem. Lauren Parsch, a cat behaviourist with Furratic Behavior in the US, advises that no cat is a true ‘bully’. It’s always a behaviour influenced by their environment. The most common causes of bullying she sees have to do with a perceived lack of resources in the home, a lack of stimulation, and redirected aggression.
So while your cat might be displaying aggression, this is not an innate personality trait, and you can always find a solution. Below, we dive deep into the reasons behind your cat’s bullying behaviour, how to stop it, and how to spot the difference between play fighting and real fighting.
Why Your Cat Is Being Mean and How to Stop It
Cats are territorial animals who had a strict pecking order back in their wildcat history. But there are plenty of other reasons your cat might display aggressive behaviours too. And depending on the cause, there are different ways you can intervene to stop it.
If your cat has experienced trauma in the past, having another cat or pet in the house may trigger them. This could induce aggressive or bullying behaviour as they attempt to protect themselves from being hurt again.
What to do: Speak to a veterinary behaviourist to figure out the best solution to reduce your cat’s triggers and bullying-like behaviours.
2. Medical concerns/physical discomfort
If your cat is suffering from a medical condition like osteoarthritis, dental disease, hyperthyroidism, or problems with their central nervous system, they may display signs of being a cat bully.
What to do: To determine any medical conditions causing the bullying, take your cat to the vet. Once your cat’s pain is relieved, they are likely to calm down and become more docile.
3. New cat or unfamiliar pet in the house
Is your cat scared of your other cat or pet? This fear can manifest as bullying behaviours because they don’t know how else to communicate their emotions.
What to do: It’s a good idea to separate your pets, and then slowly reintroduce them to reduce the uncertainty. This will make all your pets more comfortable with each other. Here are some step-by-step instructions on how to introduce your cat to another cat.
4. Resource guarding and/or territorial behaviour
Bullying can also come in the form of territorial behaviours. Cats are hunters, and their ancestors had to guard what was theirs in order to survive. Nowadays, in domestic cats, this might come across in anti-social habits like peeing outside the cat litter box and guarding favourite toys or sleeping spots.
Parsch says cats might also display bullying behaviours in a home with too few cat ‘resources’ or they are all in one place. Don’t be afraid to spread things out.
What to do: To inhibit aggressive behaviours, make sure each of your cats has their own safe spaces, toys, litter boxes, and food bowls. With plenty to go around, this will help stop your cats from fighting over what’s theirs.
5. Mating season
Is your cat in heat, or is it mating season? If your cat hasn’t been spayed or neutered, cat bullying can worsen during these times. Especially between cats of the same sex.
What to do: A simple solution is to book an appointment to get your cat neutered. Generally, spayed and neutered cats are less aggressive and more friendly with each other. But if that’s not an option, you might consider keeping them apart during these times to avoid conflict.
6. Pecking order
When introducing a new cat or kitten to the family, they will try to establish dominance. This might provoke fighting until the pecking order is set.
What to do: As a pet parent, it’s best to respect this pecking order to avoid more fighting. This can include feeding the dominant cat first or letting them choose their favourite spot on the couch before the other cat sits. However, if the bullying continues or worsens, this isn’t something you should pander to, so it’s time for a vet or behaviourist to step in.
7. Changes in routine
Have you changed feeding time since introducing a new pet? Or are you giving your new kitten attention at a time when your older cat is used to having cuddles? This might throw your older cat off and make them feel uncomfortable. They could show this discomfort by becoming a bit of a cat bully.
What to do: To avoid aggressive behaviour, try to keep your routine as similar as possible when introducing a new cat. While having a new kitten is exciting, make sure to give your older cat just as much attention to stop them from getting jealous.
8. Changes in home environment
Cats are very aware of their environment and can be very sensitive to any changes. Things like new furniture, rearranging items, putting up seasonal decor, a new noisy household appliance, or construction work can make cats feel less secure in their space and cause inter-cat tensions.
What to do: Try to minimise the impact of these changes on your cats by keeping their favourite spots untouched. Or you could move their beds and feeding bowls into another room when construction or building work is happening in your house to help keep your cats away from the environmental changes.
9. Lack of socialisation
If your cat is not used to other cats or hasn’t socialised with other pets, the introduction of a new animal to the household may cause them to become a cat bully. This is because they won’t understand how to deal with anyone other than their favourite human. They might be scared, confused, or unsure, and this could cause aggressive behaviours.
What to do: If your cat isn’t very socialised, it’s even more important to introduce them gradually to new pets.
10. Lack of predatory outlets
Is your cat a true house cat? Do they never go outside to chase prey? Well, then they might be feeling out of sync with their predatory instincts. Instead of taking their frustrations out on prey, they can instead turn into a cat bully.
Parsch reminds us that in the wild, cats can be prey as well as predators. So any lack of resources or threat in the wild can mean imminent death. And while they might seem all cosy and pampered at home, their animal instincts can still take hold! The predator drive can also kick in when your cat is overstimulated.
What to do: To avoid bullying behaviour, make sure your cat stimulates their predatory instincts with interesting cat toys or by giving them some more time outdoors if possible. If your cat is giving you signs they don’t want to be pet any longer, don’t try to force it. Let them hop off your lap to go and sit quietly elsewhere. If you force them to stay, they can become aggressive toward you or other cats nearby.
Is My Cat Being Bullied?
If your cat isn’t the one being aggressive, you might wonder if your cat is instead being bullied. The signs a cat is being bullied include the following:
- running away
- urinating or pooping in inappropriate places
- acting scared
- eating less or stopping eating completely
- ears down or pinned back
- eyes wide with dilated pupils
- weight shifted onto the hind legs, belly low to the floor
Play-fighting vs. Fighting — What’s the Difference?
It can be tricky to tell when cats are just play-fighting or actually fighting. Parsch told us key differences to look out for, including the following.
Your cats are play-fighting:
- bouncing around
- playful, light swatting
- some hissing
- ears up with a relaxed stance
- cuddling or grooming each other afterwards
Your cats are fighting:
- puffing up fur
- heavy hissing, growling, spitting, or screaming
- causing injury/drawing blood
- ears forward with an aggressive stance
How to Break Up a Cat Fight
If your cats are in a fight and you want to stop them from doing any harm, you’re going to have to break it up. But you need to make sure you do so safely. Both for you, and your cats.
1. Try using water
Put some water in a spray bottle and spray it on the cat bully. This should be done from a safe distance. Most cats don’t like water, so this should act as a safe deterrent. In fact, after you’ve done this a few times, your cat might even run off just from the sight of the bottle.
Parsch recommends that this is the only time you should use water on your cat. You don’t want to risk breaking the bond with your kitty and make them scared of you.
2. Make a loud noise
Clap your hands together loudly to startle the cats out of fighting, yell ‘hey,’ or bang on a saucepan. The loud noise shouldn’t frighten them but instead distract them from fighting, so they can cool off and separate.
3. Avoid getting involved
Don’t hit, kick or attempt to get involved in the cat fight in any way—even if it’s to protect the cat being bullied. Meeting aggression with aggression is never the answer. You could also get yourself injured in the process. You should also avoid picking a cat up after a fight is over if possible. They may still be feeling vulnerable, so this could cause further distress.
4. Throw something over your cat
However, there are some reasons you might need to pick your cat up after a fight. Or to get them to safety. In these situations, it’s a good idea to throw a blanket or towel over your cat. Parsch advises that an upturned laundry basket or box is a good option too.
It might sound strange, but this can help calm your cat and make them feel safe, and you can then safely carry your cat away from danger. Or shuffle the basket into another room with them inside it—moving them away from the hostile situation. Afterwards, leave them alone.
Takeaway: How to Help Your Cats Like Each Other
So, how do you stop your cat from bullying other cats? There are lots of ways you can stop your cats from being mean and fighting each other. It might take some time, but there’s nothing like having harmony in your home.
Here are some things you can try:
- Build a calm environment where each cat has their own special place with their toys and bed.
- Distract your cat bully with noise or toys. Any noise shouldn’t be enough to scare your cat. It should just draw their attention away from being aggressive toward other pets.
- Calming collars or diffusers—these emit cat pheromones (which humans can’t smell) that help cats to calm down. You can pick one up at the pet store or online. Ask your vet for recommendations.
- Use positive reinforcement to rebuild trust through positive association. Give treats when they’re behaving nicely near another cat or friendly towards other pets.
- Separate and reintroduce your cats slowly.
- Learn how to introduce new cats or cats to dogs.
If you’ve tried everything and your cats still just don’t seem to be getting on, it’s time to bring in a professional. Your vet might refer you to a specialist cat behaviourist to help you out.