When your cat goes around giving everyone in his path a powder puff for no reason, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s aggressive. There’s one in every multicat household and through no fault of his own, he’s labeled the “bully cat.” When we add more cats to an already established group, it causes a shift in the cat hierarchy. The shift may be as obvious as a stare down and a brawl with fur flying or it may be very subtle, such as blocking the pathway to a litter box. The resident high ranking cat may or may not relinquish his title as Top Cat … at first, or maybe never.
Mr. Jack, watch your back!
But that doesn’t stop the cat with ambitions to keep trying by asserting his dominance to the rest of the clan through undesirable behaviors. This could include anything from relentlessly ambushing and chasing a timid, docile cat, guarding litter boxes, taking ownership of toys, games, sun puddles and refusing to timeshare.
The last thing you want to do is punish the so-called bully cat with water bottle spraying, yelling or throwing things at him. It’s not going to solve his bad attitude and may cause him to fear you and lead to stress. I compare these tactics to just taking pills to mask the symptoms of illness, instead of treating the cause. These high energy cats have a strong prey drive and they love nothing more than to chase anything that moves like prey! The key is providing him with tasks that will fulfill his desire to hunt and creating an enriching, changing environment that he cannot resist.
But, is your cat really a bully or is he just a high energy cat?
In many cases the latter is true. Our resident rescue cat, Baggy, is definitely more high energy than a bully. He’s not aggressive at all and seems to have a high prey drive with lots of energy to expend. He claimed this label because he enjoys whacking the other cats with his paws like he’s in the octagon in a UFC match. During these slapping sessions, he never uses his claws and is easily distracted while engaging in these “games.” Because to him, it is a game, and with that in mind, we know that we can easily redirect this negative behavior into something positive. Throw something crinkly across the kitchen floor, and you’ve got him! Take out the fishing rod toy, now we’re talking! Instantly he loses interest in taunting the victim cat. We know that to keep the harmony we really have to provide an ultra stimulating environment for this high energy cat.
Always pay attention to how your cat is showing aggression. Displaying overtly aggressive and harmful behavior such as biting or drawing blood due to full-blown fights, first and foremost, warrants a vet visit to rule out any underlying medical issues. Cats are masters at being stoic creatures and they hide pain well. The only outlet they have to express pain is sometimes through redirected aggression – taking it out on another cat that happens to walk by.
7 Things you can do to provide stimulation for your high energy cat
1. Interactive pre-supper time play
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This is at the top of the list of things to engage your high energy cat. Coming home after work, one could easily give in to the whims of wailing cats wanting to be fed first thing. Now is the time to ignore their persuasive “acatpella” and get them moving. Spend about 15 minutes playing with your cats to release all that pent-up energy. Remember, you’re the one who is tired, not your high energy cat. He’s been sleeping all day. Now is the time to get him moving until you see he’s really had enough and allow him the thrill and excitement of the ‘catch’ to mimic a successful ‘hunt.’ My cats’ favorites are DaBird or any kind of feather attached to a rod. Don’t feel guilty if you’ve skipped the gym that night because running up and down the stairs with toys in hand and cats in tow not only gets them pumped but is great for getting a mini cardio fix yourself!
When I see there seems to be a little tension between the cats, I know it’s because I have been neglecting this vital part of our routine. Just like going to the gym, make it a habit and stick with it, no excuses. You are establishing routine and cats thrive on routine. That’s no surprise, being the best alarm clocks never requiring recharging. I’ve noticed that when I do pre-supper play sessions, they eat so much better and I never have to refrigerate leftovers.
2. Create several little kingdoms in your home
The more cats you have the more space you have to provide for them. ‘Territory’ is our operative word here in the Chirpies household. We are lucky that we have a large backyard to accommodate a decent sized catio and building it was one of the best things we could have done for our cats. We have definitely noticed a more confident and happy cat in George, our cat who was easily intimidated by the more dominant cats. But any space, no matter how tiny can accommodate smaller versions of these multiple kingdoms that they can each own or timeshare throughout the day. These “kingdoms” or micro territories could be a cat tree in one corner by the window, perhaps a smaller cat bar stool in the kitchen, maybe a few climbing shelves near the bookcase, a little getaway cat cave in the corner, a cat hammock on the landing or one under the coffee table.
Every bit of space in your home, vertical and horizontal, is important to your cats as they relate to their environment first and foremost, to feel a sense of security within their micro territories. When you have a multi-cat home your feline family displays almost the full spectrum of cat personalities; from the shy to the dominant, assertive, playful, docile, ground/bush dweller or high flyer. When all cats feel comfortable and confident in their environment, and each cat can own some space, the bully cat loses interest in picking on the lower ranking cat. His environment enrichment needs are met so no need to pick on Timid Teddy. Besides, he cannot guard several kingdoms at the same time!
3. Interactive toys for their amusement
When you don’t have the time, there are some great electronic interactive toys for all cats’ play styles. One of the kitties’ favorites is the Frolicat Flik, best enjoyed by the cat who is a master pouncer! Another is the Bolt laser toy (which cat doesn’t like chasing the red dot?) A word of caution though, I would always follow up this game with letting the cat catch something tactile. Biting and gnawing at a toy, whether it’s a catnip-filled kicker toy or toy bird, actually feels like prey. The red laser light, while great for getting them off the couch so to speak, never actually gets ‘caught’ and may make a cat feel a little cheated and frustrated. There’s a lot of weight to the saying “the cat that caught the canary” because for a cat, after a good hunt, feels very pleased and satisfied with himself. Indulge his instincts!
4. When the zoomies take hold
Take advantage of those zoomies sessions. All that pent-up energy seems to come out just before bedtime, not exactly the ideal time. But just whip out a toy for 5 minutes to let him ‘kill’ his prey and this should keep your high energy, bully cat from disturbing you or the rest of the cats during the night. Short play sessions before bedtime is a great way to train a cat to merge his sleep patterns with the humans in the house.
Tip: Put away toys when not in use
This is hard to stick to but it’s best to put toys away when not in use. Unmoving toys are no interest to a cat and he just gets bored and ignores it. But if these toys emerge during play sessions only, that creates a sense of novelty and intrigue and the cat is a more willing participant in a game of fetch, pounce or jump. Favorites such as the fishing rod toys always get put away in our house. If left out they could damage the toy or worse, ingest parts of it which is a potentially dangerous situation.
5. Provide more litter boxes
Follow the rule of 1+1. Again in the same way the bully cat cannot guard several kingdoms at the same time, he also cannot guard all the pathways leading to a litter box. See my post on Litter box rules cat owners should not ignore.
6. Puzzle feeders
Puzzle feeders are great for encouraging hunting and foraging behavior. With these feeders, the cat is actually working for his food. It may take a while for him to get the hang of it but he soon learns that his paws can be used for other things besides powder puffing his housemates. A really fun and engaging feeder is called the Fish Bowl. This inexpensive, simple, yet clever design will have your kitty amused and intrigued while he tries to get his paws inside. A little tricky to get the treats but your high-energy cat is not about to give up.
7. Clicker training!
I left the best for last! I love clicker training my cats and it’s amazing how willing cats are to learn. Years ago I bought the Karen Pryor clicker training for cats starter kit which includes a clicker and booklet on how to get started. Cats inherently please only themselves, so you have to find something that motivates them, um that’s easy….food and treats! Just find out what they absolutely cannot resist in the treats department and you have yourself some willing feline participants. It’s also no surprise that it’s the high energy cats like Baggy and his brother Ollie that respond extremely well to clicker training. Using this simple clicker, I have trained the younger cats to love their cat tree.
Another interesting clicker to use is one with a retractable target stick for more kitty focus and engagement. I have also taught my cats to “sit” and stay off the counter using this clicker. For best results set up a ‘clicker station’ that is exclusively used for this purpose. My cats’ treat station is a set of shelving floating units in the kitchen and when I need to cook in peace without wanting the pitter patter of paws across my counter, I get them to sit on this station instead and it works a charm!
So while Baggy, our high-energy cat still probably dreams of ruling the several cat kingdoms in our home, with all the activity we have planned for him, he just doesn’t have the time.
Do you have a high-energy / bully cat in your household?
Which cat has his eyes set on ruling the seven cat kingdoms?
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