Bullying Arose Among My Cats — Here’s How I Ended It


Having several cats gives me endless opportunities to observe the interactions between them. I almost always enjoy these interactions and what they teach me about these fascinating creatures. Usually, things between the cats have gone very smoothly.

When a new cat comes into the household, I introduce that cat as slowly as the situation calls for, even if it takes months. I’ll start by placing the cat in a separate room and proceed with a gradual introduction.

But even after a successful introduction, bullying can arise out of nowhere. When I first fully integrated Zorro with the rest of the cats, for example, it seemed that he was unsure of his place among the others. He’d bully Jamie Bluebell (the only girl of the six cats) and continually chase her into my office, her safe zone. It never turned into an all-out cat fight, but she was clearly stressed and felt most secure in the office, especially if I was there. She’d often sit behind me on my chair.

Cats’ facial expressions by Shutterstock

Thankfully, that dynamic has changed. The two cats have a much friendlier and teasing type of relationship. Their interaction slowly morphed from a slightly aggressive bullying dynamic to almost a flirting tease with an occasional bop in the face. At this point, Jamie often initiates the teasing, bopping Zorro in the face and running away. Zorro isn’t bothered and doesn’t react at all. They will sprawl next to each other, and she seems to look for opportunities to tease and engage him, though I’ve never seen them cuddle.

My efforts to prevent bullying have included:

Separate the cats

When Zorro was in the habit of chasing Jamie Bluebell, and when she seemed to be stressed by this, she gravitated to my office, where I spent a lot of time. So, I gave her the office and often shut Zorro out of it. I let her spend the night in the office alone, if Zorro was to be unsupervised.

Distract them with playing

If the bullying is not too intense — if it doesn’t resemble an all-out cat fight or the beginnings of one — I have redirected the cats’ attention by grabbing a toy once bullying begins. I have a theory that if I play with my cats enough, they might have less pent-up energy for scuffling and getting into situations that could turn aggressive.

Two cats face to face by Shutterstock

Use products designed to calm cats

I used Feliway and Jackson Galaxy’s Bully Remedy. These helped manage and prevent aggressive situations in my household.

Provide hiding and escape places

We’re lucky in that we have a lot of space for the cats to be by themselves when needed. Mostly, they like to hang out together. The wood stove in the wintertime is a great cat unifier.

Teenager with cat in arms by Shutterstock

However, if your living space is small or has no place for cats to escape, create vertical space and provide options such as well-constructed and sturdy cat trees. According to Marilyn Krieger in her book Naughty No More!, the best cat trees have shelves that are not directly above each other and that allow cats to easily escape from the cat tree if needed.

Krieger also suggests noting if there is a pattern to when or where bullying or aggression occurs and working around that. If the bullying behavior is mild, separate the cats, but make sure that separation is not a punishment. Cats should have food, water, and litter provided where they are isolated. If the bullying behavior is more severe, Krieger suggests the cats might have to be slowly reintroduced, as if they were being introduced for the first time.

I asked wehther bullying behavior included a situation I’ve sometimes seen where one cat will jump another, and then a third cat will also jump that other cat. But Krieger pointed out this is not a good example of “copy cat” action, or what is called observational behavior.

“There are many reasons that cats will jump on top of each other — it might be status issues, it might be due to a health problem in the pariah cat, maybe a variety of stimuli or, it may be play,” Krieger said.

This reminded me that cat behavior can always mean a number of things, and that I have more to learn.

Have you experienced bullying behavior in your multi-cat household? What have you tried to stop or prevent it?

More by Catherine Holm:

About Catherine Holm: Cat Holm is the author of The Great Purr, the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, and a contributor to Rescued: The Stories of 12 Cats, Through Their Eyes. She’s also a yoga instructor. Cat love living in nature and being outside every day, even in winter. She is mom to six adorable cats, all of them rescues.


6 thoughts on “Bullying Arose Among My Cats — Here’s How I Ended It”

  1. Some good suggestions, many of which I’ve tried with the exception of the feliway products which I can’t find in Canada.

    The aggressor Kiki: Neutered Female, small black coated, nine years old. Semi-Feral and a hunter of small creatures. An alpha female.

    The victim Zoe: Neutered Female, tortie cross, five years old. Also a hunter, who was taught much to my chagrin, to hunt by the aggressor. A better hunter, so much so that I made a bright coloured clown like collar with bells to stop it. It’s worked.

    Kiki attacks Zoe each and every day. She’s not allowed to play when Kiki is in the room. Kiki runs at her and also stalks her much of the time. Zoe sleeps/hides in the finished basement a good portion of the day. Zoe has taken to urinating in puddles on dirty clothing and on the kitchen counters and on top of appliances.

    Have dealt with the bullying by saying ‘no.’ Sometimes confining Kiki to the basement for a few hours. Have used a spray bottle once or twice. Have separated them for days at a time. This has been going on for five years, since Zoe was left in my garden as a kitten. There is no question that either of them will be re-homed. They are with me for life.

    There are cat trees everywhere, litter boxes on every floor, food and water within easy reach of all of them. A large fenced outside area. It’s a cat paradise. I’m bringing Zoe to the Vet this week, to rule out a bladder infection or any other health issues. She’s losing weight and hiding. Any suggestions?

  2. I have two cats a mother and 19 month old daughter. The daughter has always been quite dominant and would push her mother away from food to eat. Now the mother occasionally won’t tolerate her and will hiss at her, this triggers a chase reaction from daughter with Mum screaming as she runs away from her. The daughter cat is a very needy, but extremely affectionate cat. She alwYs wants to be around me or sitting with me. Mum won’t come near me when daughters on me. I get the feeling it’s like the daughter just wants me to herself and tries to chase her mum away. It’s not always like this and sometimes they start to groom each other but Mum doesn’t seem keen on having daughter near her. I keep them separate at night and Mum will go up to her room to sleep in peace with no bother from daughter. I’m hoping it’s just the kitten play still in daughter and she’ll calm down as she gets older. But, have also considered rehoming daughter as it’s her that’s doing the chasing and not other way around. This is an absolute last resort as we love them both.

    1. Hi Anna,

      Sorry to hear that you’re dealing with this! These pieces might help provide some insight:

  3. I do have two male cats that suddenly hate each other. My younger boy (Max) has always playfully wrestled with my older male (Thomas) who has not really liked it, but tolerated it. Suddenly about two weeks ago, Max attacked Thomas. Of course my husband and I immediately yelled at Max — we did not spray him, touch him or anything physical, just our voices. He freaked. We immediately separated the boys and calmed the situation. It took a good week before Max wasn’t on high alert when in the kitchen (where the incident occurred). I have tried everything — including medication prescribed by the vet. I have started to reintroduce them and Thomas is finally more relaxed (not hissing or carrying on when he sees Max), but Max is still stalking Thomas. If I tell Max “no” he will generally quit, but then hisses at me and runs off to pout. Whenever I bring Thomas out, I also bring boiled chicken treats. They eat fine together, but as soon as that is over, the tension returns. This reintroduction started this past Friday and they’ve probably been free together a total of a couple of hours. Am I hurrying this situation? I just want everything back to normal.

    1. Wow, I know this is almost a year late, but just came across your comment. This sounds almost exactly like my two boys. Both fixed. Bruno is 2, and Benson is 1. Benson grew up with Bruno when we got him at 8 weeks old. Recently Benson has been stalking Bruno and will chase him away, and it is at the point Bruno will barely come out of the guest room anymore. :( When he does and sees Benson, he lays low and growls and hisses. It’s almost like Benson can glare at him and bully him that way. And walk slowly over to Bruno. It’s so sad! I want them friends again and don’t know what to do! Did you find anything that helped?

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