Tag Archives: dominance

The Struggle for Dominance


One morning last week I noticed Chris had blood on his face which I assumed was a result of a fight with Frankie.

I know it was Frankie and not Floki because those two have been in a struggle for dominance since the day we adopted Frankie over four years ago.

I learned long ago that the ancestor of the domestic cat was the African Wildcat. The males of that species tend to be loners so there is no need for an alpha but domestic cats have evolved, or have been bread, to live in groups. I don’t recall reading about the hierarchy of domestic cats but there does seem to be alphas and betas. Chris is definitely an alpha. You may recall the video of Chris the day we adopted him. Even though we had four other cats, Chris just took over the house.

Before Chris, Tigger was our “alpha” but he wasn’t really an alpha. We called him “The Accidental Alpha” because he seemed to bumble into the job, kind of like Baby Huey. You can see him around 38 seconds into the video just lying there watching Chris. I don’t know where our other three cats were but nobody came out to challenge Chris.

The first cat we adopted after Chris was Puck. When we brought Puck home Chris was happy to see him but Tigger avoided the meet and greet.

Frankie’s arrival was different and it caught us by surprise. We assumed Chris would be happy to have a new cat in the house since Chris loves everyone and everyone loves Chris. Not so. We introduced Frankie, as usual, exactly the wrong way. We never had a problem before so we assumed we never would. Frankie didn’t take over like Chris did but I think that Chris and Frankie both sensed a threat in the other. Maybe one alpha can tell another alpha right away.

The problems continued for several weeks.

It took about a month before the two of them could get along even a little and to this day they are like frenemies.

Puck, on the other hand was a good example of a beta cat. Chris and Puck got along very well and never fought because Puck always let Chris have his way. Sometimes I would catch Chris holding Puck down by the scruff of his neck and Puck would let him do it. I even saw Chris dragging him across the floor a few times like that.

Chris does that to Floki now too. I assume it is a way of showing him who the boss is. Even though Floki is not after the alpha job, he still struggles against Chris more than Puck did. Considering how badly he struggles when we try to clip his nails, I am surprised Chris is able to hold him down at all.

I had to cut the video short because I felt like I should separate them.

What about you? Do you have an alpha? Do you have two alphas? How about a female alpha?

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The Dominant Cat


We have always joked that Chris has to be the alpha in the house. The truth is, cats are not like dogs, there is no “alpha” cat in the wild, at least not among African Wildcats, the species that evolved into the modern domestic house cat.

African Wildcats are loners, especially the males. Each male has a single territory that does not overlap another male’s territory but may overlap several females’ territories. This may cause competition for mating purposes but there is no group that requires a leader.

About 12,000 years ago in the Middle East, humans started to give up their hunter-gatherer lifestyle and became farmers. This, of course, was a very gradual process but eventually there were communities of people growing wheat and other grains. They stored these grains in large bins that attracted rodents. The increase in rodents, in turn, attracted cats.

The humans not only tolerated the cats, they welcomed them. Cats were an almost perfect solution to the rodent problem but having several cats in the same area was a bit unnatural. I don’t know how they got along back then but over time they evolved to tolerate each other as well as humans.

Our domestic cats today have never developed the hierarchy or cooperation found in a pack of wolves, but they can live together in large groups that are not related without killing each other. Some even develop friendships with each other. I have noticed that male cats seem to get along better than female cats but that is the opposite of what happens between wild cats. I have also noticed that a lot of fighting happens between periods of calm.

Understanding what drives social behavior in cats is a complicated issue that I don’t come close to understanding. Chris’s behavior is a good example. He is always trying to be the dominant, or alpha, cat in the house, but since cats don’t have alphas, I’m not sure what he is thinking. Frankie does not let Chris dominate him, which is sometimes a source of tension. Puck is the submissive one and I sometimes feel bad because Frankie is always chasing him around the house in what may, or may not, be play.

Chris is different. He will show Puck plenty of affection most of the time but occasionally he will grab the back of his neck and hold him down. I try to break it up but Chris won’t let go. I have to pry his mouth open. On several occasions, I have even seen him standing over Puck, with two legs on the left and two on the right, dragging him by the neck across the floor. A short time after that he will lie down next to Puck and wash his ears.

Bad cat Chris grabbing Puck by scruff of neck

I have heard that pinching the scruff of a cat’s neck will produce a calming affect. Perhaps it is necessary as a kitten so the mother can carry her young without them struggling and it just remains through adulthood. I’m not sure why Chris would want to calm Puck down. He is already submissive to Chris. Perhaps it is just a friendly reminder that Chris is the boss.

What do you think? Do your cats do this?