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Cat fights and hierarchy in a cat community

By Gay Published: June 30, 2009

There is a very well-delineated hierarchy in a cat community, including yours, if multiple cats live with you. Usually, the cat who has been with the owner the longest will have established dominance when a new cat is introduced. She may not be the oldest, but the fact that she has lived with you longer than the others gives her status. She will have staked out HER sleeping places, HER spot in the yard, and HER first rights to your lap.

If this hierarchy is disturbed by sickness or death, there is great disruption in the community as the remaining cats quarrel over the rights to the top cat position.

Some cats simply aren't interested. We have a cat who is fifteen years old, and he is just a friendly, sweet, loving little beast, and he has never shown the slightest inclination to fight for position. His demeanor is always “why can't we just all get along and play nicely?” Since the loss of three of our cats, he is lonely and confused, because none of our other two cats wants to buddy up. One, of whom I've written, has tried mightily to be recognized as alpha cat, but it hasn't happened. The smallest of my cats, who is fourteen, hates him and won't budge an inch, yet, she is afraid of him as he is an absolutely enormous guy. So, she hisses and swats at the fatso who intimidates her, and even at the nice little peacemaker, who wants only to sleep curled up with her.

Cats are more attached to place than are dogs. When they rub against a tree, a human leg, a chair leg, they are releasing a scent from the glands in their temples and tails, which marks that particular bit of territory as theirs. One of my sons encouraged a favorite cat with personal friendship by rubbing his face along the cat's temples and chin. The cat purred, and since scent glands were stimulated, that son became a great favorite of the cat.

Usually, cats just posture, much like a gorilla thumping its chest. They bare and expose their claws and the hiss and draw back their mouths so that the fangs are displayed. The fluff up their hair to make themselves look bigger, their tails twitch and fluff, and they look at the opponent with a dead-on stare. The ears flatten and kind of turn. This cat means business, and you often observe it when a stray cat wanders into your cat(s)' yard. If the offender doesn't run, then the “watch cat' will often attack. A cat fight is dangerous, as great damage can be done, and you should not try to intervene. Instead, throw a pitcher of cold water on them or spray them with a hose. If neither is handy, try to distract them with a loud noise or throw a tennis ball into the middle of the fight. Cats will fight until one acknowledges the other's dominant position.

Sometimes—many times, in our case—the cats who patrol our yard sniff out the marauder and if they deem it satisfactory, they welcome her. Over the years, we have had many a cat join our cat community with welcoming paws by the other cats, who take it upon themselves to acquaint the new, often frightened and starving kitten or cat, with how they should behave. We've seen some endearing and enduring friendships over the years amongst cats AND dogs. We even had a cat who loved “his” gerbils—again, he marked them as his own. They were probably horrified by the menacing creature the first time he approached, but he made it clear he was friendly.

Mother cats often are proud to share their beautiful babies with you and will allow you to touch. But not all are so generous, and a mother cat WILL fight to the death to defend her kittens. Do not attempt to play with the babies if the mother is not cooperative, because a fight will ensue and you will walk away with multiple scratches and bites—and a cat's mouth is full of bacteria, so you will likely develop a bad infection.

Neutering or spaying your cats will make a great impact on the urge to establish dominance and fight. If your cat community consists of intact and neutered cats, the top cat will be the unneutered or spayed one. Otherwise, in a household of all neutered animals, the dominant cat is usually the one who has been there the longest. Not all cats will accept that, however, and yowls and hissing and smacking occurs as the one who wishes to dominate tries to establish dominance. If this is a problem, keep something handy (such as a squirt gun) or a can filled with stones or something noisy to break up the fight. If you keep after them, particularly with the squirt gun, the fights will diminish in frequency. You can offer a cat nip toy to EACH cat, and see if they will get high and coexist peacefully!

By Gay Fifer, owner of Parsley Hollow

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