Ask A Vet: Help! My Cat is a Bully!


Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink…at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments!

Q: What is the best way to get a dominant cat to leave a fearful cat alone? I adopted a feral cat in February, and in the beginning the two cats lived together peacefully. But now my resident cat has been “bullying” the new one. My new cat is too afraid to come out and be a part of the family. Is there anything I can do?

A: Anyone who has brought home a new feline family member can agree that it requires patience. First and foremost, do not let your “bully” cat push the other one around. This will only cause your bully cat to become more assertive and your feral cat to be more fearful.

So what can you do?

1. When you aren’t around, keep the cats completely separate from each other. Each cat should have their own comfortable space, each with a litter box, food and water. Also, make sure that both cats are receiving equal amounts of attention. Periodically switch the rooms the cats are in so they can smell the other cat without the potential for a fight to occur. The most important thing is that you prevent the cats from interacting negatively with each other. By blocking physical access, your fearful cat will start to relax.

2. Ensure that all interactions between your cats are positive. One way to achieve this is to teach your “bully” cat to wear a harness and leash. This will allow you to redirect your cat to more appropriate targets, such as a toy, laser pointer or a treat (what cat wouldn’t want that?). Using this method, gradually reintroduce the cats to each other during these controlled sessions. As you reintroduce the cats, pay close attention your cat’s behavior. If your “bully” cat shows any aggressive behavior, that is the moment you should do something to disrupt the behavior. Make sure to never use any form of punishment for the negative behavior (yelling, stomping, spanking, etc.), as this will only make their behavior worse. Alternately, reward any positive interactions the cats share.

3. Provide your cats with plenty of opportunities to get away from each other. Add vertical space so that they can climb and escape each other, such as a cat tree. Provide access to cleared-out spaces like bookshelves or cardboard boxes they can feel safe in. You can also have your “bully” cat wear a breakaway collar with a bell attached–the sound of the bell may help the fearful cat know where the “bully” is.

4. Have patience! Your cats need time to adjust to each other’s presence. In some cases, it may be necessary to consult with a behaviorist to design a full behavior modification plan to treat each cat individually.

Best of luck!

Note: Now that you have this great cat introduction information, it is time to adopt more cats! All cats over 6 months are free, everyday through Labor Day and kittens are free on Saturdays, 2-for-1 every other day! Check out the kitties who want to be part of your familyhere

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