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Fred, the Bully cat

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
I have two cats. They are both males, a little over a year old (both are neutered). They were not litter mates, but were living together in their foster home before I adopted them at around 8 weeks.

Barney (the little one) is a very sweet, friendly little cat (or at least has been). Everyone who visits me loves Barney -- he'll get on anyone's lap as long as they pet him. He's a real charmer. Fred, the bigger one, is a a very goofy but somewhat shy cat. Fred always hides from visitors. Fred is very sweet to me -- never bites, never claws, always a snuggle-bunny and purr-box (but only to me).

Lately, Fred has really been bullying Barney. This has occurred before, but it seems to be intensifying lately. Barney tries to get away from Fred, but Fred keeps jumping on him, biting him, etc. So far, he has never really injured Barney. However, Barney is becoming less friendly and outgoing (I think because of the constant bullying by Fred). Barney no long sleeps in my bed because Fred chases him away if he tries. If the fighting gets to the point where Barney screams or meows loudly, I break it up. Other than that, I've tried not to interfere too much.

I'm wondering if maybe that is wrong. Perhaps I should stop Fred from attacking Barney more. I've always thought interference from me might make it worse, but now I'm not sure. I'm worried about Barney -- I don't want him to be afraid or uncomfortable in his home. I don't want to lose his sweet, outgoing personality.

Sorry this is long. Should I change my approach and try to keep Fred from attacking Barney? Is there something I might be doing (unknowingly) that encourages this behavior in Fred? Do you think its possible that Fred gets jealous of Barney? Any thoughts?

post #2 of 7
You have quite a problem on your hands! Recently we have been discussing the fact that one kit may attack another if the one being attacked is sick. Their smell changes, as I understand it. I would suggest a check up for both boys and see what the Vet says. Start there and others here will have suggestions for you - we have quite a few behavior experts available for us!
Stay in touch and let us know.........
post #3 of 7
It sounds like a dominance issue. You can't do too much, but what you can try is putting a bell on the "bully" this way it warns Barney that he's coming. When he attacks Barney, I would clap really lound and tell Fred NO. It may also help to keep them in seperate rooms a few hours a day. This way they both have some personal space for a little while.
post #4 of 7
Thread Starter 

Both kitties have been to the vet within the last month. Both are fine.

Strangely, Fred is always worse on Mondays (Monday evenings especially). Maybe he is reacting to less attention when I return to work after the weekend? Last night, I played fetch with Fred for an hour (he would go longer if he could) and he didn't attack Barney last night (as far as I know). Unfortunately, when I spend so much time playing with Fred alone, Barney gets a little neglected (Barney doesn't fetch), but at least he can come out from under the bed. Maybe Fred just has too much energy?

I also had a can of pennies by my side just in case (I thought the loud noise would stop Fred if needed). Didn't need it last night though.
post #5 of 7
From their ages, I agree that it's likely a dominance issue, especially given the difference in size. When cats live together, they naturally find a pecking order in which one cat emerges as alpha and the others as betas.

You can usually spot the specific behaviors that identify this... often, the cat trying to become the dominant male, will scruff and "mount" the other cat... basically grabbing him by the neck and standing over him, holding him down... it's a move that a mother cat makes when disciplining a kitten. In other circumstances, the cat exerting dominance will try and turn the other cat on his back, which is a submission position. This is often accompanied by vocalization... screaming, in fact, if the other cat gets annoyed.

Often, this is just a phase the cats go through, and once the alpha thing is sorted out, things pretty much go back to normal. Sometimes, though, the "bullying" can become extreme and a "victim" cat can becomes withdrawn because of intimidation.

There are a few things you can do if you feel that Barney (btw, I love the Flintstone motif in their names!) is becoming too withdrawn. If you aren't doing this already, you should consider giving Fred a "timeout" when he gets out of hand: a firm, "No, Fred," and then remove him from the room, putting him in isolation for a few minutes... this helps break eye contact between the cats and usually lowers the stress levels for all concerned. Give Barney some reassurance... a few pets and some gentle words. It's important to move Fred, not Barney... it's his behavior you want to modify. After five or ten minutes or so, let Fred out... Repeat as necessary.

The real purpose of this is not punishment... it's de-esculation, allowing Barney a little space... if you just break it up verbally, the cats may stop fighting, but will likely keep staring at each other, which is still intimidation on Fred's part... so beyond the "no," Fred shouldn't be scolded.

Of course, you can't control what goes on when you aren't there, but by doing what you can while you are there, it should help to lower Barney's stress level. Interactive play with Fred is also a good idea (as you are already doing)... don't think of Barney as neglected, but rather as having a nice quiet moment while Fred is otherwise occupied.
post #6 of 7
Thread Starter 
Thanks, Tum.

That sounds like good advice.

I've been trying to figure out who the alpha cat will be since I adopted the two rascals over a year ago. At first, it seemed like it would be Barney ... now things are changing.

Barney always eats first. Fred won't eat until Barney has left the feeding area.

If I'm on the sofa, Barney seems to be the one who gets my lap. Fred doesn't seem to mind this -- he will even leave or move to the coffee table if Barney approaches. When Barney leaves my lap, however, Fred is likely to go after him.

Fred goes to bed with me (he even gets very excited when I say the words, "night-night"). If Barney tries to get on the bed, Fred chases him away. Fred even chases him from the bedroom sometimes. Usually, when I wake up in the am, Barney has somehow managed to get on the bed. However, he is always at the foot of the bed, while Fred lays right next to me (usually against me).

I hope they're still just working out the hierarchy and this period of strife will not last. In the meantime, I try giving Fred time outs when he gets rough with Barney.

Thanks again.
post #7 of 7
You're welcome. I hope it helps!

I think you are right, though... Barney did begin as alpha cat. It's not unusual to have two cats grow up together and then at around one year (when most cats are officially full grown) to have the alpha order change. You've probably got a situation where Fred's really starting to come into his own as an adult.

We had a similar thing happen in our own brood. Bugs was 2 yrs old when Tum was added as a kitten, so for the first few years he was alpha. Having a fair amount of Maine Coon in him (they don't mature until 3-4 yrs old), Tum stayed Beta cat until just last year when he suddenly grew into his huge paws... at 3 years old. Now bigger than Bugs, they started scuffling about who was top cat... and it's finally shaken down that Tum is, much to Bugs's annoyance on occassion. And we had a few timeouts on both sides, let me tell you, LOL!
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