In a multi-cat home how can you tell if there is bullying?

Sometimes in multi-cat homes a cat might bully another or others. Normally, the reason is because there isn’t enough space for individual cats to call their own. Their compressed home ranges overlap which causes stresses which can lead one cat who is dominant to bully another.

It might not be readily apparent that one cat is being bullied. Here are some clues which might help answer the question as to how you can tell if there is bullying plus some solutions.

Cat is a bully?!
Cat is a bully?!
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Aggressive body language: this is a good one. You can look at your cats and see if one is demonstrating aggressive body language. This might take the form of hissing, growling, their fur becoming erect and swatting another. It might be more subtle than that with the cat standing close to another cat in a domineering stance or simply standing at a access point.

Submissive body language: obviously, the other side of the coin to aggressive or dominant body language is that the other cat demonstrates submissive or non-aggressive body language.

Frequent fights: this is an obvious one but it needs to be stated that occasional scuffles between cats is probably not going to be uncommon in a multi-cat home but if there are frequent or escalating fights it could be a sign of bullying. It’s about the intensity and duration.

Chasing and cornering: a bullying cat might frequently chase a more submissive cat and corner them which will prevent them from accessing resources or safe places. This could be a form of bullying.

Blocking access – resource guarding: bullying and dominant cats can intentionally block another cat’s access to resources such as litter boxes and food. They may also prevent access to resting spots which might be a favourite.

Stress and fear: with respect to the submissive cat, you can look out for signs of stress or fear in those cats. This might be apparent in excessive hiding, decreased appetite, excessive grooming indicating stress because grooming is a calming process and finally avoiding certain areas of the house.

Injuries: unexplained injuries that have occurred in one of your cats may be the result of an aggressive encounter with a bullying cat.

Exclusion: if one cat is often isolated or excluded from social interactions with other cats it might also indicate bullying.

RELATED: How do I make my cat stand up to bullying by other cats?

How can I stop a cat bullying others in a multi-cat home?

If you suspect bullying in your multi-cat home you might consider the following steps to reduce it or stop it,

Reduce the number of cats: this is an obvious one and one that probably would not enter the mind of the owner but it will certainly resolve the problem. Often the cats in a multi-cat home are kept indoors full-time. This is going to add to problems both in terms of stresses among the cats, bullying among the cats, difficulties in caring for the cats while maintaining a healthy and clean environment and it may probably enhance the prospects of bullying.

Separate resources: it may help to separate resources to ensure that each cat has access to their own food, water, litter boxes and resting areas. The idea here is to reduce competition and prevent bullying over resources. Key resources should be in a number of different locations to allow timid cats to access them easily and in peace.

Provide vertical spaces: this means installing cat trees, shelves and perches to create vertical territory for the more submissive cats to escape to and feel more secure. They provide escape routes which avoids becoming trapped and cornered.

Increase environmental enrichment: I have touched on this above. It means creating a home which is equally suitable for cats and people. This requires commitment and investment in time and money which is not often encountered sadly. But owners can provide interactive toys, scratching posts and hiding spots to keep cats mentally stimulated and help redirect the energy and reduce aggressive behaviour. Access to a catio might substantially improve cat behavior.

Gradual introductions: this is going back to the beginning when another cat enters a multi-cat home. You gradually introduced a cat in a controlled way to another cat to acclimatise to the environment which may help minimise the prospects of them becoming bullies or a cat becoming submissive. Although the bullying cat will have a dominant personality in the submissive cat will have a timid personality. These are both inherited to a large extent and therefore introducing a new cat correctly is not going to resolve this problem.

Sterilisation: this suggestion goes without saying really but if any cats in a multi-cat home are unsterilised they should be sterilised because for male cats neutering reduces aggression and territorial desires. It doesn’t eliminate it; it just calms them down which in turn will help to minimise bullying tendencies.

Stray or neighbour cats: in this instance I’m thinking of a multi-cat home where they have access to a catio or an enclosed backyard whether cats can see through a fence and where a neighbour cat might be intimidating the cats inside the backyard. The objective here is to reduce contact with stray or neighbour cats. If cats can’t see intimidating cats outside the home, they can’t be intimidated by them.

Feliway: this is an artificial pheromone which can be used to calm cats in a fixed environment. It may help. It’s in the form of a spray. Also, you can buy dry cat food which is claimed to calm cats. You can look it up on the Internet. A calmer cat this less likely to be a bullying cat.

Consult a veterinarian or cat behaviourist: a last resort might be to consult a veterinarian if the problems become unmanageable.

RELATED: Can a domestic cat bully their owner?

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