Harmonious group of cats - photo by Giane Portal (Flickr name: fofurasfelinas)
I don't think there is such a thing a cat bullying. From the human perspective it looks like bullying. I believe that bullying is exclusively a human concept. It has been defined as when a person is "exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons." A negative action is defined as, "when a person intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort upon another person, through physical contact, through words or in other ways"1. This is not consistent with cat behavior.
It is better to look at what we consider bullying from the cat's perspective if we are to understand it. For the cat, so called "aggressive behaviour" towards another cat in a household is not seen as bullying - a human concept - but as behaviour designed to retain or establish his or her home range, a piece of territory that the cat considers as his or her own. Or it might simply be a defensive measure or a bit of both. This is instinctive and revolves around a fundamental element of domestic cat character. Although they do and can adapt to living in groups to varying degrees, under the right conditions (food supply etc.); they are solitary animals at heart. The degree of adaptability of the cat depends on the individual's character.
I was prompted to consider writing about this subject having received one of Franny Syufy's excellent newsletters (e-zine). Franny writes about cats for About.com a large website with millions of dollars in revenue, I expect. In her latest newsletter she refers to an article on About.com titled: "How Can I Stop Bully Behavior?". One of the contributing writers, Amy Shojai, explains how to deal with cat bullying.
The particular case study in question concerns a four year old female cat, aptly named "Stormy", that has been declawed and spayed. Stormy lives with two other cats, a dog, and five adult humans - pretty crowded territory I'd say (but it depends on the size of the house if they are full-time indoor cats). Stormy gets on with the dog and one other cat but not Prissy, a seven year old female. She demonstrates cat bullying towards Prissy causing Prissy to urinate in the wrong places due to stress. As Amy says "inappropriate urination", another human term, is a way of making the territory friendlier for Prissy as it smells of her. I say that for Prissy her urination in places other than the litter box is very "appropriate". Once again, it depends upon from which viewpoint you observe things.
Amy refers to the HISS test: health, instinct, stress, and symptom solvers when analysing cat behaviour. It is well known that illness causing pain can be a cause of aggression in a cat. I cover that and more here: Aggressive Cat Behavior. In this instance it would seem at least possible that Stormy might be feeling pain due to declawing? Even if it was done some time ago what about a fragment of bone left behind? Amy hasn't mentioned that.
I have already covered instinct above. But Amy focuses on Prissy's inappropriate urination. What about Stormy? Might she feel insecure because of being declawed? Insecurity can lead to anxiety and anxiety will lead to stress and a defensive mentality. That in turn may lead to what we term cat bullying. In this instance it seems possible that Stormy is expressing her anxiety by being aggressive towards another cat, the one least likely to return the aggression. Another side issue to do with a cat's instinct is socialisation. If a cat is poorly socialised it will be less likely to fit into group living in a person's home but that is not the case here it seems.
Cats that are abused can become defensive. They are more prone to strike out at the least provocation. Declawing is a form of cat abuse. Perhaps the declawing is at least one cause of Stormy's so called "cat bullying"?
What I find a little disappointing about Amy Shojai's assessment of Stormy is the lack of any reference to the effects of declawing on a cat's mentality. I am not criticising and neither am I saying that I am correct. I am simply hypothesising that legalised cat abuse that is dressed up as declawing might be the underlying cause of Stormy's unacceptable behaviour (in the eyes of the cat caretaker). I wonder if the current caretaker had Storm declawed? Whatever, a person had her declawed and people reap the consequences.
Experts can become a little overly wrapped up in their expert viewpoint - the human's view of cat behaviour. This is coloured by expectation and convention. In the USA declawing is still largely considered acceptable, a norm. It can tend therefore to be a forgotten element in assessments of cat behaviour.
I feel that when assessing a cat we need to ask what would the cat say if asked why they are behaving in such a manner. The answer would be entirely unencumbered by human preconceptions and baggage.
1. Olweus, D., Olweus.org