Dominance/Hierarchy in Cats

Dominance is a key part to life in a multiple cat home. Cats in multiple cat homes will quickly establish a dominance hierarchy amongst themselves. This is a commonly accepted order status in the cat world and should not be interfered with by owners. In such a hierarchy one cat will take the top dominant position. This cat will then be known as the ‘alpha-wolf’ so to speak. The lowest cat on the totem pole is known as the pariah. This set up is normal and should not be interfered with.

Such a system is usually set up through several encounters of ‘play fights’ between the various cats in the home, quickly the hierarchy will be set up. This hierarchy can be seen throughout your cat’s daily lives. You will notice your dominant cat being the first to eat, first to play, the first to want and get your attention etc. The dominant cat will perch at the highest spot in a room (height equals respect in the cat world), while the other cats will then position themselves in descending heights. Many shelters now-a-days actually have plenty of cat towers and various objects of various heights such that the cats can display their dominance while in the shelter.

Also remember that cats are creatures of habit. They like routines and low-stress environments. To them this established hierarchy is part of their routine and habit, and part of what makes their living situation acceptable. If they are not allowed to do such they will get stressed and anxious. You should not try to go against this system. Your dominant cat isn’t being mean or bossy, just following his instinctual laws. Although it may be difficult at times, follow the hierarchy your cats have set up. Treat the dominant cat as the dominant cat, make sure to give treats or feed that cat first. When the dominant cat expresses his dominance try not to punish or yell at that cat, even though he may seem to be acting mean or unfair. This is a common mistake among owners. Although we might like our cats to live in a world where everyone is created equal, this is not the case in the feline social structure. Going against the system will generally cause the dominant cat to become more aggressive in an attempt to regain his role. Cats who feel their dominance or place in the hierarchy is threatened may also start to exhibit the following behaviors:

Dominance is one reason why getting a second cat ‘to play with your first cat’ may not always be the best idea. A dominant cat will not appreciate a new cat in his home and will let you and the new cat know it. Getting a dominant cat to accept the new cat can also be very tricky especially if the new cat isn’t happy with being the pariah. This is why many owners find that their older, friendly, and problem-free cat suddenly starts urinating outside the box and spraying when they bring home a new little kitten! If your first cat is particularly aggressive, dominant, or likes to be alone then getting a second cat may only create a problem. The best time to adopt a second cat is when you are adopting a kitten, in which case both cats can grow up together. If you do choose to get a second cat it should be of the opposite sex of the first cat and you should be aware that you will need to take great care in introducing the two cats and helping them to learn to live together and get along. If introduced properly many cats can learn to live together; however, be aware of the possibility that the two cats may never get along and may only learn to tolerate each other or may need to be separated full time.