Why aren’t there any dominant cats?
When I go for a consultation with owners, I first have them fill in a questionnaire. This gives me important insights into the behavioural problem, the environment and the situation. And regularly owners write and talk about their ‘dominant’ cat. The cat who wants to be the boss and who blocks the way for the other cats, who hisses and growls and the one who is eating all the wet food.
And this phenomenon of the ‘dominant’ cat I also hear from people on the phone, Facebook messages and emails I get, people I speak to at events etc. There are ‘dominant’ cats everywhere. Cats who want to take over the world and control everyone.
Well, with this mail I’d like to clear up this misunderstanding once and for all:
Dominance in cats does not exist. Period.
Cats are naturally solitary hunters and have not evolved in groups, it’s as simple as that. A mouse isn’t big enough to be hunted by multiple cats at once, they don’t share prey and they don’t form groups to be stronger in the face of external threats or to protect the cat from danger.
Cats lived solitary for thousands of years, did everything on their own and were only around other cats during mating, with their mother and territorial conflicts.
Of course, cats can build social relationships with other cats, very strong relationships even, a lot of research has been done on this. For example, teams studied wild colonies in Rome to reveal their social structures, but there they discovered that these colonies were made up of female groups that were family and stayed together for the mutual care of the kittens. They could also only live together happily when there were sufficient eating places and shelters.
That’s very different from how we keep cats together, isn’t it?
To this date, we have no scientific evidence that cats have a fixed social structure, a ‘hierarchy’ in which one cat is in charge of the other.
So social relationships are certainly possible as we discussed in Catfluencer Challenge #9 and as any owner of more than one cat knows, but these relationships are incredibly flexible and are subject to the influence of factors such as kinship, character, socialisation, introduction process, abundance/scarcity of resources in the environment and the presence and behaviour of other strange cats.
A cat as a solitary hunter can be very territorial (even if you don’t notice it) when there is a feeling of scarcity in the area, i.e. too few sources, too few locations, too few passages and access roads, too little in general. The cat is forced to defend parts of its territory in order to survive. This manifests itself in blocking passages, staring, hissing, growling, anxious behaviour, behavioural problems and must be avoided under all circumstances.
If it’s not dominance, what is it then?
You see a confident cat that either shows character traits such as self-confidence and curiosity, or you see a cat that is struggling with its environment and scarcity instead of abundance.
You might say that you observe dominant behaviour, which in that context corresponds to territorial behaviour, but a ‘dominant’ cat does not exist.
I also don’t like the word ‘dominance’ because throughout my career as a behavioural therapist I also observed the human psychological reaction to that term: “My cat is being dominant but in my house I am the boss, my cat has to do what I want, and she shouldn’t be dominant towards us or the other cats, she has to be a good girl/boy”!
Ok, I’m overreacting here, but you get the point.
Of course, it is completely absurd, but if owners are convinced that their cat is dominant, it increases the chance of invasive physical punishment and that is just the very last thing that should ever (read = never) happen during a behaviour modification process in cats!
Feel free to share this nice post with your network and a word of explanation.
Love, Anneleen ♡
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