How to Stop a Cat Bullying a Kitten

cat bullying kitten

Not again! The hisses are loud and the fur is flying between the cat and the kitten. Relax, and choose from these expert options:

  1. Make the cat feel safer in your home.
  2. Providing more resources (food, attention, etc.) reduces competition.
  3. Be sure it is bullying, not just normal predatory play.
  4. Do not use scented products: cats need to smell their scents on their territory.
  5. Take a step back and make proper feline introductions.

A cat’s behavior is linked to its internal and external environments.

By ‘internal environment’, I mean kitty’s physical health and emotional wellbeing.

The ‘external environment’ includes things such as the home in which the cat lives, the food it eats, the other humans and animals in that home, its daily routine, etc.

Moreover, these three components (behavior, internal environment, external environment) form a kind of cycle.

In other words, they form a cause—effect—cause—effect, etc. sequence.

Here’s an example: 

Your cat is not eating as usual. (behavior) You think it is because kitty is sick with something. (internal environment)

Your vet appointment is tomorrow, but in the meantime, your two other cats sense kitty’s weakness. (external environment)

One of them is being very gentle and caring, grooming sick kitty more than usual. The other is being aggressive.

Their behavior, in turn, is having an effect on sick kitty’s emotional wellbeing. (internal environment)


Let’s take a look at some of the major components of this cycle to better understand why the cat is bullying the kitten and what to do about it.


1. The cat is bullying the kitten because it no longer feels safe.

cat feeling safe high up

Cats like to have a ‘command post’ over their external environment.

There are several specific conditions that this safe, command post should have:

  • Private—not shared by another cat unless they agree.
  • Secure—they can see others, but it is not so easy for others to see them.
  • High—although ground level is ok, higher is better.

This command post is also the cat’s preferred place to rest and/or sleep.

Why this need?

Whenever possible, cats like to withdraw (run away from) threats rather than confront them (fight).

This command post is their safe haven—the place in which they feel secure and more in control of their external environment.

Is the kitten invading this command post?

This could be what is causing the bullying.

Here’s what to do…

Each feline should have their own, private command post.

Prevent the kitten from getting into the cat’s safe haven.

A good way is by putting this command post higher than the kitten can climb.

Ideas for command posts

  • A cat carrier with a closed roof (or a blanket over the top).
  • A cardboard box placed in its side.
  • A commercial cat bed.
  • A cat perch—adding a hammock-like dip will help the cat feel hidden from sight while still being able to watch the surroundings.

Top Command Post Tip: Line the container with something warm and fuzzy. Where possible, this should have the cat’s own scent on the material.


2. The bullying is the result of competition for key resources.

Felines, like other animals, have a healthy sense of self-preservation.

They will do whatever they can to make sure they get their fair share of essential resources such as food, water, toileting facilities, and play/scratching/rest/sleep areas.

In the domesticated cat, this could even include human attention.

Why this need?

Felines are by nature solitary animals rather than pack animals (like wolves and dogs).

As a result, it is best if they have enough resources without the need for competition.

Perhaps the kitten is seen as a threat to key resources?

Even though you are sure that you are providing enough for all the cats in your household, the bullying cat may not see it the same way.

Here’s what to do…

The basic rule for feline resources is one separate set of everything per cat…except for litter boxes.

Litter boxes are even more: Pet expert Jackson Galaxy recommends one per cat + a spare.

Separate the locations

Two bowls of food or water placed side by side are not going to cut it.

There should be physical space between the resource sets: opposite sides of a wall or a large plant is a good idea.

You can also use height to separate food/water bowls (but perhaps not litter boxes).

Another idea is separate rooms, if your home has that option.

If the cat is allowed outside, this would be a great solution since, most likely, the kitten will be kept inside at this point.

Litter box bullying

Is the cat bullying the kitten while it is ‘doing its business’ even though there are other litter box options?

Make sure your litter boxes are uncovered. In that way, no feline can sneak up on another.

Keep the litter boxes super clean. The bullying cat may be using the excuse of a ‘dirty litter box’ to pick a fight with the kitten in the ‘cleaner one’.


3. Is it cat—kitten bullying, or is it play and natural predatory behavior?

cat body language diagrams information

As you know, cats are predators. They like to stalk, chase, and pounce on their prey.

The prey could be a rubber ball, some feather toy, your loose shoelace or dangling scarf…or another cat.

And don’t be so sure it is the cat’s ‘fault’. Kittens love to play, and cat play is all about pretend aggression.

So, it may well be that the kitten is pouncing on, stalking, chasing, swatting, scratching, kicking, and sneaking up on the cat.

Why this need?

Stalking, chasing, and pouncing are what cats do for a large part of the day in the wild, so they can get fed.

Although this cat is domesticated, it still has its predatory instincts. It needs to keep its predatory skills ‘in shape’ just in case.

Not enough predator ‘workout time’ makes cats bored. The result is often aggression, such as cats bullying kittens.

So, is it playing or bullying?

Clues to playing vs. bullying

Body Part




Forward and upright, perhaps slightly angled back Back and flattened


Sheathed (In) or Unsheathed (Out) but don’t do damage Unsheathed (Out) and do damage


Lean forward Lean back


Normal, relaxed fur Piloerection (fur standing on end, puffed up)


Curved like a question mark, high in the air or swishing slowly from side to side Low, pointed straight down; tucked away; piloerection (fur puffed up); whipping back and forth—all these are signs of fear which can lead to aggression


Silence Growling, hissing, and yelps

Taking turns

Also, feline play is all about taking turns.

Now it is the kitten’s turn to dominate, even bite or nibble in a playful way.

Next, the cat is the one directing the play.

If they are not taking turns, they are not playing.


What’s their behavior like when they have stopped interacting?

Are they sharing a food bowl to satisfy the appetite they have worked up?

Do they take turns grooming each other?

Or is it strict avoidance?

If they are not together in some meaningful way, it wasn’t playing.

Was it just playing? Then everything is normal—no need to worry.

Is the kitten the ‘bully’ with the cat feeling threatened? It could be a good idea to re-introduce your felines using my advice in #7 below.

Perhaps, however, your cat needs more predatory playtime.

Here’s what to do…food

Make it more difficult for your cat to find food by hiding it in several places.

Challenge your cat to get to the food it needs by using puzzle feeders or timed feeders.

Top Food Challenge Tip: I decided to try the D-I-Y route. I found a video on YouTube about making a puzzle feeder out of a toilet paper roll.

Basically, you cut out some holes in the roll just large enough for a piece of dry cat food to slip out when rolled.

Then you put some dry cat food into the roll and close up the ends. I did this by taping cardboard from a cereal box onto each roll end.

To motivate her, I underfed her slightly.

It took my cat several WEEKS to understand this game, but once she did, she got quite good at it.

Lesson #1: Keep at it.

Lesson #2: It doesn’t have to cost much of anything.

bored cat

Here’s what to do…toys

Cats are usually not fussy and will play with most things that catch their eye.

Here is a short list of everyday things that your cat will be happy to play with: shoelaces, scarves, rubber balls, feather dusters, yarn, rope, teddy bears, and other cuddly animals, blankets, long sticks, and thin branches—especially if they have leaves on the end, and wind-up toys.

Again, providing cats with toys doesn’t need to be a major investment.

Top Toys Tip: Cat playthings should be given the same care as those of an infant or toddler.

You should not use anything which can get stuck in their mouths or throats, causing them to choke or get otherwise injured.

As a result, toys with small parts (like bells) should not be used or remove the small parts before use.


4. Maybe the bullying is an issue of smell?

Quick quiz: Which of the five senses do cats use to get information about their environments and keep themselves feeling secure and comfortable?

If you answered ‘the olfactory sense’ (the sense of smell), good for you!

Why this need?

Cats use a wide range of chemical information to tell them about the surroundings in which they live.

One key group is pheromones. Basically, pheromones are scents that animals use to mark their territories.

Could it be that the kitten’s pheromones are causing the cat to feel a territorial loss?

If the cat cannot smell enough of its own pheromones marking the territory, it might start to think that the kitten has ‘invaded’ its territory, that there is a threat, and that it must behave accordingly.

Hence, the bullying.

Here’s what to do…

Cats mark their territories by rubbing their facial and body scent glands on as many surfaces as they can.

Pads in their feet also deposit scent when they scratch.

There are feline scent glands in the tail and lower back.

Limit the scent competition

Too many other scents in the home can interfere with the cat’s scent profile.

Before buying a scented product, consider whether or not the scent is truly essential.

It is recommended to use unscented clothes detergents, cleaners of all kinds, and kitty litter.

Be careful where you clean

Cat scratching areas are big scent catchers.

If you have one, clean it infrequently.

If you have several, clean them in rotation, so there is always a place where kitty can go to make sure its territory is marked.

In general, pay attention to where the cat is marking its territory. Try to clean these areas as little as possible.

Laundering bedding and washing toys

If you are a parent of humans like I am, you know how they LOVE their favorite blankets and teddies.

The main reason is that no matter how many times these are washed, the child’s scent has become embedded into the material.

This scent makes the child feel secure and relaxed; that all’s right with the world.

That’s why savvy parents get their children used to several blankets, teddies, etc.

Cats are the same.

So if your cat uses bedding, have 2-3 sets and wash them in rotation.

Get your cat used to a variety of toys, but don’t use them all at the same time.

In addition to reducing boredom, your cat will always have toys which have the right ‘smell’.


5. Perhaps it’s a gender issue?

cats arguing

Are the cat and  kitten both males?

Perhaps the cat is a female who has just had kittens?

In both cases, there might be aggression which could be seen as bullying.

Why this need?

Male to male aggression is most often between adult cats.

Adult males can threaten each other and even fight over territory, a commonly-desired female, or their place in the home’s feline hierarchy.

Females can be territorial, too.

Younger males and females usually do not have these issues to work out, and therefore, do not have this type of bullying behavior.

However, a young male/female and an older kitten might start out ‘playing’ and then somehow cross the line.

In addition, a female who has just had kittens is naturally protective of her young.

A kitten that is not from her litter could be seen as a threat to their safety since this kitten might try to compete for resources—milk, warmth, attention, etc.

So, even if the cat used to be nice to the kitten, all bets are off now.

Could any of the above be the reasons for the bullying?

Here’s what to do…

Distance works wonders.

Keep the males (or females) separated as much as possible.

Make sure that the kitten is not bugging the newly female mom and her litter.


6. The bullying is a result of too much too soon.

black cat naughty kitten

Felines, like humans, need time to bond. The first step is proper introductions.

During this period, they are given time to get to know each other.

Why this need?

As we mentioned earlier, cats are solitary, territorial animals. They need to make sure that the new kitty, even a kitten, is not a threat to them or their essential life resources.

The cat may have been thrown into living with the kitten without the proper introductions.

Here’s what to do…

Take a step back. Pretend that you are just introducing the kitten to the cat.

Step 1: Keep the kitten in a separate room.

Step 2: Allow the cat and the kitten to interact via the closed door. For example: the bedroom door if the kitten is being kept there.

Be prepared for the following normal, introduction behaviors on both sides: hissing, arching of backs, growling, trying to paw slap each other in the space under the door.

Step 3: Once things have calmed down with the door closed, open it inch by inch (cm by cm) for a short time.

Supervise the interaction. Then separate again.

Repeat this step as needed, widening the door opening each time, until the cat and the kitten are at ease with each other.

Top Introduction Tip: Patience is key here. Cats can take months, even up to a year, to live together well.


7. It’s a case of misdirected bullying.

Be honest: have you ever gotten upset at work and then snapped at the first person you saw at home…like your partner or roommate who was totally innocent of any wrongdoing?

We all have, and felines can also.

Why this need?

Like humans, cats have emotions. These emotions need to be expressed so that the cats can stay healthy. As a result, a cat’s emotions can color its behavior.

cat looking outside

A classic example is a cat that is sitting in a living room window watching the world go by outside.

Suddenly, this cat sees several other cats pass close by the window IN ITS TERRITORY and is now feeling threatened.

The kitten innocently walks too close to the cat and gets swiped at or pounced on.

Are there any ‘false’ threats which the cat is thinking are real?

Here’s what to do…

Take a broader view of your cat’s environment. Consider what it sees when it looks outside the windows or goes outside to play (if allowed).

Once you have found any ‘false’ threats, consider ways of dealing with each one.

New neighbors with a new dog or cat? Time for proper introductions. (See #6 above)

Nothing that you can find? Perhaps the cat is feeling neglected and needs more attention from you.

Overall, make sure that you show the cat:

  • Its safety and comfort are your main priority.
  • You understand that these threats, however ‘false’, are real for the cat.


Bonus: What to do when the cat and kitten are fighting?

The experts say that under no circumstances should you let the felines fight it out.

Also, you should not use your body to stop the fight. You are at risk of being scratched or bitten.

Short-term solutions

A spray of water

Use water via a spray bottle, a child’s water pistol, or even the garden hose (if outside) to stop the aggression.

Divert their attention

Throw a pillow or towel into the action. Blow on a whistle. Clap your hands loudly.

Use a broom or mop handle to gently (and from a safe distance) poke the fighters.

NOTE:While you are breaking up the fight, reprimand the bully with a firm ‘NO’.   However, never punish or physically hurt the animal.


Middle term behavior modifications

Positive reinforcement

praising a cat

Give praise and cat treats whenever the cat and kitten are getting along nicely together.

When you see that they are playing together, grooming each other, eating from the same bowl, etc. show them that it is in their best interest to keep doing so.

Behavior experts

Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs) are professionals who can analyze and treat a wide range of behavioral issues.

Here is a list of CAABs.

There are also Board-certified Veterinary Behaviorists (Dip ACVBs). In addition to the usual veterinary studies, these vets have completed a course in veterinary behavioral medicine.

Search for a Dip ACVB in your area here.

No luck with either? Your vet may be able to suggest a reliable behavioral expert.

Long-term last resorts

Consult with your vet about whether either of these is the right solution for your situation.

  • Neutering: If the aggression continues and is particularly severe, consider neutering your felines, especially the males.
  • Rehoming: Sometimes, cats just can’t live together. In life-threatening cases, one of the felines will need to find a new home, even though it’s going to break your heart…and perhaps theirs, too.

Are any of your family, friends, acquaintances looking for a cat?

You can also google ‘no kill cat shelters and sanctuaries’ in your area.


Writer: Lisa Aharon

lisa aharon



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