Having more than one cat can be utterly delightful or deeply problematic. Sometimes, cats will love companionship and enjoy long, relaxing snuggles or mutual grooming. However, at other times you will notice fighting, fear and even what seems like jealousy. So it begs the question: do cats really have the capacity to feel jealousy when attention is given to another animal? Here’s what you need to know.
Some cats will notice if you pay more attention to a particular cat and respond negatively if they sense the other cat is being favoured. In particular, cats can become withdrawn or aggressive if you yell at them for misbehaving and yet don’t exhibit this behavior towards another cat. While you may have good reason for being more patient with the other cat (such as age, a medical condition or a troubled history), the jealous cat can’t process or understand this and can become isolated in response. These problems can be especially pronounced in certain types of cats. Cats that already have tenuous relationships with humans are generally likely to interpret this behavior as untrustworthy or negative. Cats such as the Burmese or Siamese breed, who are social, sensitive types can also really be affected by jealousy. They are intensely loving cats and can become withdrawn or seemingly sulky in response to behavior that suggests another cat is favored.
In some cases, cats will also experience jealousy over the distribution of food and toys and can start behaving aggressively to other cats in the household. If you notice one cat bullying another over toys, food or sleeping areas, it is important to police their interactions as much as possible. Your inclination may be to scold the bullying, insecure cat, but it’s much more helpful to take the cat aside and provide some affection. Instead of reinforcing the bullying behavior, this demonstration of love can work to reduce the insecure cats need to assert dominance over other pets in the household. Once you return the jealous cat to the main area, it may be appropriate to use a harsh tone if bullying continues. Repeating this cycle can prove to be very effective when encouraging behavior modification.
Jealously doesn’t always lead to aggressive behavior. In fact, many cats simply choose to fade into the background when they feel ignored or find it difficult to feel loved when their owner is seen giving love to a different cat. These cats need a tender, gentle approach and sustained efforts to prove just how special they are. Ideally, you should spend time cuddling, petting and playing with the sad, withdrawn cat on a daily basis. Eventually, repetition of this reassuring behavior may allow your cat to internalize the message that you are capable of providing affection to multiple pets at once.
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