Cat Aggression
November 9, 2014 11:08 AM   Subscribe

My 1.5 yr old cat will escalate grooming/playing with other cats into aggressive biting. What should I do?

Alligator is a 1.5 years old male, deaf rescue cat. The 2 brothers are 10 month old rescue cats. All were introduced to the house at the same time and they are all neutered. Here they are being the cutest. There are 2 food/water areas and 3 litter boxes in a large loft apartment with a lot of cat friendly spaces and a lot of human interaction. They mostly get along well, sleeping together and playing safely. They don't fight over food or get into what I think of as 'cat fights'. However, occasionally Alligator will groom one of the smaller cats and the grooming will escalate into intense biting of their neck and haunches. The smaller cats submit easily but the biting continues until they hiss and attack back and run away

I'm concerned about this because it isn't anything I've seen in a lifetime of living with multiple cats and I'm worried that the biting will escalate into lasting physical damage or behavioral issues. Keeping them separated would be difficult, and the majority of the time they get along well. During active play time there isn't any conflict and they spend a lot of time sleeping together and sharing space well. Its just this intense dominant behavior from my cat that worries me, especially because he doesn't seem to be socialized well (he was a found stray, the brothers are from an abandoned litter) and doesn't react appropriately to signs that its getting serious from the kittens. Also he can't hear them yowling. Does that even matter? This happens at all times but I would say that it most often happens in the middle of the night, when one of the brothers is asleep in my room, which is definitely Alligators territory.

The behavior is concerning because Alligator is otherwise very sweet and plays really well normally. But this dominant biting/straddling is pretty scary. He doesn't look angry- his hair is flat, ears forward, no hissing or normal cat fighting behavior, while the smaller cat will be puffed up, completely submissive, and screaming. I will often simply remove the small cats from the area, but they will come RIGHT BACK, still puffed up, and he pounces on them.

I know there are a lot of good resources on cat aggression, and I have used Feliway in the past to help cats get introduced to each other with good results. I also make an effort to greet Alligator first when I get home, and to feed him wet food separately, although after feeding time the brothers have access to his feeding area and left overs. However I feel like this is a kind of unique and would like specific advice. Hopefully I"m wrong and there is a simple solution, like making a private space for my cat that is off limits to the brothers or separating them at night time.

Please feel free to ask questions and I'll respond as best I can.
posted by kittensofthenight to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: We see this frequently, especially with our sibling (male/female) former feral cats. It appears to be, as noted, a dominance behavior... The male is always the aggressive one. We pretty much ignore it, they work it out

Our term for this is "bite-neck", I suspect that if the male wasn't fixed, it would escalate into mounting behavior...
posted by HuronBob at 11:26 AM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: You're right that its probably pretty overwhelming. All three of them are amazingly friendly with humans, but still there are 5ish roommates and not infrequent house-guests. It must take a lot of cat energy to process that even if the stress isn't directed towards humans. Maybe he isn't getting enough downtime. I like the spray bottle idea. I'll get a few and start trying that. Somehow I've never had to use one.
posted by kittensofthenight at 11:27 AM on November 9, 2014

Best answer: I honestly think the squirt bottle is the fastest way to deal with this, as a "cold shower" approach.

Sexual acting out is a pretty typical dominance behavior (and he can feel the other cats yowling just fine), and the other cats are playing their part. You might need to stop reinforcing his ego with the first-greeting separate-feeding thing (I mean, if he needs to be fed separately that's fine, but unless he's driving you nuts he doesn't need to go first), and make your opinion of his behavior crystal clear with your own show of dominance.

You can let him groom briefly, but you need to pick up the bottle when he starts to get overstimulated. I know it can be harder to get a deaf cat's attention, you may have to get up and walk into his line of sight and then squirt him.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:28 AM on November 9, 2014

I really don't think this is anything to be concerned about. My cats are nearly five years old and have had this dynamic between them since they were kittens. Since they exist peacefully when not in play/fight mode, I have never worried about it. For a brief period I lived with two cats who actively hated and tried to hurt each other, and there's no question about it when that is the case.
posted by something something at 11:34 AM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Putting feliway cartridges around your house might help mitigate this behavior.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:40 AM on November 9, 2014

Best answer: Yeah, I'd start up the Feliway diffuser in the bedroom at least. It's good for introductions, but if there's still territorial aggression you may need to keep using it for a while longer for general anxiety-reduction. The bedroom shouldn't get to be any one cat's territory, that road leads to human sleep deprivation.
posted by oh yeah! at 11:45 AM on November 9, 2014

Best answer: Cats are weird. Our three do this all the time. It generally begins with one of the cats attempting to roust one of the others from the warm spot. It escalates from adorable grooming to play fighting to "OH MY GOD GET AWAY YOU FREAK" and then the winner takes the warm spot. There is occasionally a bit of hissing involved, but it never turns into a FIGHT fight. I also think sometimes it really is just about being adorable, but inevitably one of the cats triggers the other's CHOMP instinct.

If it's not turning into a fight, I would suggest you ignore it. Cats who aren't actively trying to hurt each other are generally able to work out dominance issues on their own. My only suggestion would be that if a specific cat emerges as lowest on the totem pole, you might want to keep an eye on them at dinner time and make sure that one is getting enough of the food.
posted by kythuen at 1:05 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

On re-read, if one of the cats being bitten is actually screaming (as opposed to just hissing or yowling) then you might have something to worry about.
posted by kythuen at 1:07 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You say the biting is "intense biting" -- in what way intense? Are we talking puncture wounds here? Because that would be bad. Or is it just emotionally/expressively intense?

Assuming no blood is being shed, none of what you're describing sounds like really problematic cat aggression -- I mean sure, it's aggravating to the harassed cats, but it still falls within normal social range. Alligator's behavior often starts with grooming, which is a great cue for social/emotional tone. Our cat with the behavioral problem of 'redirected aggression', in contrast, would see an enemy cat out of the window, or remember having once seen an enemy cat out the window, and go into attack mode against Enemy Cat, except that the cat she was actually attacking was our other cat, an older larger male with whom she otherwise got along fine. Attack Cat Mode was furious and dangerous (I speak firsthand), so our attacked cat lived in fear (and tried to fix things by peeing everywhere) until we managed to rehome his attacker as a spoiled-rotten Only Cat.

Are you disturbed because the brothers are smaller than Alligator? For what it's worth, this kind of behavior doesn't depend on physical size. We've observed our large chubby flamepoint (Scout) interact with two smaller cats: first an elderly, limping, sickly cat (Oliver, RIP), and now a shy young PTSD cat (Ampersand). Oliver and Ampersand each took a long time to notice Scout was a gentle colossal dork, and Scout has always able to throw his weight around where it really counts, i.e. intimidate them into surrendering food. BUT! the sexual harassment (neck-biting, butt-pestering, quasi-humping) has always gone the other way -- it's been amusing to us (callous monsters that we are) to watch Oliver limping determinedly after Scout, or hear Scout make 'Get off my lawn!' noises berating impetuous/horny Ampersand. (And trust me, being fixed hasn't stopped Ampersand from having an active sex life with his special blanket.)

Anyway I don't think you need to worry that Alligator's behavior reflects poor socialization (if anything Scout is the dork, when it comes to subtleties of feline etiquette), or will escalate into something horrible.
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:37 PM on November 9, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I feel less worried knowing that other cats do the neck biting/mounting behavior. I'm going to try spritzing and see where that takes us, and try Feliway in the bedroom.

I'll also dial down the preferential treatment for Alligator, now that he is less anxious about food and they've all been basically getting along for a few months.
posted by kittensofthenight at 4:26 PM on November 9, 2014

Our cats do this. The male cat starts by cleaning the female and it usually ends in biting her neck and mounting. She hisses and screams and is passive. The thing is she CAN get away. So I think it's a domination thing but I think it's a bit of play too.

We asked our vet about it and she said because they get along really well (groom each other, sleep together) that as long as there is no blood, don't worry about it, they will work it out. And for the last 7 years they have pretty much worked it out. It still happens daily and if the screams are particularly loud we distract the male to break it up.

Good luck, your kitties are super cute!
posted by sadtomato at 8:47 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

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