How do I stop my kitten from turning into a bully?
April 18, 2012 4:59 AM   Subscribe

How do I stop my kitten from turning into a bully?

My partner and I have just become willing slaves to two Burmese kittens. They are 3 months old and are brother and sister. Sebastian is about 2.2kg and Rosie is 1.4kg so there is quite a difference in size.

The size difference causes a bit of a problem when Sebastian decides to pounce on Rosie when she is sleeping. It doesn't seem aggressive, he just wants to play. She seems to have trouble getting him off and doesn't really seem to want to play with him unless they are at different heights and can swat each other. When we notice him start to hassle Rosie we do distract him with a toy and try to wear him out (and her as well).

How can I get Sebastian to stop pouncing on Rosie when she doesn't want to play? I don't want him to get in the habit of using her as a way to release excess energy. We try and play with them at least once a day until they're worn out and they have access to this as well as lots of other toys to amuse themselves with.

I have started clicker training them and they will both come when they're called (unless something more interesting is happening) and they will sit. Sebastian can beg/ meerkat as well. The next thing I want to teach him is how to play fetch. Is there some way I can use clicker training to redirect him when he starts to stalk Rosie?
posted by poxandplague to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We had to give our big sister cat elivil to get her to to stop bullying her smaller sister.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:10 AM on April 18, 2012

This is really normal kitten behaviour; having taken care of a number of strays over the years (and a few pets), the males tend to be more aggressive in general and playing rarely starts with both parties interested. We had two adults that continued this kind of thing until way later in would sleep, the other would pounce. It was their "thing."

If they're just playing (i.e., no major tufts of hair/blood/scratches), there's really nothing to worry about (it's part of socialization.) The smaller kitten will learn how to counter the larger kitten's advances on her own but only if they're left to their own devices.

The power dynamic between cats is something you want to intervene on unless there's a physical problem, as you can end up with two cats who fight much worse in the end if they don't establish their own way of operating. Cats whose territory is not defined by themselves tend to go on all out assaults of one another unless they're able to establish a dominant/submissive thing. Those relationships, in my experience, while a little unfair (i.e., one cat pushes the other out for food) tend to lead to the least bloodshed. YMMV.

If you're really determined to stop this, however, a spray bottle works wonders to separate them.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 5:34 AM on April 18, 2012 [9 favorites]

It's almost certain to stop when they get a bit older (or when Sebastian gets neutered). Let it go until/unless the fights cause damage. They might yowl like they are murdering each other, but ignore the noise.
posted by jeather at 5:41 AM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with Rodrigo and jeather. Our two cats had this dynamic; now, a few years later, they still rough house, but the little one is much faster and more agile and gives as good as she gets, unless he gets pinned by the bigger boy. Every now and then they'll give each other a little scratch, but mostly it's harmless. They are also quite sweet with each other at other times, so I'd avoid major interventions unless injuries are occurring.
posted by slipperynirvana at 5:43 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's also possible they're not done growing, and Rosie will end up being bigger anyway. (Happened to my two hellions - one was a laughably huge kitten and turned into a rather scrawny adult, and the little "runt" ended up being a really big boy.)

I wouldn't worry, unless Rosie starts hiding and generally acting scared and intimidated all the time.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:06 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

We had two adults that continued this kind of thing until way later in would sleep, the other would pounce. It was their "thing."

Reminds me of Inspector Clouseau and Kato.

Cats are predators, and predatory play is how they play. I am pretty sure it will work out. If the little one really didn't want to play, she would draw blood.
posted by gjc at 6:07 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have two cats.. one is a Bengal and is about 1/3 larger than our Tonkinese (half Burmese, btw). The Bengal bullies the Tonkinese all the time :( I asked our vet about it and he said to use a noisemaker to distract them when Bengal is howling and pouncing on the small cat. (This has not yet worked, but our cats are 5 years old, so maybe it will work for younger cats)

Noisemaker like a jar full of coins, etc. It really does spook them out of whatever's going on.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:08 AM on April 18, 2012

I have cats with this dynamic as well. We got them both as kittens but my male is slightly older, and he was leaping onto her back and pinning her to the floor from the moment we got her home. The joke's on him, though; two years later she's bigger than he is, and does a really effective job at putting him in his place when she doesn't feel like being bothered.

As long as nobody is actually injured and they seem to be friends when not in this playing/attack mode, I wouldn't worry about it at all. This is normal cat stuff.
posted by something something at 6:54 AM on April 18, 2012

sit... beg... fetch...

These are cats. They are not dogs, and you can't dominate their behaviour in quite the same way. Two cats always work out some kind of balance, but it may not be the one you would have chosen to impose.

Are they neutered yet? That may calm this behaviour to some extent.

posted by zadcat at 7:09 AM on April 18, 2012

I don't want him to get in the habit of using her as a way to release excess energy.

This is practically the reason littermates exist. It is totally normal for kittens to burn off energy with each other. And count me as another person with a brother/sister pair where the formerly tiny sister is now much larger and frequently kicking his ass.
posted by crankylex at 10:03 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Glad to know its normal. They're both neutered. The main thing is that they're not causing each other damage so we'll just leave them to sort it out between themselves.

Thanks for your answers - I've had cats before but never two kittens.
posted by poxandplague at 2:15 PM on April 18, 2012

I think this is normal behavior. My cats (litter-mates, almost 7 years old, both boys) pounce on each other all the time. One will spy the other grooming himself or distracted in some way and run and jump on him. Then they either chase each other around for a bit or fight each other off.

I got two cats because I knew they would play like this and that when I'm away from home they have someone to play with so I wouldn't feel bad about leaving them.

As kittens they did this even more often. Honestly I am very impressed that you were able to train them as much as you have.

My mom has a boy and girl cats/recent kittens and they play like this as well. She got the boy cat before the girl cat, and when the girl got a little older she got bolder and now she is frequently the aggressor. I wouldn't worry about them too much. Cats figure things out pretty well for themselves, especially when they've grown up together.
posted by fromageball at 2:18 PM on April 18, 2012

Burmese cats actually tend to have a big sex-related size difference. Females tend to be between 6-10 pounds, while males are generally in the 8-12 pound range. I once saw a Burmese female with kittens, a full grown adult about 4 years old, who looked like an adolescent kitten rather than a big old momma cat. So I wouldn't expect them to grow to the same size or for Rosie to get bigger than her brother.

Agreeing with everyone else who has said that as long as there's no real damage, they'll sort things out between them. And thanks for the pictures: they're gorgeous!
posted by maudlin at 5:17 PM on April 18, 2012

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