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Cat Behavior Question: Why does my neutered cat still hump his sister?

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Question: “How can I stop my cat from humping?”

Stephanie asks, “I have a male and female cat, both neutered/fixed. My male still very roughly attacks and humps my little female. They were raised together, so it isn't "I was here first" attitude with him. I use a child's squirt gun when this happens. He hates it, but it didn't take long to realize that this behavior is not acceptable. Many times he just stalks her and she runs and hides. When he does this, he comes to me for attention, and I finally figured out that was what he wanted, me alone. Now when he does this and comes to me, I tell him to go lay down elsewhere and that if she can't come to me, then neither can he. He stalks away mad, but he is getting the idea. I equally love on both of them, but this behavior is not going away. One note, they were raised elsewhere first, I have had them nearly two years now. He is three and she is two, and they have same mother but from different litters. There was another cat that was older, but he died just after I got them all. Any help would be great.

Amy’s Answer

Your question came in prior to the inclusive form, and so I’m answering without all the necessary information. But I can make some educated guesses  that since you say he “still” attacks and humps, this has gone on for some time  and isn’t a new occurrence. So let’s use the H.I.S.S. Test to analyze just what might be going on inside that kitty brain.

H=Health

The top health cause of cat aggression is hyperthyroidism—but this most typically affects middle aged or older cats. It’s always best to have your veterinarian rule out hidden health issues in BOTH cats. When they receive a clean bill of health and if the stalking-and-humping behavior has been consistent throughout the two years you’ve had the cats, it likely is a behavioral issue.

I=Instinct

Humping behavior (mounting) is normal for sexually intact male cats. Even after neuter surgery, hormones take time to leave the body and mounting (grasping with forepaws, gripping the neck with teeth, and thrusting) can prompt the behavior to continue for a few weeks.

Neutered kitties sometimes continue this behavior. They may target other cats—it doesn’t seem to matter if the partner is neutered or spayed—and sometimes cats simply become “special friends” with a certain pillow or stuffed toy. Although the hormones are gone, these cats continue to masturbate and that’s well within the range of normal behaviors. Usually the activity upsets owners more than it does the other pets.

However, cats also use mounting behavior as a way to reinforce social ranking. Cats reach social maturity between the ages of two and four years of age. Prior to that time, they may get along famously, and then suddenly the cats’ social standing starts to matter. Your boy’s stalking and mounting, and then chasing the smaller girl cat away from important resources (you!) appears to reflect territorial issues and pushy behavior.

S=Stress

 The way the girl kitty reacts also impacts the boy’s attitude. Lower ranking cats can behave as though they wear a “kick me” sign, and that invites the top cat to repeat the lesson over and over.

S=Symptom, Signs & Solutions

I can understand your frustration with the boy kitty, and your desire that the two cats get along. And while it may seem logical to treat the cats the same way—and not play favorites—I’m afraid that the human sense of right and wrong and fair play sometimes gets in the way of cat interactions.

Cats are not people. They have no sense of democracy, equal treatment, or what’s fair. To the cat, the “top cat” deserves special treatment simply because he IS the top cat. Even the girl kitty understands this, and she’s not arguing the case. In fact, she’s acting in the kitty-correct manner and deferring to the boy and running away, giving up the preferred resource (you!).

When you instead refuse to acknowledge the boy cat as the kitty-in-charge, or even give the girl cat preferential treatment, that can backfire. Instead of the boy “understanding” and deferring to your will, he redoubles his effort to put the girl cat in her place. I know that doesn’t seem “fair” but it’s “truth” for cats, and we must at times meet them on their own terms. As for the water squirt and refusing to give him the attention—how’s that working? It appears that he’s getting worse, not better, so let’s think of new ways to handle this.

Here’s what I’d suggest. When the cats are in the same room with you, they apparently compete for your attention. It’s a normal ‘cat thing’ for them to time-share important resources, though, with the lower-ranking girl cat deferring to the higher ranking boy when he demands this. Respect the cat’s social standing. No, you don’t want him beating up on the girl kitty, but in the short term, demonstrating to both cats that you accept and reinforce the boy’s social standing should relieve his need to hammer the point home.

In other words, feed the boy first. Give him attention first. Let him sit on your lap first. It may be that once this becomes the “norm” he won’t need to pester constantly and will relax and be more willing to share. The Bach Flower remedy Vine may help with these bossy cats.

Find ways to reward his good behavior, rather than squirting him for bad behaviors. If he's intent on continuing the humping activity, offer him a stuffed toy so he'll leave the girl kitty alone. If he tries to grasp her neck, you might try painting a bit of bitter apple on her fur so it tastes bad (but she can't reach so it won't bother her).

Meanwhile, find times to spend one-on-one attention with the girl kitty separately. That way she doesn’t have to compete for your attention.

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