by Barbara George, Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Resources include any item that is important to the cat – food, litter tray, comfy bed, special spaces, toys and people. Apart from the item itself, the pathway to the resource can be considered a resource; the cat flap or open window.
Why do some cats have a need to guard or protect resources from use by other cats? The natural instinct of a loner, their Wild Cat ancestor, is to protect valuable items that have been collected or acquired. Not being able to share is a sign of anxiety from fear or stress; if someone else takes or uses the resource, the cat no longer has access and loses control of the resource. Often this is related to incomplete socialization as a young kitten.
This behaviour is more apparent in multi-cat households, but can also be seen in multi-pet families, or even when a new baby arrives. Dogs, rabbits, birds, other pets and babies can be considered competitors for certain resources such as food, outdoor access and human family members.
Resource guarding actions may be passive such as lying across the doorway or passage that leads to the food station, or active such as hissing, swatting or chasing when another cat approaches. This can seem like jealousy, but is actually an act of aggression which needs to be dealt with accordingly.
The signs of guarding can be very subtle to extremely aggressive. The flick of the tail, backward-facing ears or staring eyes can be enough to deter a timid cat, or one that has previously been attacked. At the other end of the scale, a full attack with teeth and claws can cause physical as well as emotional injury to the victim.
Reading the body language of the cat can show if it is relaxing or keeping a watchful eye out for opponents. Many litter box issues in multi-cat households are due to cats preventing one or more cats from access to a necessary and valuable resource.
Cats in a multi-cat household may allow some cats privileges which are denied to others. The kitten may be allowed to eat food from another cat’s bowl, while other adults are strictly kept at bay.
While not always possible, the best solution for resource guarding is to provide multiple versions of the favoured resource in different areas around the home. One cat cannot guard all the litter trays at once – unless he is guarding the entrance to the passageway, so move the litter trays into other areas or create alternative pathways to the litter trays. The most difficult resource to replicate is a favourite person!
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