An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

When One Cat Bullies Another: Jade and Spook

Dear Greyce,

I am an 8-year old spayed female who was adopted into a loving home about 6 months ago, along with my 5-year old, declawed, neutered room mate Spook.

It has taken a while for me to adjust to my new surroundings because I am wary of strangers. I had been traumatized as a kitten by a so-called friend of my previous family who would flick a lighter in my face; and so I became very vicious with strangers; and so I was declawed at age 3.

In short: Strangers beware! I will growl if strange people approach. I will not permit patting unless I initiate it. And I growl and bat with my paws if startled.

The good news is that Spook and I have adjusted well to our new home. I have become more relaxed and let my folks stroke me all the way down my back to my tail and along my sides. I like to sit on laps, too, although I do get restless and will jump off to check out noises I hear from outside.

The not-so-hot news is that Spook has become a bully.

Background Information

We live with three adults: Himself and Herself and their adult son, Himself Junior, in a bungalow. There are two bedrooms, a spare room (my favourite) and a bathroom on the main floor and all have doors. Our food and water dishes are in the kitchen, tucked under a cupboard.

A door separates the upstairs from the downstairs. Downstairs is a rumpus room which also has a small room inside it which is used as an office (another favourite space of mine), a laundry room, a separate bedroom, and a bathroom. All have doors. And the rumpus room has a door that closes it off from the rest of the basement.

Our three litter boxes are downstairs: one by the furnace, one along the side of the stairs and a small one next to that. We use them all. One of these used to be upstairs in the spare room but Themselves prefurr it in its present location.

The only room that is off-limits is Himself Junior's bedroom because he has allergies.

Outside is a wonderful deck (roofed and enclosed with screening) which I absolutely love. And Themselves are building us an outside enclosure with a closed-in fence near the ground so I can continue to eat grass. It will have a heated cat house so I can venture outside on cooler days.

My Routine

I have a lovely daily routine.
- canned food at 6:15 a.m.
- cuddles in the bathroom with Herself while she gets ready for the day, along with drinks from the tap (unless Spook scares me off)
- morning sleep in one of my favourite places (downstairs office, upstairs spare room)
- observation on the deck as early at 10:00 a.m. but sometimes not until noon, and then for most of the afternoon and evening (with a snack at noon and dinner at 5:00 p.m.)
- early evening cuddles in the living room (no longer possible as I will explain)
- cuddles with Himself in the downstairs office around 10 p.m. (unless Spook scares me off)
- snack at midnight (along with a small bowl of kibble left out all day).

The Problem

When we first arrived, I was able to boss Spook around and he would obey. And now, the tables have turned. Spook likes human company and goes where the action is. He also likes to show me who is boss. He just has to enter a room and I will leave. My folks don't understand that his subtle communication is very threatening to me and so I back off.

I would like to lie on Themselves' bed but as soon as Spook appears, I leave! I like cuddles with Herself in the bathroom - that is, until Spook appears! And I like lap time with Himself downstairs in the office, until Spook wanders in! I hang out mostly on the deck outside and in the basement.

Of course, Spook is all sweetness and light to the folks and they adore him. But Greyce, this is just too much for me.

I'm getting less cuddle time.  Recently he stalked me down to the basement (where I was) and kept at me until I went out on the deck. Then I couldn't get back because he was guarding the entry! As soon as Herself saw this and moved him away, I came into the house.

Greyce, how can I put him in his place?


Dear Jade,

Congratulations on choosing a far better home in which to reside than your prior residence. You will, however, have to educate your purrsons about cat communication.

It seems they do not understand that we communicate with subtle gestures (the change in pupil size, ear position or posture) that can indicate when we are frightened, intimidated or up to no good. So my first advice to you, dear Jade, is to get your folks an education.

Here are the resources the MUST master, because if they don't know how to read the signals they cannot possibly intervene in a timely fashion. Click on the following links for further information. Cat Talk, Eye Talk, and Tail Talk. They can also have a look at the wonderful colour photos in Bruce Fogel's book, Know Your Cat: An Owner's guide to Cat Behavior. (Your library should be able to get a copy of them.)

Second, have them use doors as an architectural ally. For example, when you are having private time with a valued purrson (in the bathroom, the spare room or the downstairs office) it is incumbent on the human to close the door. A sensitive human will close the door as soon as you enter the room. Then it is time for you and your human alone -  and without Spook getting in the way. This will not only allow you cuddle time but will also build up your confidence.

Third, there is the point at which the door needs to be opened again so you can exit. And guess who is likely to lurk about? For this reason, if Sir Spook is lurking, the purrson in question should use something with which to distract him so that you can exit gracefully. That something is a toy which will catch his interest: a furry mouse thrown in the opposite direction to where you are headed, or a fishing pole toy (like Da Bird which I understand you have) waived to distract him. This means that your purrsons will require a cache of distraction toys in each of your favourite cuddle spots.

Now if Spook refuses to be distracted or soon comes after you, then he needs to be given a time-out. A time-out is a very good way for him to understand that his behaviour is unacceptable. He would simply be taken to a room and perfunctorily put inside (no comments - even the negative attention of yelling, and no eye contact) and left by himself with the door shut for 5 to 10 minutes. At that time, the door can be opened without ceremony and he can leave as he wishes. However, if he resorts to scaring your off immediately thereafter, he gets a longer time-out.

Last but not least, you and Spook should be left in separate areas (with doors shut to remove the chances of bullying) if there are no humans about to intervene. And in that case, one of those litter boxes may just have to be moved upstairs. Do let me know if this is possible.

So much for general management principles.

The other aspect which is very much needed is more interactive play. You see, as predators, we need a workout several times a day to let off our predatory steam. Otherwise our arousal level rises and we get 'touchy'. We can even start to stalk our room mates in lieu of hunting prey.

In the wild our levels would come naturally rise and through the hunt. But when food is provided (as it is in the domestic situation), we need to be presented with other physical and intellectual challenges.

I have updated my entry on interactive play just for you. And it will be the next entry published.