It is common for cat owners to want a second cat, and this is often achieved through the addition of a new kitten to the household. Indeed, the desire for this is often motivated by a feeling that the older cat might want some extra company and might play a nurturing role, helping the kitten to settle in. However, many owners also worry that their first cat might become jealous of the kitten, and this fear may be compounded by their early interactions.
So do cats get jealous of a new kitten? It certainly can happen, especially if the older cat feels it is getting less attention than it is used to or less than the new kitten. Cats naturally form their own hierarchy and can become envious or even angry if they feel their position is threatened.
With that being said, jealousy is usually fairly short-lived and it is likely that your older cat will eventually come to accept the kitten’s presence within the household. As I will cover later on, there are also some steps you can take to encourage your cat to adapt more quickly and to reassure it of its standing within the household hierarchy.
Can a Cat Be Jealous of a New Kitten?
The stereotypical view of cats is that they are more aloof and less in need of reassurance and attention than many other pets, including dogs. As a result, there is sometimes a misconception that cats are unlikely to experience jealousy and many cat owners introduce a new kitten into the household, expecting a smooth transition. However, the initial interactions between an older cat and younger kitten often dispel this theory.
While many domestic cats do have a degree of independence, they are also able to experience jealousy or at least emotional states that are very similar to it. After all, they are naturally territorial animals, and a new addition infringing upon what they see as their territory can be quite troubling or distressing. This is especially likely to occur when an older cat is used to being the sole cat in a house, only to be introduced to a new kitten.
Aside from being territorial, one of the other reasons why a cat might become jealous of a new kitten is because it sees the new addition as a threat to its position in the household hierarchy. In fact, the creation of hierarchies is a natural part of feline behaviour. When left to their own devices, an older cat will generally assert dominance over a kitten early and establish boundaries, while the kitten will generally fall into line and accept its place.
Yet, our own interactions can upset this, because we might not impose the same boundaries on the kitten that the cat would like. As human beings, we tend to want to avoid anything that might seem like unfair or unequal treatment, but this can actually create a certain amount of confusion and cause the older cat to question its position.
Moreover, cat owners can also inadvertently contribute to the problem of a cat being jealous by giving more attention to the kitten than they do the older cat. For us, this may seem natural, as the kitten is the one that is having to adjust to new surroundings and a new family. If you have children in the house, it is also somewhat inevitable that they will show more interest in the kitten, because it is new and exciting.
Unfortunately, a cat is unlikely to be able to reason this out in the same way we do and accept that the additional attention for the new kitten will be short-lived. It also does not realise that things will return to normal soon. This can lead to the older cat becoming frustrated at the lack of attention it is receiving and feeling as though the kitten has replaced it as the main object of your affection and the affections of the rest of your family.
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How Does Jealousy Tend to Manifest?
At this stage, you may be asking: how can I actually tell if my cat is feeling jealous? The good news is, there are usually signs, because a cat experiencing feelings of jealousy is likely to display behavioural changes – especially when the jealousy is caused by the introduction of a new kitten. In particular, some of the most common ways that resentment or jealousy can manifest include the following:
- Feelings of anger or frustration;
- Heightened levels of aggression;
- Territorial behaviour;
- Attention-seeking or neediness;
- Detachment or increased aloofness.
Territorial behaviour could be displayed through things like your cat urinating in places other than its cat litter box, and heightened aggression could lead to your cat hissing at your new kitten, or even attempting to attack it. Meanwhile, some less problematic displays might include your cat rubbing up against your leg, or gently biting you, which can both be signs that he or she wants some attention or affection.
Depending on your cat’s usual temperament, it may also be possible to see signs of detachment or aloofness, such as avoiding interactions with you, or spending more time on its own, either inside or outside of the house. Of course, it may be more difficult to pick up on these signs if your cat is generally quite aloof anyway.
Finally, you should also look out for some of the common signs of frustration in your cat. In many instances, frustration first becomes apparent through the emergence of repetitive and almost compulsive behaviours, such as excessive levels of self-grooming. This can sometimes lead to your cat chewing at its fur and pulling lumps out. You may also find that your cat starts scratching things in the house, or letting out regular low-pitched ‘meows’.
What to Do If Your Cat is Jealous
Noticing your cat is jealous of a new kitten is one thing, but what should you actually do if you see clear signs of jealousy? On one hand, you may instinctively want to punish the behaviour, especially if it manifests in some of the more problematic ways, such as territorial urination or scratching furniture. On the other hand, your cat is already feeling emotionally charged and punishment may only exacerbate the problem.
Firstly, it is important that you look out for any signs of aggression and step in before your cat can cause any harm to your new kitten. Signs to look out for here include hissing, spitting, dilated pupils and pinned back ears. For this reason, in the early stages, you need to supervise any time the two cats spend together.
One thing you can do to help your cat’s feelings of jealousy to subside is to subtly help to reinforce its place in the hierarchy. Your older cat will naturally try to establish dominance and while this may seem unfair to us, it is a natural part of feline behaviour, which I would personally advise you to accept. By helping it to establish its place, your cat is likely to feel reassured and get over its feelings of jealousy much more quickly.
Perhaps the easiest way to help your cat to establish its place in the hierarchy is by feeding the older cat first, before you feed your kitten. You might also do it in other ways, such as by ensuring that any time your cat and kitten are competing for attention, you stroke the older cat first – at least until the jealous behaviour subsides.
Steps For a Smoother Introduction
Ultimately, there is no reason why you should not be able to introduce a new kitten to our household and most cats will adapt to the change in time. Nevertheless, there are certain steps I would recommend you follow, in order to make the initial introduction as smooth as possible, avoiding many of the potential problems.
Before your new kitten arrives, it may be a good idea to introduce some of the new items to the house, such as its cat litter box and bowls. This will allow the older cat to get used to them, making the change less dramatic when it finally occurs. While it is not always possible, it can also be a good idea to introduce your cat to the new kitten’s scent before they meet. A blanket that has been in contact with the kitten is ideal for this.
For the first introduction, it is common advice to keep the kitten in its carrier and allow the older cat to smell the kitten and get used to the idea of him or her being in the house. This should be kept fairly short. It is also best to keep an area of the house reserved for the kitten, with the cat having no access. From there, you can allow the two to have short-lived, supervised meetings for a few days.
Even after you have integrated the kitten into the household, you should avoid leaving the cat and kitten together unattended for significant periods of times. As I stated earlier, it is also imperative that you do not create a situation where the new kitten is getting significantly more attention than the older cat. In fact, one way to avoid this and simultaneously help the two to get along is to have joint play times.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.