cats get jealous?
by Lucia Peters
Cats might have a reputation for being aloof, but that doesn’t
mean they don’t ever express how they’re feeling. So what
happens when you, say, bring another pet home with you? Do cats get jealous
in situations like this? And if so, how might they express it? The answer
is a little complicated — but, as is always the case with pets,
the key to figuring out what’s going on is paying attention to
your furry pal’s behavior.
According to most experts, it’s not really known whether cats and
other pets experience jealousy in the way that humans do for the simple
reason that the cats themselves can’t use their words to tell us
about it. As animal behaviorist Suzanne Hetts said according to PetMD, “We
have no idea whether a pet’s emotional state is equivalent to what
people label as jealousy.” The kind of behavior humans might chalk
up to jealousy is often more about competition than anything else — according
to Hetts, it’s a situation “where the pet is competing with
another individual — human, dog, cat, or otherwise — for
something it wants.”
Indeed, this sort of behavior is a survival instinct, particularly for
cats. As Catster puts it, “in nature, what drives cats to rival
one another is scarce resources, such as food and clean water” — that
is, “it’s not jealous, but competition for finite resources.” That’s
why domesticated cats can get territorial over things like their food
bowls or the favorite places to sleep — they’re protecting
what they need access to in order to survive. And humans? We’re
domesticated cats’ primary resource: We provide food, shelter,
care, and affection. As such, cats don’t always want to share us — with
other cats, with other pets, or even with other humans.
When cats are feeling competitive, they might behave in any number of
ways, according to pet-centric site Cuteness. Some cats might be a little
overtly aggressive, growling, hissing, or even swatting at what they
perceive as their rivals; others, however, might display more avoidance-related
behaviors, such as refusing to eat or spending all their time hiding.
Still others might get clingy, climbing all over you and constantly demanding
your attention. It’s also not uncommon for cats in competition
to pee in places other than their litter box, either out of anxiety or
as a way to mark their territory, or to become a bit more destructive
than they typically are.
This kind of competitive spirit and behavior can be brought on by any
number of things, but most commonly, it’s due to the introduction
of someone or something new into the cat’s life: A new pet, a new
baby, or even new people can interrupt your cat’s routine and cause
them to become territorial. However, as registered veterinary technician
Renae Hamrick noted over at PetPlace, it’s important to make sure
that, if these behaviors develop, they are, in fact, because of competition
or rivalry, not an underlying health problem. If it’s not immediately
clear why your cat is suddenly hiding a lot or peeing in strange places,
definitely take them to the vet to get checked out.
Once you have determined that the behavior is a result of your cat’s
emotional state, rather than their physical health, there are a few ways
you can deal with it. For one thing, keep giving your cat love and attention,
and try to keep its schedule as close to its regular routine as possible.
Make sure that the resources your cat is most likely to feel territorial
about — food, water, toys, etc. — are plentiful. And if you’ve
just brought home a new pet, don’t let the newcomer take over your
cat’s food, toys, bedding, or other supplies; ensure that your
cat’s own things remain their things. It might cut down on how
threatened they feel by the new arrival.
To help get your cat used to a new pet that’s joining your household,
veterinarian Dr. Courtney Campbell detailed a simple technique on the
television program The Doctors back in 2015: “One technique to
do is to put … [both] pets in a separate room — preferably
a room where they can smell each other under the door — and then,
after about 30 minutes, switch rooms,” said Dr. Campbell. “That
way, they kind of know that the other one’s there — they’re
getting adjusted to it by smell.” In this way, said Dr. Campbell,
you can help your cat get out of what he called “the red zone” — the
emotional state in which your cat feels extremely anxious about something
new happening in their world.
Of course, it’s also worth noting that at least one study has found
that one type of domesticated pet might experience jealous in the human
sense: In 2014, researchers from the University of California, San Diego
found that dogs display jealous behavior when their humans showed affection
toward a toy dog capable of mimicking barking, whining, and tail-wagging.
The real dogs didn’t just growl and snap at the toy dog; they also
physically tried to insert themselves between the toy dog and their humans.
The researchers believe their results “lend support to the hypothesis
that jealousy has some ‘primordial’ form that exists in human
infants and in at least one other social species besides human.”
Dogs aren’t cats, of course, but it’s not out of the question
that cats might display similar behavior in similar situations. Further
research would be required to explore that idea more fully. But even
if cats don’t get jealous in the human sense the way dogs might,
it’s still worth checking up on your furry pal and doing what you
can to help them feel more comfortable in a stressful situation. A little
extra love and attention can go a long way.