Post Image 2018.01.10 Do Cats Have a Pecking Order

Do Cats Have a Pecking Order?

We’ve all heard about the Alpha Dog, and it’s a well-established fact that dogs do have a pecking order. But is there such as thing as the Alpha Cat, and does one cat truly become the dominant member of the group – a leader, if you will?

Although cats are not traditionally thought of as pack animals, after living with my group of rescue cats, along with all of my experience with other multi-cat households, I can say with certainty that Alpha Cats DO indeed exist.

The Alpha Cat(s)
The reason I say cats and not cat, is that from my observation, there are usually two alphas when you have a larger group of cats; 1 male and 1 female.

  1. Alpha Cat Female: In nature, the female alpha cat is truly in charge. She will get first choice of the best sleeping spots, the best food, and the subservient females will help her rear her young. Passive females will often bring food to the alpha female, and will groom her as well. If you have an alpha female in your indoor cat household, you will notice some of these same behaviors: first choice of sleeping places, first choice of food, and, of course, first in line to get love and affection from you. You may see the alpha female steal another cat’s food, or push another cat out of a favorite napping spot. One of my females is so protective of her time with me that she will loudly yell and then swat at any other cat that comes near when she is next to me. (Yes, we are working on correcting this behavior).
  2. Alpha Cat Male: The male alpha cat establishes order among the group, finds the group members a safe place to nest, and protects them from predators. In nature, he would be the one to mate with the female alpha, if she will have him, that is. The choice is hers, not his. With indoor cats, the alpha male will still be the one to establish order and keep interlopers away from his gang; new cats entering the household must pass muster with him first. You may see the alpha position change as new cats decide to challenge him for the title, especially as your alpha male gets older.

If you have both an alpha male and an alpha female in your household, you guessed it, the female is the TRUE alpha of the two. Alpha males will bow to the alpha female’s wishes, nine times out of ten.

Establishing Dominance
Observing how cats establish their pecking order can be quite amusing. For females, a few well-timed swats, sometimes for no reason at all, will usually do the trick. I have observed small female cats give a few smacks to a larger male cat (or even a large dog!), and he will seldom defy her decree that she is the boss. Subservient females will roll over on their backs to signal their acceptance of their lower status in the household.

With male cats, it’s a little subtler. Our resident alpha boy, Boo-Boo, will decide quite suddenly to lower his head and stare at another of the males in our household. It looks quite innocent, but I then notice the other cat begin to get nervous. His body will quiver, tail will lower, and soon he will take off running. It’s all a game to Boo-Boo, if this is a cat he already knows. He is just reminding everyone that he is the boss. If a new cat enters the household and decides to challenge for alpha status, we will see some additional posturing. The two will face one another, ears down, tail swishing, head slightly down, reminiscent of rams that are about to head butt one another. Sometimes it doesn’t go further than some yowling and hollering, but other time we have a little tussle. Usually it doesn’t take too long for one or the other to establish their place in the household, and yes, at times the male alpha cat position will change.

Our 15-year-old Punkin used to be head of the household. As he grew older, I noticed Boo-Boo taking over as our alpha male. However, Boo-Boo will still sometimes let Punkin rule, and he does not ever challenge Punkin for position. I was surprised to see the respect between them. At times Punkin will still give the subservient males punishment if they are in his favorite sleeping spot, which is on the pillow next to my head.

Who is REALLY the Alpha?
Of course, the TRUE Alpha of the household is you, the cats’ chosen human. You are the true peacekeeper and leader of the pack.

If you notice disagreements between your cats, step in before they get out of control. Two of my males, Boo-Boo and Colby, will at times get into a scrap over position. When I see them begin to bow their heads and swish their tails, I know that trouble is brewing and I will step between them before a fight begins. We never have any physical fights that are anything more than just chasing each other around. I pet them both and talk in soothing tones to break up the building tension

Understanding the hierarchy of your cats’ world will help you notice when tension is rising, and avoid any major fights and disagreements between them. After all, you are the true ruler of the kingdom.

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For information or help with your cat’s behavior, visit The Cat Behavior Alliance

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