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Is this a form of dominant behavior or what?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
My two cats, both males, fought terribly after I took the second one in three years ago, but after a bit seemed to establish their roles and now are mostly buddies. There is one behavior, though, that I'm still trying to understand. Red Cat (the dominant one) will often lick the top of Purdy's head. It looks quite sweet, really. Then he jumps him! I'm not sure if the fight the ensues is a real fight or just wrestling, but I usually end it quickly with a single clap of my hands.

Is the licking of Purdy's head a typical form of dominant behavior or just a unique quirk behavior of these two cats? I've been able to decrease the number of times Red Cat jumps Purdy by giving Red Cat a treat those times he licks Purdy's head and walks away WITHOUT jumping him first. (Red Cat really likes those treats!) I've noticed, though, that whenever Red Cat does lick Purdy's head, Purdy just cringes. Can't say I blame him.
post #2 of 10
Maybe you could try to stop the head licking since it seems to be a prelude to attack.
post #3 of 10
Two cats I had years ago did the same thing. The larger cat would go to the smaller one, give the little one's head a good licking, and then would pounce on her! I never could understand it, but it was something that happened through all of the years they lived together!
post #4 of 10
Thread Starter 
Preventing the licking in the first place seems a bit impractical in this situation, as I never know it is going to happen before it does. In spite of a large house, both cats like to be in whatever room I am in, so they are in frequent contact. And they do often come in close contact with each other without this happening. There don't seem to be any behavioral clues before it happens.

Last night there was another incident of this, for the first time in bed. Red Cat licked the top of Purdy's head maybe six times. Purdy didn't seem to cringe like he often does, so I let it happen and just observed. Then Red Cat backed away a step or two and flattened his ears, looking directly at Purdy. At this point I just shook my finger at Red Cat and gave him my "school marm" scolding. Purdy put up his front paws toward Red Cat like he was ready to wrestle, as Red Cat simultaneously jumps off the bed and walks out of the room after my scolding. But this time Purdy goes bouncing off after him like he still wants to wrestle. I didn't follow them downstairs this time, but didn't hear any sounds of a fight, either.

So I'm more confused about the behavior than ever. Every time I see those flat ears and Red Cat sticking his neck out like that, I think it is going to be serious, not just play. But this time Purdy acted more like it was play.

Any insights would be appreciated.
post #5 of 10
My cat does almost the same. The older cat, who likes to be left alone, licks the younger one's head. She never attacks the other one after, though, but the licking is definitely not a "loving" thing. She usually does this when she looks like she might walk away (if the younger one gets too close) or swat the other cat, but then starts licking the other one's head, not too gently either. But it always ends with the cats settling down, or the older one walking away. It seems she does this to calm the situation when she's starting to get upset, but the younger cat enjoys it anyway. Weird thing.

And with these two, I don't really know if one of them is more dominant than the other, it's just not that kind of a relationship. The older one likes to think she's boss, but the younger one is so gentle and HUGE that she just goes where she wants to go, never hissing or swatting back, and just won't be intimidated or pushed around by the older cat (or the dogs). But she never tries to get the older cat to submit either.

Oh and the flattened ears and "the look" in their eyes don't always mean they're about to attack, at least not over here, it can also mean chase-type play, rather rough, but still playing.
post #6 of 10
Sam did this to Bailey all the time. She approached him, he started licking her head and ears, then he wraped his front legs around her neck and rabbit kicked her. Then she broke it up, and ran away, but came back for more almost immediately.

The wrestling and "fighting" has almost stopped now, after almost a year of this pattern, and now he just grooms her. Often she will groom him too, but just a couple of licks, mostly he is the one in charge of licking. And if they have been in different rooms for any length of time, as soon as Sam walks in the room, Bailey runs over to him, and lowers her head under his chin, to ask for grooming.

If they are not actually hurting each other, I would suggest that you let them work out the dominance roles with this kind of active "play".
post #7 of 10
odd... the same thing happens with Buffy and Willow. Willow may be napping, and Buffy will hop up onto the couch with her, and she'll stick her head under Willow's chin. Willow will then give Buffy a comb-over, and Buffy seems to like it. Soon, though, Buffy starts to lick Willow's cheeks, and then they both start speeding up, as if one of them will win the licking war. Then, Buffy will suddenly wrap her foreleg around Willow's neck, sink her teeth into Willow's neck, and then they start wrestling. Willow wraps her own forelegs around Buffy's neck and do the same. Soon, though, Willow tries to get Buffy off, and she gives a mighty kick and Buffy goes spinning away. Then Buffy sits up, gives Willow the most hateful stare that an 11 month old kitten can get, and she lunges at Willow. In just a short time, it goes from affection to play to I'm-gonna-kill-you-ya-mother-------- lmao
post #8 of 10
Thread Starter 
FOLLOW UP. Thanks, everyone, for your insights. Thought you'd be interested to know how things are working out. The incident on the bed a week ago was the last time this licking got followed by negative behaviors. I can't believe how effective that rewarding the walking away afterward without jumping him has been! I started out giving them both a treat when this happened; now I'm alternating between a treat and verbal praise only. (They are both 14 pounds, and can't afford too many treats!) But the licking has been happening once or twice most days, Purdy no longer cringes at it, and the last time he even returned a couple of licks. It does seem to be evolving into just a mutual grooming thing instead of a prelude to a fight or rough play. Last night when Purdy came home from the vet with still some residual effects from anesthesia (from dental cleaning), Red Cat did this several times and seemed to behave in a "fatherly" way. He didn't even create too big a stir that Purdy was getting extra attention. Hard to believe the contrast from the way these two seemingly would have liked to kill each other when I first took Purdy in.
post #9 of 10
Bravo! Its good to hear that your behavior modification plan is working!
post #10 of 10
I too have two male cats and have noticed a similar behavour. I believe the head licking is in itself a symbol of respect but yet trying to show dominance. At one time the companion cat was a female and there was a similar display of dominance. My cat Sneaker, the dominant one at the time, did not really jump the other cat but rather opened his mouth as if going to bite. In each case the other cat watched him closely and immediately exited the scene as soon as the display occurred. Interestingly enough Sneaker also tried the same thing with me when I was petting him. But he didn't really bite, only displayed and mouthed my hand (it was not a real bite). Obviously, he wanted to show dominance even to us humans.

When my cats who were adopted strays, (two males) who were strictly outside cats went through a particularly rainy cold winter one year. We had a warm box (waterproofed box or in dry area consisting of two layers of card board lined with carpeting) for them right up to the kitchen window and I could always check to see if they were doing OK. This box was fairly long but somewhat narrow and I had openings for entry at both ends. Many times I observed that when one cat was already in the box and the other wanted to come in, entry was very slow and if the other cat was awake the entering cat immediately liked the top of the other cats head before trying to settle down - this was usually followed by a responsive head licking by the cat that was already established (I noted that the moputh open display did not occur in this instance). Anyhow, both cats would then stretch out belly to belly or back to back. There was a fairly low ceiling so they were quite comfortable and kept each other warm
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