Cat Hierarchy

Like most people, we have a puzzling cat hierarchy situation in our house (you do have a puzzling cat hierarchy situation in your house right?). It goes like this…

This is Dory, we have had Dory for about five years:
Dory the cat

This is Misty, we have had Misty for about three years:
Misty the cat
Unfortunately, Dory and Misty do not get on. Dory is bigger, older, and was there first, so unsurprisingly she is the boss. Anybody observing them for a while would have no doubts that Dory is the boss; she prowls around proudly like a dominant lion, while Misty mostly tries to keep out of her way. Whenever Misty does cross her path, Dory will chase her and attack her, not in a way to cause injury, but very much in a way of asserting her authority, and Misty will scuttle away and hide, looking every bit like the reprimanded child.

Yep, Dory is very much the boss…except that is when it comes to food. When it comes to food there is an instant and very definite switch of power where Misty suddenly becomes the boss, and Dory turns into a big wuss. They have dry food out all the time that they can graze from, but every morning we give them each a pouch of wet food. If Misty gets there first, she will eat the first pouch while Dory sits nearby watching. If Dory gets there first and starts eating, Misty will boldly go up to her, in a way that she never does at any other time, and give her a gentle nudge or tap with her paw. Dory responds by giving a small growl of displeasure, but then backs off and sits nearby watching Misty eat. Dory makes no attempt to stand her ground or fight to eat first. Once Misty has finished, we have to put her outside, otherwise she eats the second pouch we put down for Dory too.

A few times we have tried feeding them at the same time, on different sides of the room, but what happens then is that Dory starts eating slowly, repeatedly glancing nervously over her shoulder, while Misty scoffs her one down quickly and then goes over and nudges Dory out of the way and finishes that one too.

As soon as the eating is over, Dory resumes her position as boss. You can quite literally see her shift back from the weak second-place eater into the strong dominant leader cat. Her stance and everything changes as she switches from one to the other.

It is very strange and fascinates us every day. I would have imagined that food would be an area that very much demonstrates who the boss is, so why does Dory back down and relinquish her position as boss, while Misty steps up and takes over, just for that period of eating time every morning?

They are both female, and neither have had kittens (they’ve both had the op), so there are no gender or mothering type issues going on. Any thoughts?


31 responses to “Cat Hierarchy

  1. I have no insight, unfortunately (our animals have a hierarchy that never changes), but I do love your descriptions. 🙂 Perhaps it’s a situation of young Turk muscling in on older boss, like Michael Corleone becoming a threat to the Godfather?


  2. That’s fascinating! Do you get the American cable channel Animal Planet in the UK? If so, you should watch the show “My Cat from Hell.” It features a “cat whisperer” who understands the psychology of cats better than anybody. He specializes in helping people with cats who have problem behaviors. Yours sound like sweetie-pies next to some of the ones he works with! And your cats certainly are beautiful! I love the way Dory is eyeing the camera!


    • We do get Animal Planet over here, but I don’t have it in my package. I’ve heard of the dog whisperer but not the cat whisperer! Yes, Dory poses for the camera quite readily, my daughter took that picture of her. Misty doesn’t like to pose for pictures, I had to take that picture of her from a distance and then zoom in on it otherwise she would have run away, that’s why the quality of the photo isn’t very good!


  3. Intriguing! I’ve never had a cat, but there are several on my street – I hate it when they get into fights and make that crying wail, which sometimes sounds like children. But your Dory and Misty, what unusual behaviour. I’d love to know that that cat whisperer would have to say…


  4. Ha! We had cats when I was growing up, but only one at a time… usually with a rabbit. So there wasn’t the same hierarchy issue. We don’t have any now.

    But the kids and I visited the zoo a couple of weeks ago, and I was so fascinated with the male/female lion thing. I knew that the female was the hunter, the male the lazy protector type. ; ) But it was so funny to see the male lion stretched out on a rock, then the female come over, swipe at him with her big paw and get him to move. So he got up and walked a few yards away to lie on the ground. The female lay down on the rock for about 60 seconds. Then she got up and went over to where he was lying. She made him move again!!!!! We were all pretty incredulous. It’s so funny to see the animals communicating so very clearly. We had a good laugh. So fascinating.


  5. That is strange. Must be fun to watch.


  6. I have no clue! We had a few cats when I was very young, but only one at a time. Someone here in blogland has to have an explanation for this. 🙂

    From your photos, Dory looks like a boss cat!


    • I’ve always had cats, sometimes just one, but also had a few years of having four! So I’m quite experienced with cats, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this behaviour before.

      Yes, as you can probably guess, Dory is pretty much the boss of us too!


  7. How bizarre. I hope you get an answer…so we can all find out!


  8. Great pic of Dory!!! When I had two cats I had exactly the same scenario. Buttons was the elder and longest established in my home. She was boss over Filou in all except food. Both were rescue cats and Filou had been starved by her previous owners so she would eat everything she could, including curry and even cabbage!!! Buttons was a grazer, but I could never leave food out for them as Filou would eat it all – she weighed a stone at one point!!! I would be interested to find out how this might come about too – any cat psychologists out there………?



    • Yes, my gal too that photo of Dory, I love it, it really captures a personality doesn’t it.

      How funny that you had the same thing too Linda, so it’s obviously not a unique situation. I wonder if that might be answer, because Misty was born in a rescue home and spent her first year there, so maybe she learnt that food is the one thing you really have to fight for!


  9. I love reading about your cats, I miss mine xx


  10. My thoughts are that this is extremely weird! Wow. So interesting and a really great post, Vanessa. 🙂 I have no idea what on earth is going on with that… mind you I’m probably the more dominant one in my romantic relationship but when it comes to food my man is very territorial. Which is weird because if he finishes first (which he usually does) I either feel guilty so give him some of mine (fool that I am!) or I get territorial. If I have to leave the table when there’s food still over my plate, I always leave my fork balanced across the food as a clear sign for him to keep his mitts off!

    Hmm, what is my conclusion? Creatures are weird about food. Go Team Misty! (Although I do feel bad when I read that Dory is so subservient at this point… It’s quite a puzzle!)


  11. My two rats are exactly the same way. Lucy and Ethel alternate on who the alpha rat is. They also alternate on whether they are pals, bitter rivals, or lesbian lovers. Rat ownership comes with far too much drama for my taste.


  12. Unfortunately, I am a dog whisperer, not a cat whisperer–not that a cat would condescend to communicate to a mere mortal even if there were such things as cat whisperers. My general rule with animals is: if they aren’t hurting each other, leave them alone to work it out among themselves. Come to think of it, that’s my general rule with children, too! 😉

    Good luck with Dory and MIsty!


    • Well according to previous comments, there is such thing as a cat whisperer!

      That genuinely is a rule I have with my children too, when they run to me and tell on each other, I often say “Unless anyone has been injured, I don’t want to know about it!”.


  13. This is a fascinating situation and I can’t help thinking it would be a great character development. I really have to stop thinking in terms of writing. I only have the one cat and he is the boss of everything and every one, including the dogs. I should have called him bully.


  14. This is a great op for a character sketch, as Kate suggested. And I have absolutely no clue what is going on with your cats.

    I have 2 cats, Ninja and Pinocchio. One is one month older–but he is not the boss. We got them at a shelter at the same time, with the intention of only getting one–Pinnochio. But then the volunteer “happened to mention” that the cat we were taking home got along great with this little black cat over here…the rest is history.

    They do get along great, luckily. They share the food bowl, although Pinocchio is definitely the Food King. But they wrestle and cuddle and stalk spiders & mice together. It’s a match made in heaven. 🙂


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