Is my cat evil?
October 9, 2019 8:42 AM   Subscribe

This is meant only slightly as tongue in cheek. I have two cats: a larger male and smaller female. The female is the one I suspect of demonic possession. When the male cat has created a nest for himself somewhere, the female cat will notice and come over and start grooming him, then when he's fully woken up, she'll turn it into fighting and gradually escalate until male cat leaves and then female settles into nest and takes a nap.

That this happens more frequently in colder weather reinforces notion that it's calculated and deliberate and possibly satanic. this normal cat behavior?
posted by Jon44 to Pets & Animals (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Normal behavior, in my experience. My bratty younger cat will sit right beside my older cat where she's created her nest and poke at her until she gives in and moves. If I see it in action I will grab him and put him in my lap, which usually diverts him. He seems to know that I don't approve; a few times I've just said his name warningly and he's given it up.
posted by backwards compatible at 8:59 AM on October 9, 2019 [8 favorites]

Yeah, this is just a cat being a cat. She’s figured out how to get her need for a cozy spot met, no need to read anything further into it. It’s deliberate in that she has figured out an effective way to solve the problem but the cat is not operating on some human level of understanding that incorporates the idea of good vs evil. It’s just a behavior that gets reinforced when the male cat moves and she gets to nab his place.
posted by corey flood at 8:59 AM on October 9, 2019 [17 favorites]

Pretty normal. I have a pair who have been the best of friends for years and years. Some times their grooming sessions do turn into fights and one cat runs off.
posted by wotsac at 9:08 AM on October 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

I mean, it seems like it's a personality thing too - not all cats do this. A cat is an individual; they form different relationships with different creatures, have different habits, etc.

I think that without more understanding of cat subjectivity it's impossible to know whether cats are moral agents or not, but I incline toward some weak kind of "yes they are", in that we tend to believe that cats do good things out of kindness/affection/altruism (like that elderly cat who fostered all the kittens). I think there's a folk assumption that cats have some kind of value system - like some cats will comfort you when you're upset. We assume that they're not just automatons; implicit in that is that they're not just responding automatically because of their genes but making some kind of choice, even if it's not the way that humans make choices or made using words and abstract concepts.

But at the same time, because we can't understand "cat values" except from the outside, we can't really judge. I used to know a cat who would attack my ankles when I made the bed - really viciously. It would hurt if she caught you and it didn't seem playful at all. She wasn't a friendly cat, either, and she wasn't very pleasant to be around. But I don't know what was going on in her little cat head. Did she actively dislike people, or did she just...not feel proactively warm towards them? Did she "think" on some level, "aha a person with ankles, it amuses me to bite them because I know it hurts" or was it more "I am in a world where I can amuse myself by biting ankles, here are ankles, hooray"?

In a broad, general way, I think that cat had a hostile and inward-turning personality. I don't know how to weigh that morally.

So I guess I'd say that, first off, your cat is behaving in a way that a lot but not all cats do; that it's a common kind of "cat selfishness" that none the less not all cats practice, and indeed sometimes bigger or more aggressive cats decline to take stuff from smaller cats; but that there's no real way to understand this in cat morality terms so "is my cat evil" isn't a meaningful question.
posted by Frowner at 9:14 AM on October 9, 2019 [23 favorites]

Your question is premised on normal cat behaviour and evil being different things. I question your premise.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:14 AM on October 9, 2019 [61 favorites]

Normal, and my friend got so frustrated with this she bought two cat heating pads, which was very effective in getting each to stay in their own space.
posted by lepus at 9:17 AM on October 9, 2019 [17 favorites]

She's probably trying to get at his spot after he's pre-warmed it for her, so you could try getting 2 heated beds for them. My cat LOVES his heated bed. It's K&H brand, available on Amazon.
posted by 100kb at 9:22 AM on October 9, 2019 [8 favorites]

I believe it's Catstitutional law that coziness and a full belly rank higher than moral behavior in the human sense.
posted by Namlit at 9:25 AM on October 9, 2019 [10 favorites]

Always have more than one cat nest around. If I move things around in my home office, the first things that must be reset are the cat beds, such that one cat is right next to the desk (best position) and two more beds are within petting distance, possibly next to each other (fraught with peril if wrong two cats claim them). Repeat for every room a human may spend time not moving much, although admittedly the bathroom only has one cat bed. But then again, we gave up thinking this was a human centered place long ago.
posted by twentyfeetof tacos at 9:42 AM on October 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

Cats are a social species and a major part of status in the cat world is who gets to hang out in the best spots - often the highest but also sometimes the warmest or the comfiest. So part of what's going on may just be that she's the top cat in this situation, and is exercising her rights as such. Cat societies, eg feral cat colonies, aren't cruel and are often very caring; they have a system that allows breeding females to raise kittens secure in the knowledge that the rest of the colony will feed them and let them be. Part of the way that works is having a set of agreements about status. The fact that she's grooming him is evidence that this isn't meant to exclude him - it demonstrates that she will care for him, she just also wants him to give her her due.

Having a loose status system like this is one of the things that allow cats to be social and thus, in a manner of speaking, 'moral', in the first place. We might bridle at the unfairness of it, since it doesn't really align with human ideas of justice; but then again, there are ways in which it's 'fairer' than human ways of deciding stuff. Status is very much relative and determined by who is actually present; when she's not in the room, nothing says he can't use 'her' spot, she can't claim it as property and charge him rent on it the way a high status human could in our world. And cat colonies are better at sharing resources and looking after nursing mothers than many modern human societies - they get considerable 'maternity leave' from hunting as they can rely on the kills that others bring back to share with the group, and are actually afforded higher status the more litters they've had. I'm sure that cats are lowkey exasperated with us every time we have a nice meal and hoard it all for ourselves without sharing it with them, but they tolerate our bad behaviour very generously (well, my cat does yell about it, but he yells about everything; I'm sure if there were an Ask Catafilter he'd be posting on it all day about the unreasonable things I've done to him).

Also, Frowner - are you sure that the cat understood that the ankles were part of a person, as opposed to a small lump of mammalian flesh hovering near the floor? I've definitely known cats that were very sweet with people but regarded feet as prey animals.
posted by Acheman at 9:44 AM on October 9, 2019 [52 favorites]

From observing my cats : cats either don't understand or don't care about their effect on other animals a whole lot of the time. For example, my big fat cat clearly loves me and loves his sister. He cuddles and headbumps and licks and is clearly affectionate with us both. However, he tends to sit on his sister when hugging, which makes her cross because he's heavy! And she's small and getting squished! And he never seems to see it coming. He chases her, which she hates, because it's fun. He jumps from a height onto our legs at night (not on purpose, just doesn't bother to avoid them.) He would never scratch me on purpose but occasionally digs his claws into my thigh when trying to climb into my lap. He doesn't understand my objection to kneading on my bare skin.

Basically he's a loving lump but profoundly lacking in empathy and can't forsee how his behaviour or heavy weight will bother others. In your scenario, cat wants the warm spot but won't really empathise with the other cat losing it.
posted by stillnocturnal at 9:45 AM on October 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

Just as an addendum - here is my cat, clearly exhausted by my inability to grasp basic etiquette.
posted by Acheman at 9:48 AM on October 9, 2019 [13 favorites]

Ah, cat politics. The cat's highest good is the satisfaction of their own personal needs. They will use all of their capacities to attain that good. Sometimes that good overlaps with what humans consider morality in either a positive or a negative way. They do have other goods, including random acts of sweetness to their humans, but looking out for #1 is #1.
posted by matildaben at 10:25 AM on October 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

My old beloved dog, who passed away in 2017, used to do the same thing both to me and to my other dog. Well, he wouldn't pick a fight per se, but if he wanted my spot on the couch, he would get up and "cuddle," then slowly worm his way between me and the back of the couch until I got up or kicked him off. We didn't call him evil per se, we just called him an asshole/bully.

Cat grooming behavior is pretty interesting. I don't really like the language of dominance and submission for animals but for lack of a better term, confident, "dominant" cats will generally be the ones grooming while the less-confident cat will generally be the recipient. This means that in two-cat households, the victim of bullying will be groomed quite a bit by their aggressor! I think that's exactly what you are seeing here - one of your cats is a bully. The grooming isn't contrary to that - it's part of the same behavior.
posted by muddgirl at 10:51 AM on October 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

One thing that I have noticed with female cats is that I'm not sure I would call mine aggressive exactly, but that in my experience, they seem to have a lot more energy to work off than the males ever did. I was going to say "when they're young" but honestly I've had several of them only start to settle down when they're 10+ years old. She might still do a bit of this, but giving her a bit more active play might allow them to coexist better without her regularly wanting to play rougher than he does.
posted by Sequence at 10:56 AM on October 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

My younger male tuxedo cat does this to the older female calico cat. She loves to sleep, and he is about 3 years old and loves to play, tho' he is starting to sleep more.

He usually does it when he is bored, about the same time he'll run around crying for no reason, and use the counter as a jumping off board (he is not allowed to counter surf). If I clap my hands and speak sternly to him, he'll run into the bedroom. Then back out again in less than 10 seconds.

She is much larger than he is, and she'll growl at him, and sometimes fend him off, but other times, she will vacate her nest and go sleep somewhere else.

I try to play with him every day to wear him out, but he sure has a lot of energy, and often does this when I am busy with other things and my playing time doesn't coincide with his being a jerk and running around like a crazy cat time.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:10 AM on October 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

so typical!
posted by supermedusa at 11:14 AM on October 9, 2019

i can't answer this question without a photo of the potentially evil baby herself! show us the fiend.

really though there aren't a lot of standards for normal cat behavior because cats are weird little gremlins whose motivations are often baffling to humans. but yes, this seems not too unusual.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:19 AM on October 9, 2019 [9 favorites]

I just saw a lion do this to his brother. It is normal.
posted by soelo at 12:04 PM on October 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

Cats are a social species and a major part of status in the cat world is who gets to hang out in the best spots

Well, sort of, but not exactly. Cats (unlike dogs) did not evolve in the wild as very social creatures - wildcat mothers raise their young but adults don't live together. Domestic cats have evolved to live in close proximity to other domestic cats, but that's such a recent development that their social structures are highly variable. Exacerbating this is the fact that non-feral domestic cats who live indoors are generally pretty isolated, knowing only a handful of other cats, and may have been separated from their mothers before learning some social behaviors. Again, this leads to a lot of variation in cat behavior and degree of sociality.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:43 PM on October 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Chiming in partially to say this is normal, but mostly to subscribe to Cat Facts.
posted by schadenfrau at 4:52 PM on October 9, 2019

She just wants the warm spot he created. The solution is to buy two heated cat beds so there is always an available warm spot.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:01 PM on October 9, 2019

Or look at it from the male cat's point of view -- maybe he feels needed? Here's a good place to curl up... all soft and warm and cozy... now where is that poor little fluff ball? I've got it right here now, just waiting for you... Ah, what would she do without me?
posted by TrishaU at 9:58 PM on October 9, 2019

Yep. Normal. Domestic cats really aren't a social species like dogs are. But my general rule still applies: I don't interfere with my dogs' interactions with each other as long as nobody is at risk of injury, because they speak much better dog than I do. And when I had cats, the same rule applied.

Definitely agree that heated cat beds are the bomb and will likely make your cats much happier.
posted by biscotti at 6:12 AM on October 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Grooming, I believe, is a dominance action so it's not entirely surprising that it would lead to fights.
posted by Kurichina at 1:54 PM on October 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Grooming, I believe, is a dominance action so it's not entirely surprising that it would lead to fights.

my personal theory on this is that cats, which i think are pretty pure predators? like not a lot of scavenging going on? are such good hunters because it's what truly brings them pleasure in life. like murder is their absolute favorite thing. so a lot of them have the pleasure / murder circuits sort of...crossed. they get overstimulated / happy, and their natural reaction is to disembowel whatever is closest to them.

out of joy.
posted by schadenfrau at 2:40 PM on October 10, 2019 [12 favorites]

So cats are tiny fuzzy Klingons basically
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:55 AM on October 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

but without the code of honor
posted by schadenfrau at 9:46 AM on October 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

(I love them so much)
posted by schadenfrau at 9:46 AM on October 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

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