Cat Bullying

by Michael
(London, UK)

Harmonious group of cats - photo by Giane Portal (Flickr name: fofurasfelinas)

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 a large website with millions of dollars in revenue, I expect. In her latest newsletter she refers to an article on 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.

Michael Avatar


1. Olweus, D.,

From Cat Bullying to Cat Behavior

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Cat Bullying

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Aug 08, 2011 My Scratch
by: Dayu

I had 16 cats at one time. From the first nihgt my Scratch, come to me. She's a black and white maggie (Non-Prebred). Now I have 4 cats. None of them like her. I dont know why. Scratch gets hotdog when we have them. We give our 4 cats and 2 dogs a treat every night. Our meanest cat, Abby, Makes sure Scartch doesnt get any. I need help. Why do I do?

Jan 10, 2011 we have cat bullys!
by: Kathy W

We have cat bullying going on in our house every now and then which is why we are moving to a bigger house. We now have 5 cats in a small cottage. we brought in a stray who was aabondoned but part of the spay and stay program. The care taker told them she didnt care if we brought her back or not because she lived under her porch. So we kept her. Lia hates this cat. He will just out of nowhere attack her for no known reason. I thought maybe he didnt like grey cats because he did the same thing to my sons grey cat and he only had 2 cats. He will stalk her and unless we notice he will attack her and she has gotten pretty beat up in the process. We are trying to decide how to handle this until we get moved. we may have to cage Mariel when we are not there. We dont want to but it may be the only way to keep her safe. Our new house will have a big screened in deck and Im sure they will love that. The back yard is fenced in with a high fence and I know Lia will love being able to be in the yard in the summer as they all will. Midnight will not be able to because she will scale that fence in no time. She gets on the roofs of houses when she escapes which has only been a few times.

Jan 01, 2011 Sad stressed cats
by: Ruth

This is a brilliant article Michael and you are right that the cause of Stormy's 'bullying' might be because she is declawed. Possibly at one time Prissy has got the better of her and she is now attacking first to ensure it doesn't happen again. Both cats sound insecure, Prissy's marking by urine is saying 'I live here too, this is mine'
I wonder if Prissy is also declawed ?
I agree with you that Stormy could be suffering in silence from a sliver of bone left behind, or it could be a claw regrowing or arthritis pain.
I can't believe someone would give advice and not mention to have her paws thoroughly checked. That is typical of the ignorance of people who think they are cat 'experts' but in reality only pass on bad advice they've received themselves. I really don't understand the 'blind spot' so many have about problems from declawing.
There is also redirected aggression of course, Stormy could be afraid of someone she daren't retaliate against so she picks on Prissy instead as she's obviously an easy target for some reason.
Whatever the reason, both are sad and stressed cats and I'm sorry they have to live that way with a family who don't understand cats.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth


Cat Bullying — 2 Comments

  1. Yes there is cat bullying. I have 2 cats with claws who are brother and sister from the same litter and neutered.The male is larger. She is sound asleep and he is restless so he jumps on her, wakes her up, and she growls and runs away. Or she is sitting minding her own business, and he jumps her, grabs her fur and mounts her, she breaks loose and runs away. Or he is eating, leaves his bowl, chases her from hers, eats her food, then goes back to finish his bowl or not even finish it because he is so full. Or she is sitting on my lap, he jumps on my lap, she leaves, after 2 minutes he leaves too because he didn’t really want my lap, he wanted it away from her. Bullying is a dominance issue. It is still bullying.

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