Cat owners sometimes wonder if their cat's strange - often hostile - behavior towards another cat, dog or even baby means the cat is jealous. Let's take a closer look at jealousy of the feline kind and see if this is really jealousy, and if so, what should be done about it.
What is jealousy in cats?
"Did Kitty pee on the bed because she's jealous of my new boyfriend?"
"Does my cat attack my other cat because he's jealous of her?"
"Does my cat hiss at my new baby because she's jealous?"
What is jealousy anyway? Jealousy is often defined as a hostile emotion over a perceived advantage someone else has. Jealousy is common in humans, and we all experience it from time to time. In some cases it can be a good thing: Jealousy can motivate us to work harder. However, jealousy is also known as "the green-eyed monster" because it can make people do horrible things. It's certainly a complex experience for humans, involving a slew of conflicting emotions and thoughts.
The feline world is a much simpler one. Cats definitely don't experience jealousy in the human sense of the word. That said, negative behaviors, often aggressive ones, can be associated with a certain member of the cat's household (human or animal). When we also perceive an advantage that family member has over the cat in question, we may interpret the behavior as jealousy.
So do cats actually get jealous?Sometimes the cat's behavior is indeed caused by competing over resources such as territory, food or the owner's affection. When that is the case, you could say - at a stretch! - that the cat is jealous.
Other times, the cat is actually stressed over a change. Whatever has changed in Kitty's surroundings scares her or him, leading to fear-induced aggression. We may be able to pinpoint the change to a newly adopted cat, a baby or a new boyfriend, but that doesn't mean the cat is jealous of them. It's more likely that Kitty just needs help with adjusting to the new situation.
Situations where cats appear to be jealous - and what to do about itLet's take a look at the common scenarios people ask about.
Is my cat jealous of my other cat?When introducing cats to one another for the first time, we tend to expect some amount of hostility and aversion. That's why introducing cats should be a very gradual process.
But what about cats who are already living together peacefully, only for one of them to start attacking the other? This is when many owners bring up jealousy as an explanation. The attacker must be jealous because the other cat is getting more attention, right?
Probably not. What you're seeing may very well be a struggle for dominance. Cats have a hierarchy between them, and that "pecking order" can sometimes change, for any number of reasons. The way for a dominant cat to implement a "new world order" is by mock-attacking - and sometimes just attacking - the other cat.
There can be other reasons for sudden aggression. The attacking cat may be in pain, ill, or just stressed over something else. In that case, his or her "sibling" may be on the receiving end of redirected aggression.
What to do?If one of your cats becomes aggressive to another resident cat, first rule out any medical problem. Look for these signs that your cat may be in pain, and if you suspect a health problem, call your veterinarian.
If the aggressor is healthy, try not to intervene. Most of these attacks are safe - even if loud! - "cat talk" that should be allowed to take place. The cats need to decide on their social hierarchy, and you have no vote on the matter. When they're interacting, avoid reprimanding them and never shout or punish any cat in any way. If you do, they may associate the negative experience with each other, creating more problems down the road.
What you can do is make sure you offer enough resources for them to share. They should not have to compete over space, food or water. Make sure there are enough litterboxes (one for each cat and then another one for good measure). Provide enough food dishes (one per cat) and let them decide who uses which dish. Invest in more space by creating cat-friendly vertical space in your home. In short, minimize potential friction and let the cats work out their differences.
Is my cat jealous of the dog?Does Fluffy attack Fido? If you've recently introduced a dog - particularly a small one - to your household, your cat is likely to try and fight off the intruder. That's not jealousy per se. The cat doesn't really care about you bonding with the dog - he or she just wants that noisy stranger out of there.
If the two pets were not properly introduced, that animosity can carry on for years. With some cats, even proper introductions won't help much, and you'll just have to accept some level of antagonism.
If the dog and cat had been getting along just fine and the cat suddenly becomes aggressive, suspect a medical condition and check to see if there are other symptoms. Any form of sudden aggression in a cat calls for a proper veterinary evaluation.
What to do?Take the time to properly introduce a dog to your cat. Work with a dog trainer if need be, to make sure your dog behaves properly when around your cat. Make sure your cat has plenty of space where he or she can be away from the dog. Cat trees and other measures to create vertical space are ideal for that.
Is my cat jealous of my boyfriend/girlfriend?There are many ways in which a cat can show dislike towards a human. The cat may try to attack your new life partner or possibly just slink away.
Either way, this is probably something other than jealousy. Your cat is likely afraid of the newcomer. This could be because of a previous negative experience with that person or possibly a history of abuse by a different person of the same gender.
What to do?Be very patient with your cat. Ask the person in question not to approach the cat or initiate any interaction - including eye contact. Let them spend time in the same room as the cat, just sitting on the floor, reading a book and being quiet. With time, the cat will learn that this new person is not a threat and may approach them. When that happens, have your boyfriend/girlfriend offer treats and engage in interactive play sessions with the cat. Patience is key here - this will be a slow and gradual process!
If your cat is timid or shy, check out these tips. They can help your significant other understand your cat and offer ways for him or her to be Kitty's new hero.
Is my cat jealous of my new baby?The birth of a new baby can really affect Kitty's life. Your home is filled with new scents as well as noises (some very shrill!), and everyone's schedule is disrupted. These changes can be stressful for your cat.
Cats rarely attack babies though. Newborns are just too small and passive for a cat to see as a threat. Instead, owners may see stress-related behaviors. Your cat may pee outside the box, become more vocal or spend her or his days in hiding. That's not jealousy - that's simply stress.
What to do?Use the tips in this article about cats and babies to reduce the stress prior to the baby's arrival. The key here is a gradual introduction of scents and sounds so that the new baby's arrival isn't too overwhelming. If your cat still appears stressed, consider using these stress-reducing strategies.
My cat peed on... - is he jealous of...?We mentioned peeing outside the litterbox earlier, but it's worth elaborating on.
When a cat pees on an object, or in a certain area, it can be tempting to assume Kitty is doing it out of spite or motivated by jealousy.
Cat peed on my boyfriend's shoes? She must be jealous of him!
Cat peed in the nursery? He must be jealous of the new baby!
Cat peed on my bed? She must be jealous of the new cat who's sleeping there.
Sorry to disappoint, but cats are not that manipulative. Peeing outside the litterbox can be for any number of reasons, but taking revenge on a person is not one of them. In many cases, there is a medical explanation behind the inappropriate elimination, and that problem can be difficult to diagnose. Problems with how the litterbox is set up can also be at the root of the problem, as can be overall stress. Very often it's a combination.
Sounds tricky? It can be. If you're dealing with a litterbox avoidance problem, check out this article: How To Solve Litterbox Problems In Cats: The Ultimate Guide
Think your cat is jealous? Maybe we can help!Remember, dealing with behavior problems in cats takes patience. Let our members offer support and advice by sharing your story in the Cat Behavior Forum (to do that, just click where it says "Post New Thread).
Don't forget to let us know your general thoughts in a comment below. Do cats get jealous? What do you think?