Do cats get jealous?
Of all the emotions there are none that seem quite so quintessentially human as jealousy. It’s the stuff of cheating couples and “sexting,” of paranoia about the successes of colleagues at work at the seeming expense of our own, and the tiny humiliations every human being has suffered at one time or another. But do cats feel jealousy, too?
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Do cats experience jealousy the way we do?
- What are the signs your cat may be jealous?
- Improper eliminating
- Do cats get jealous of the new baby?
- Do cats get jealous of kittens?
- Do cats get jealous of other humans?
- How to deal with a jealous cat
- Eliminate scarcity
- Make sure each cat gets attention
- Do not make cats share food dishes
- Give your cats an escape hatch
Jealousy refers to a feeling of almost painful envy when another has what we want. Psychology Today describes jealousy as a spectrum of emotions that range from fear of abandonment to rage and humiliation. We tend to think of jealousy in a romantic context – we might be jealous of our beloved’s attention to another – but jealousy is equally at home in sibling relationships, work relationships, and friendships.
When we witness certain behaviors in our pets we may see parallels in own experiences. Our pets can’t tell us what we’re feeling, but when they conduct themselves the way we do under similar circumstances, it’s easy to take the leap and assume we know how they feel.
Just today, for example, I was at the cat shelter where I volunteer. I’d taken one of my favorite girls out for a snuggle: a shy, petite black-and-white cat named Basil. Just then, Autumn, a fluffy Maine Coon-mix who was enjoying the run of the shelter, sidled up for some petting, too. The normally reclusive Basil reached a swift paw out to smack Autumn, who then quickly retreated.
If that’s not jealousy, then what is it?
Do cats experience jealousy the way we do?
The bigger question is whether animals experience emotions at all. It’s a question we humans have been asking about our pets since our earliest relationships with them. In The Descent of Man, published in 1871, famed evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin noted, “Every one has seen how jealous a dog is of his master’s affection, if lavished on any other creature.” Darwin, who painstakingly developed his theory of evolution and natural selection, was not a man to draw conclusions lightly.
But the idea that animals might experience the same feelings that we do goes back much further than Darwin. In the 6th century BC philosopher, mathematician, and teacher Pythagoras became an “animist,” believing that humans and non-humans had the same kind of soul. He gave up eating meat, and stopped wearing leather shoes, and bought animals from the market to “liberate” them.
The question of animal emotions is, unfortunately, one to which scientists have devoted “relatively little systematic empirical research.” And yet, just because animal emotions have not been studied directly does not mean we can deny their existence. An animal’s face, eyes, body posture, gaze, and gait sometimes make it easy for us to guess what we think they’re feeling. “Even people with little experience observing animals usually agree with one another on what an animal is most likely feeling,” said Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado biology professor, in an article he wrote for the American Institute of Biological Sciences in 2000.
The conclusion is that we don’t know if cats experience jealousy. One of the problems with studying cats’ – or other animals’ – emotions is that their minds are their own. (In fact, we can’t really even know if another person’s experience of emotion is the same as ours.). Some scientists think that it’s worthless to study an animal’s unknowable state of mind for this reason. Others contend that it’s so unlikely that human emotions evolved without precursors in the animal kingdom that we have to assume that animals do experience emotion. In other words, humans, who evolved alongside, with, and from other creatures, cannot be the only animal in the history of the world to emote.
What are the signs that your cat might be jealous?
There are some outward cat behaviors that might be a sign that your cat is experiencing jealousy. They’re worth paying attention to because jealous behaviors create chaos in your home and reflect the unhappiness of your cat.
Is your cat suddenly peeing on your pillow, or pooping just outside the litter box? There many reasons a cat’s bathroom habits may change, and many of them relate to medical concerns. Before you assume that your cat’s toileting behavior is a sign of jealousy, bring her to the vet for a checkup and inform your vet about the behavior. If your cat is eliminating improperly as a sign of jealousy, remember that he doesn’t have words to explain his dissatisfaction. When he’s telling you his problems in the form of pee in corner of the dining room, listen up.
Under what circumstances did your cat just bite? When did that hiss first start? At whom is the aggression aimed? Consider the context when a cat suddenly begins behaving in an aggressive way. Is another animal or person in the house getting attention or resources your cat wants?
You are cuddling one cat in bed when the other inserts herself between you and her sibling. That might just be jealousy. You’re working on your computer all day and just not paying attention to the cat. If she walks on your keyboard demanding pets, that just might be jealousy, too.
Sometimes a jealous cat will be overwhelmed…and just walk away. A cat who feels that she can not compete for resources with a more dominant cat in the house may simply hide.
Do cats get jealous of…
Do cats get jealous of the new baby?
One minute your living room is filled with cat trees and cat toys and you’re cuddling up on the couch with your old best friend every night after work. And the next (from your cat’s point of view) all of her things are pushed to the edges, and you’re spending all of your time cuddling and petting this new creature you’ve brought home.
If jealousy is caused by a scarcity of resources, and your baby has the attention your cat wants for herself, then yes, your cat may be jealous of the new baby.
There are other factors related to the arrival of a new baby that will also create stress for your cat. Cats are creatures of habit and the arrival of a new baby changes everything in her environment. Her old, familiar home now contains many new unfamiliar things. There are new smells and new sounds and none of them are particularly pleasant from her viewpoint. The humans no longer keep the same predictable hours, and instead of cuddling the cat, they may shoo her away.
It is absolutely essential that a newborn is kept protected from any pets in the household. A tiny baby cannot protect himself and even a well-meaning cat could accidentally harm a baby. Supervise all interactions between pets and children and keep your cat out of the baby’s bedroom when he is sleeping.
But don’t assume that bringing a new baby home to an existing cat will become a problem. Keep in mind that every cat is an individual. Some cats may indeed have trouble adapting to the new family member. Others may devote themselves to the protection of the baby, and still others may simply ignore him.
But whatever you do, do not neglect the well-being of your cat. Your cat is a living creature who relies on you for everything she needs, from food to companionship. Raise a baby and a cat together the right way and you will be shaping a beautiful, harmonious, compassionate family that will benefit everyone, most especially your new child.
Do cats get jealous of kittens?
You may have convinced yourself that you got the kitten as a “friend” for your cat. And naturally, you think the new kitten is irresistible. But there’s a good chance your older cat will disagree.
Put aside your own feelings about the kitten and focus on those of your adult cat. Every cat will react differently to the arrival of a new little one, but be on the lookout for jealously and try to minimize conflict before it gets started.
For one, do not add to the “scarcity of resources” problem that engenders jealousy. As fun and adorable as a new kitten can be, spread the love around. Do not focus all of your attention on the kitten.
Do not create a “scarcity of territory” issue either. In other words, do not force your older cat to defend “his” territory from the new kitten. Keep them separated when you’re not around to supervise, and introduce them slowly, until you’re sure they can be left safely alone together.
Do cats get jealous of other humans?
If you’re asking this question, you’re not the only one. Quora.com, a question-and-answer site, is filled with questions along these lines, “Are cats possessive of their humans?” and “Do you have a cat this is jealous of your boy/girlfriend?”
The non-expert answers to these questions are equally revealing. Helpful responders reply with personal stories about cats who would insert themselves between their person and his or her date on the couch, of cats that claw and meow at a closed bedroom door, and of cats who would pointedly ignore a new spouse so long as “their” human was around the house.
The bottom line is that, depending upon the temperament of the cat, attention from “her” person may be a resource worth guarding.
Once you’ve determined that jealousy is the trigger for whatever new, unpleasant behavior your cat may be displaying, work to resolve it. Make a point of spending more time with your cat. Engage in interactive play, using fishing-rod toys or laser pointers. Take advantage of free moments for cuddling, petting, or grooming your cat. Seek the cat out whenever you have a spare moment.
How to deal with a jealous cat
Jealousy in humans and cats often stems from the same type of circumstance: scarcity of resources. For humans, the “scarcity” might be related to some complicated love triangle between you, your ex and co-worker, while in your cats’ case, a jealous rage may originate from the fact that there are too few of those bouncy balls with the feather tails in the living room. Whatever the cause, you’re the master or mistress of your household and it’s up to you to establish and maintain peace for the good of all concerned.
Eliminate scarcity of items
If you have a multi-cat household, there should never be too-few of anything. Have enough of the same kind of toy and enough beds to go around. Make sure you have enough litter boxes, too: the number of cats in your household plus one. Spread these items around so that no one cat can be intimidated by another. A “bully” cat in the household can’t stand in front of every litterbox, especially if they’re scattered all over the house.
Make sure each cat gets attention
The more cats you have, the harder it is to make sure that each one is getting what she needs. Grooming is a great way to spend one-on-one time with an individual cat. Let them know – each one – that his or her place with you is secure.
Do not make cats share food dishes
It’s possible your kitty household is so Kumbaya that everyone eats peaceably from one giant plate. But probably not. Probably there are tiny scuffles and intimidations you’re unaware of that are creating stress for all cats involved. Provide multiple food dishes if you have multiple cats.
Give your cats an escape hatch
For a cat who needs to withdraw, make sure he has a place to go. Give cats an opportunity to separate themselves to let household tensions simmer away. Give cats access to as many rooms in the house as you can, provide a catio (a cat-dedicated outdoor space) if you are able, and make sure that there are different vertical levels where a cat can perch. Sometimes all a cat needs to get away from it all is to get up
and away from it all.
 “Jealousy.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/jealousy.
 Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man. Project Gutenberg EBook. Page 207.
 Bekoff, Marc. “Animal Emotions: Exploring Passionate Natures.” BioScience, vol. 50, no. 10, 2000, p. 861., doi:10.1641/0006-3568(2000)050[0861:aeepn]2.0.co;2.