One cat hitting another, cat fight or aggression.
One cat hitting another, cat fight or aggression. Photography ©fxegs | Getty Images.

Do Cats Get Jealous? How to Handle Cat Rivalry

If you live in a multi-cat household, you've probably thought, "Do cats get jealous?" What we think of as jealousy doesn't hold the same meaning for cats.
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The other morning, I was peacefully lying in bed, waking up with my sweet Gigi kitty girl curled up beside me; we were both very comfy as we fell back to sleep for just a few last moments. That is, until Pinky tried to join our cuddle. Suddenly, the normally sweet Gigi leaned over and gave Pinky a couple of very hard smacks on the head, letting her know that I was hers at that moment, and she had no intention of sharing. Poor Pinky was stunned as she slowly slinked away. So, do cats get jealous, or what else could be at play?

Do cats get jealous in the way that humans do?

Two aggressive cats staring each other down.
Do cats get jealous? Photography ©kimberrywood | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Naturally, your first thought in this situation might be, “Do cats get jealous?” This experience could be interpreted as jealousy for my attention, although that is putting the cats’ behavior in human terms. In the cat world, is it really jealousy that Gigi was feeling, or was it something else altogether?

As we know, cats are creatures of predictability and habit. They prefer a stable environment without a lot of changes and challenges, and they prefer to claim certain toys, places and spaces in their home for their very own. Things they claim include you and your attention, too. What we think of as jealousy is actually cats rivaling one another for the same things.

In nature, what drives cats to rival one another is scarce resources, such as food and clean water. Male cats will run off other males to keep their resources (food, water, shelter and female cats) to themselves. Females keep their territory even smaller, as they would in nature if they were raising kittens. The kitten nest becomes their domain and, unless one is part of the colony, they are not inclined to share their space. It’s not jealousy but competition for finite resources. Of course, our spoiled indoor kitties are not competing out in nature; however, their instincts to be protective of resources is deeply ingrained in how cats behave. Even when living indoors with access to a seemingly endless supply of food, water and cozy places to sleep, some cats just don’t want to share their abundance. It’s a throwback to nature’s scarcity.

As I mentioned, you are one of their primary resources, and at times they do not wish to share you with other cats. Consequently, when we think, “Do cats get jealous?” we are probably referring to rivalry.

How to handle rivalries

Now that we’ve answered, “Do cats get jealous?” let’s talk about how to handle cat rivalries.

The easiest way to handle rivalry is to ensure there is plenty of everything to go around. Scarcity and lack of anything can cause cat fights and anxiety, so know what your particular cats need. Plenty of food, fresh water, clean litter boxes and cozy napping spots are a good place to start. If you live in a small apartment and space is tight, add cat trees and shelving to give your cats more vertical spaces to claim as their own. Lots of cozy nooks and bedding will help, too.

Perhaps one of the most important resources cats need is quality time with you. This can be a challenge when you have multiple cats, but it’s important to give each cat some one-on-one time with you, as well as group playtime with one another. Attention giving can be as simple as sitting on the sofa with a cat or two next to you while you pet them both or what I am doing right now: writing with one cat on my lap (Peanut Butter) and one cat watching as I type on my laptop (Punkin). Of course, I pause for occasional head scratches and kisses while I am writing, so they get my attention.

Whether you call it jealousy or rivalry, understanding what drives your cats to behave in certain ways, and which situations in your household may evoke rivalrous feelings, gets you one step closer to keeping it at bay. Avoiding situations that may instigate kitty feelings of competition is one of the keys to achieving lasting harmony in your multi-cat household.

Signs of cat rivalry

  1. Fighting: Disagreements that are as simple as glaring at one another can escalate into vocalization, slapping and chasing. Usually this is harmless if your cats get along well at other times.
  2. Hiding: A cat feeling displaced by the actions of a more dominant cat may hide after being challenged for resources.
  3. Scolding: My tiny, three-legged cat, Smoochy, will scold my big boy cats if they try to join us on the sofa when she isn’t willing to share, and they back down as soon as she chatters at them.
  4. Eliminating in inappropriate places: A cat feeling extreme anxiety over resource rivalry may start eliminating outside the litter box, especially if you have a bully cat who likes to guard the box and not let other cats use it in peace.

Thumbnail: Photography ©fxegs | Getty Images.

About the author

Devoting her entire life to cats, Rita Reimers is founding owner of JFCATS.com, a feline health and wellness company. JFCATS has been providing cat behavior services and cats-only pet-sitting for the last 15 years. Rita and her business partner, Linda Hall, are also starting a line of USA-made cat toys and bedding called Gracie & Esther. You can reach Rita directly on Facebook and Twitter @TheCatAnalyst and on Instagram @RitaReimersTheCatAnalyst.

Editor’s note: This article appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you! 

Read more about cat behavior on Catster.com:

8 thoughts on “Do Cats Get Jealous? How to Handle Cat Rivalry”

  1. Pingback: Do Cats Get Jealous? Here’s What It Means If Your Cat Starts Getting Territorial – WebInvestigator.KK.org – by F. Kaskais

  2. Sherry L Jarecki

    This article talks about how to deal with jeousley.
    It didn’t say how to deal with a cat who guards the litter box.I have 4 cats.one cat waits to pounce on the cat useing the litter box.I have 6 litter boxes.scooped several times a week.how do I get him to stop it?

    1. Hi Sherry,
      Sorry to hear you’re experiencing this! Please reach out to a vet or behaviorist for the best advice. These articles might provide some insight as well:
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/6-common-litter-box-no-nos
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/what-youre-doing-wrong-with-your-cats-litter-box
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-behavior-litter-box-issues
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/litter-box-problems-ask-a-behaviorist
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/why-do-cats-act-weird-when-it-comes-to-their-litter-boxes
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/why-do-cats-act-weird-when-it-comes-to-their-litter-boxes

  3. Cats feel most of the same emotions humans do. To discredit their behavior as rivalry and survival instincts shows someone clearly thinks of humans as being the only animal worthy of emotion.

    I have observed my cats: mourning for another lost cat, jealous for affection, crying for attention, and even trolling each other (taking the other’s favorite toys and hiding them.)

  4. I have a 1/2 Maine Coon [Blaze] and a part Bengal [Smoke]. Blaze is a very big cat and Smoke is about the size of a mini kitty. However Smoke rules the roost and she definitely gets zealous when I pet Blaze even if I’m trying to pet her. Smoke [is often the instigator] will grab Blaze by the throat and growl. Blaze looks at me like she is being put upon. And I have to separate them. Sometimes Blaze will attack Smoke; so it works both ways. There definitely is a RIVALRY between these cats and they are both the exact age but from different litters.

  5. “What we think of as jealousy is actually cats rivaling one another for the same things.”

    Well, how does this differ from the definition of jealousy as applicable to humans? Its one thing to say we have no way of knowing for sure whether cats feel precisely what we feel, its another to try and disclaim that cats feel jealousy. I’ve been a cat owner all my life and have regularly witnessed scenes between cats that most surely look to me like nothing if not jealousy, in human terms.

  6. My Tripod used to jealous if I talked on the phone for more than a minute or two. She’d Stand up on her back feet, pawing at my leg with her front paw, and meow loudly–“Mom, hurry up and get off that! You’re mine!” I had at least one person I was talking to ask if I had a child with me. No, I said, it’s my cat, she’s jealous of my being on the phone. And I don’t even use the phone that much!

    1. Hi Michele, my Sammy does the same thing when I’m on the phone. He’s always vocal. It’s mostly when that split moment I’m doing something without him included. I glad I’m not alone.

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