Like wolves; dogs travel in packs, ordered by rank. The highest ranking dog is the Alpha male. Pack members with lower ranking are submissive to dogs who rank higher. Some dog trainers believe that canines consider their owner to be the ‘alpha’ dog, and base their training methods on this theory; while others train dogs on a much more ‘partnership’ basis.
The reason I prefaced this article with canine information is to justify my opinion that the term ‘alpha’ cat may be a misnomer. Although researchers studying feral cat colonies have observed members of the colony frequently forming matriarchal hierarchies; related females sharing the same space when giving birth, nursing each other’s kittens and kittens being cooperatively being raised by all the females, I am still not convinced about the alpha cat status.
This said, veterinarian and animal behavioral expert, Dr. Nicholas Dodman strongly subscribes to the theory that the alpha cat exists. While domestic felines are generally considered to be friendly, affectionate kitties, Dodman says there are cats that definitely have their own agenda and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
Dodman describes the alpha cat as a natural born leader, who isn’t cooperative and tries to ‘take charge of practically every situation’. These cats want what they want – when they want it; and if their guardians don’t acquiesce quickly enough there may be hell to pay. The alpha cat constantly demands attention, and ‘rebel when admonished’. These are the cats that think they own their guardians.
I am fully aware that we often proclaim that we are ‘owned by our cats’ and have become willing kitty servants. But I think that Dodman is referring to feline behavior that exceeds this simple statement we all frequently use; ‘Dogs have masters: cats have staff’.
Dodman claims that if the alpha cat doesn’t get his own way, he will often resort to bullying his guardian into taking immediate action. These are the cats that will bite toes, nose or fingers to hasten their guardian out of bed. They yowl for their breakfast until the red and bleary-eyed guardian eventually gives in to the cat just to get some peace. And if the guardian happens to approach them while they are eating the cat may even start issue a warning growl. If he is not in the mood to be petted, the alpha cat might bite or scratch their guardian with a very strong message of disapproval.
Alpha cats also bully any housemate kitties to show them whose boss. They can be extremely disagreeable if they are in any way confronted, and will employ some very unpleasant measures to show their dominance.
On the other paw, “Cat Daddy” Jackson Galaxy doesn’t agree that there is truly an alpha cat. He writes,
“I’ve never been sure why classifying a member of a group this way irritates me as it does.”
Galaxy acknowledges that there are cats who are born leaders. Those are the ones who as kittens always got the favorite “nipple on the milk line” and who quickly will dispatch a housemate kitty from a favorite sunny spot, swatting or pushing them away. But he takes issue with those who lump these pushy cats into one category. He writes,
“It’s all too convenient, and in the course of analysis (and in my case problem solving), often detrimental, leading us as behavioral interpreters down the primrose path.”
Galaxy believes that although there are cats who are deferred to as ‘the leader’ by their housemate kitties, there are cats living in multi-cat households who demonstrate a great deal of give and take. In his opinion there is no ‘pariah’ cat (those who slink off in submission) in every group. He asks his readers who have multi-cat households if they can categorically state which of their cats is the alpha all the time, and which of those are consistently ‘submissive’. He concludes his question by saying
“Honestly if you say yes, I’d have to say that you were being a bit lazy and anthropomorphic. But that’s just me.”
I do prefer Jackson Galaxy’s take on cats living in a multi-cat household. My preference is based on observing our two kitties’ behavior for over fourteen years. The moment I swear that Sir Hubble Pinkerton is an alpha cat, Dr. Hush Puppy puts me to shame with his excessively bossy behavior. I do believe that feline behavior is very fluid. Like Jackson, I prefer to call our kitties ‘top cat’ during the period of time they occupy that position.
Take a moment to enjoy this humorous top cat video uploaded to YouTube by CartoonIntros.
What’s your opinion about “alpha” cats? Share your thoughts in a comment.
- Veterinary Practice News
- Jackson Galaxy
- Photo credit Flickr User: play4smee