How do cats show dominance?

Both the behaviour of the dominant cat as well as that of the submissive cat are discussed here. There are two sides to this form of feline behaviour. Dominant cats will block the movement of subordinate cats. Sometimes they will replace or supersede the movements of the submissive cat. The dominant cat might bat at the subordinate with his paw or feint (a pretend smack) such an action. He may chase the other cat and sometimes mount the subordinate.

Cat dominants dog in most homes when there is hostility between them

Cat dominants dog in most homes when there is hostility between them. Image: MikeB.

If a dominant cat walks past a subordinate he may briefly stare at the other cat and at the same time rotate his stiffly erect ears to the side. The subordinate cat may avert his/her gaze and the dominant will walk on.

As for body posture, the dominant cat may signal that state of affairs by ‘holding the ears up and rotated to one side, arching the base of the tail and staring at the subordinate’.

In an interaction with the submissive cat, the dominant one may show a complete dominant display. The forelimbs are extended and stiff. The base of the tail is elevated while the rest of tail is hanging down. The ears are ‘stiffly erect and rotated laterally..’. He stares at the other cat.

In more extreme displays of dominance, he may slowly wag his head from side to side. Typically in cat groups displays of dominance are subtle and only one of the above actions is present.

A dominance or subordinance hierarchy can be useful is creating harmony or stability in cat groups where there is competition for food and possibly litter trays.

Linear hierarchies can be present in small groups of cats. This means a straight line of dominant and submissive cats where the submissive cat to the top cat is dominant to the cat below him.

Cats dominating dogs in the home

Like me, you might have seen one of those videos of domestic cats on the stairs refusing to move. A couple of dogs are on the landing above the cat one thing to come down the stairs but scared to do so because the cat is the boss in that home. I’ve seen lots of videos where cats bossed dogs and it is amusing but at the same time a little concerning.

A study on this topic found that more than half of cat and dog owners said that their cat had threatened the dog while fewer than 20% had seen the dog threaten the cat. The study of 750 owners would seem to indicate that in general cats are the bosses in a multi–pet home.

This runs entirely counter to what we think of dogs chasing cats. When they are both socialised to each other living together the roles are reversed. It’s all to do with the mental state because each time the dog is at least twice the size of the cat in the videos that I have seen.

Somewhat disturbingly, the participants to the study confirmed that almost 10% of cat and dog owners said that their cat had injured their dog. Only 1% said their dog had harmed their cat.

The study also found that the classic image of domestic cats cuddling up to dogs is exceptional or at least rare. Cats and dogs can live amicably together but sometimes cats are uncomfortable around dogs and perhaps reluctant to form a friendly relationship.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Sophie Hall, of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, Said: “On the face of it, these results suggest that the cat is the kingpin in a household with dogs. They are the Princess and the dog is lower down in the hierarchy.”

One influencing factor on these findings might be the fact that the domestic cat is less domesticated than the domestic dog. They say that the cat is barely domesticated in some respects when their wildcat character just below the surface whereas it is believed that the domestic dog has been living with human companions for 20,000-even 30,000 years. The cat was domesticated about 9500 years ago it is believed.

another influencing factor is that the domestic cat can revert to their solitary character even though had become quite sociable because of domestication. The dog of course as a pack animal and therefore innately sociable.


Small group cat hierarchy

Possible small group cat hierarchy

Domestic cats don’t create hierarchies except at the level of one cat dominating another. Of course, for one cat to do this the other cat has to be submissive. Dominance requires two cats with different characters.

Quotes and reference for the first section: The Welfare of Cats at page 12. The study referred to is published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour. I don’t have a link – sorry.

Some more on cat behavior relevant to this article

Language is the biggest barrier in the human-to-cat relationship not intelligence
I've been thinking about the fact that people relate to their domestic cat companion as a child and as a ...
Cat with 2 individual whiskers that curl up and touch both her eyes
The body language of a cat's eyes and ears are worth a quick discussion and I am reliant on personal ...
Cat Tail
I hope this two pages of an infographic helps in understanding domestic cat tail body language/signalling. It can be quite ...
Picture of Scottish Fold cat with wide open eyes
A domestic cat companion's eyes are expressive. There are probably five basic eye configurations: Wide-open pupil i.e. a dilated pupil ...
Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.
Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *