Cat Owner Question

I’ve always had cats, but haven’t always been very observant of how they interact. About ten years ago I noticed a certain annoying behavior for the first time – neck biting. It’s obvious enough it’s some kind of dominance move, but it looks totally rude, and I usually feel compelled to break it up. Stop biting your sister, Hecubus!

But then, it has occurred to me this might be bad. Do they need to reinforce their social status on the regular? Is the dynamic different with more than two cats? What should one do? Any experts out there?


  1. StevoR says

    Got one cat – black tortoiseshell – and never seen her do any neck-biting. Not something I’m familiar with from other cats either, so, afraid that doesn’t help much, sorry. Just wondering, where on the neck she’s biting – the scruff like carrying kittens or underneath / at the side?

  2. says

    At first I thought the behavior was learned from a shitty former outdoor cat who was convalescing with us. He was bigger than both of my cats and from his height, he’d bite the nape (same area moms grip to move kittens), sometimes putting one arm over them like a partial mounting. No one involved was enjoying life. He had ears back, the cat he was bullying would meow angrily.

    But Hecubus never met that cat, he’s just a few years old. And he does that to older, smaller Momo. Same move. I figure, it’s kinda obvious it’s an instinctual assertion of dominance. I just don’t know the best way to handle it as an owner.

    On a related note, sometimes he chases Momo around trying to grapple her for fun. She doesn’t like it, so it’s like she’s being terrorized for that boy’s fun. Again, what is the best way to handle that, as an owner?

    There’s a product that can chill out cats a bit, called Feliway. It’s supposed to make them less territorial, so reduced compulsion to marking (not an issue with our spayed / neutered lot) and aggression. Been a while since I tried it, but even if I do and it works, the question remains. Because I’m sure he’ll still do it again some day.

  3. A. Noyd says

    Biting the nape of the neck is a dominance move, but a very particular one: it’s what male cats do during mating. Even a certain percentage of neutered male cats will still feel the urge to act out sexual aggression by neck biting. Hecubus might be feeling territorial toward another cat he can sense outside and is staking his claim on Momo, but it doesn’t sound like a dispute between Hecubus and Momo themselves.

    I have no advice on what to do to stop it, but you might check with your vet about it or specify sexual aggression in internet searches. It wouldn’t hurt to pull Hecubus off and give him a time-out (short period of isolation in a small room) every time he does it, though.

  4. kestrel says

    A. Noyd @#3 has it spot on. This is part of a dominance display. I’m not sure you can stop it, although your product Feliway sounds promising.

    I live on a farm, raise livestock, and see dominance displays pretty much all the time. Visitors are shocked – shocked! to see two male goats in this type of behavior but it is perfectly normal. The female goats will do this too – mounting each other etc. Pretty much all animals that I am familiar with do this.

    It can sometimes get out of hand and lead to actual aggression in which case I do step in and change groups around and so on until I find a compatible group. Adding in things like, spreading out food very far, spreading out water containers, putting in obstacles they have to walk around or can jump on or crawl under and so on, also helps as it breaks up the lines of sight and tends to dissipate aggression. So, you could try things like two food bowls spread far apart so one can eat without the other seeing, or the same thing with water dishes. You could get some of those cat play towers covered in carpet, or simply get out a bunch of cardboard boxes and set them around. However, generally, I don’t worry as long as no one is getting hurt or upset, and they are all eating and drinking normally. If the one cat is causing sores or something on the other, I would see that as a problem but if not, they are probably OK.

  5. robert79 says

    I saw a talk by a bioethicist a few years ago. Her main point was: when talking about animal welfare, usually nobody gives a shit about how well the animals feel. It is all about how the humans watching the animals feel. This leads to many situations where humans put animals in situations where they are truly miserable (for example, chickens are agoraphobic… don’t put them “free range” under an open sky) just because we, as humans, think this is more ‘humane’.

    Similarly with the cats. If it is natural for them to establish dominance in this way, let them do it unless it gets out of hand.

  6. says

    Feliway has worked in our home. It just makes them calmer, and no other bad effects. They still play, but not it doesn’t devolve into a hissing match.

  7. says

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments y’all. Still not sure what to do, but I might consider bringing back the feliway if this annoys me much more. As to it being sorta-sexual, I’ve seen the female cat do it as well, so it is only to the extent kestrel mentioned at 4. Less so for spaying / neutering’s effects.

  8. jrkrideau says

    I have never seen that behaviour but in general you might find Bradshaw, John, and Sarah Ellis. The Trainable Cat: A Practical Guide to Making Life Happier for You and Your Cat. 1 edition, Basic Books, 2016 of use is general.