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Can Cats be Jealous?

By: Renae Hamrick, RVT

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Can cats be jealous? Is jealously an emotion that cats can feel?
First, let's look at the definition of jealousy. According to Wikipedia.org, "Jealousy typically refers to the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that occur when a person believes a valued relationship is being threatened by a rival. The word jealousy stems from the French jalousie, formed from jaloux (jealous), and further from Low Latin zelosus (full of zeal), and from the Greek word for "ardour, zeal" (with a root connoting "to boil, ferment"; or "yeast").

Can cats be jealous of dogs? Other cats? People?

For some, a jealous cat may go something like this. It is supposed to be one of the happiest, most wholesome moments of your life. You bring your new baby home and take her to her brand new nursery, where you cuddle her and give her all your attention. Your cat, Fluffy, the previous baby of the family, comes in to say hi, but soon he begins hissing at you and your little one. He even sprays the leg of the crib with urine! Oh no! Your bundle of joy has made your cat quite jealous!

Any change that affects a cat's privileges, attention received, and normal daily life can lead to the cat feeling jealous and territorial. A new baby or a new pet causes the cat to receive less attention than he previously received. The new addition may also be playing with the existing cat's toys or living in the existing cat's favorite spaces, making him feel threatened and jealous.

Signs of Jealously

Cats show jealousy through a change in their normal behaviors. The outspoken cat who is not blunt about his unhappiness may hiss, growl, or swat at the new arrival. A quieter kitty may hide or stop eating. He may also seem extra needy, following you around and seeking attention. A cat may also feel that his territory is threatened by a new arrival, so he will claim what is his by spraying vertical surfaces with urine.

It is important to establish that changes in behavior are because of the cat's emotional state, and not a health problem. If your cat is persistently not eating, hiding, or acting odd in any way, a visit to the veterinarian is necessary. There may be an underlying problem that happened to correlate with or was exasperated by a household change, or the stress of the change may be leading to illness. Stress can lead to gastrointestinal upset and urinary problems, such as FIC and urinary blockage.

Dealing with Jealously

When introducing a new cat to the home, it is extremely important to supervise, supervise, supervise! A gradual introduction is also an important factor. Place the new kitty in a room by herself, with her own food, water, and litter box. Do NOT allow the resident cat to enter the room or hiss and growl at the new arrival from outside the door. Sniffing at one another or playing under the door is fine. Read PetPlace's Introducing Your New Cat to Your Household to learn more about gradually introducing your new kitty.

Do NOT allow the new cat to take over the old cat's favorite things. For example, do not allow the new cat to lay in your old cat's usual spot on the back of the couch. You should purchase new toys, food bowls, and a bed for the new cat so the resident cat feels less threatened.

When bringing a new dog into the home, supervision is again EXTREMELY important when introducing pooch to kitty. If you feel your cat won't tolerate the energy of a pup, consider getting an older dog who is friendly towards cats. Keep the dog on a leash, and make sure there are places for your cat to get away and hide when introducing the dog. Read PetPlace's Introducing a New Dog Into Your Household
for more information.

When introducing a new baby, start before the baby is born. Use baby lotions and powders on your skin so your cat can adjust to the new smells. Play recordings of crying babies to help your kitty become accustomed to the new noises. Encourage friends to bring their babies and children to your home for short visits. When the baby arrives, allow your cat to sniff and inspect the new arrival, but closely supervise the interaction and watch your cat's body language. Give your cat positive reinforcement for being friendly to the baby. To learn more about introducing baby to kitty, read PetPlace's Helping Your Cat and New Baby Get Along.

The key to minimizing jealousy in your cat when introducing a new pet or baby is to be sure your cat continues to get adequate attention and love from you. Do not cut back on this; do not allow your cat to feel replaced by the new arrival. In fact, provide your cat with extra attention while he adjusts to the new situation.

Not everyone believes that a cat can feel emotions. Regardless of how you feel about the existence of your cat's psyche, it is obvious that cats need and thrive on the love and attention given by their owners. Quality time spent with others is crucial to the well-being of humans and animals alike. Even if you do not agree that your cat may become jealous of a new baby or pet, do not deny your cat the gift of your time and affection.

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