Have Two Pets? Who’s the Boss?

March 22, 2013 | By | Comments (4)

I have written before on this blog about the antics of my cousin Karen’s cats, but this one really takes the cake…or catnip as it were.

In spite of careful planning on Karen’s part and talking to experts before bringing a new kitty (Tank) home to the “den” she shares with her main cat (Penny), all has not been smooth sailing since the brief honeymoon phase (see below and cue the awwwhhhs)

Brief Honeymoon Phase

two cats cuddle together

In fact, far from it. Penny—the cat Karen’s had for years—has become skittish and less affectionate with her. Why? Because that adorable, playful, frenetic kitten appropriately named Tank has invaded Penny’s space and successfully competed with her for Karen’s attention. (One has only to watch Simon Tofield’s adorable video, “Double Trouble—Simon’s Cat,” to understand the gravity of the situation, or to see how Penny is more interested in scratching Tank than the scratching post, below.)

The “Bad Patch” (pre-intervention)

two cats skirmishing

The Cat Behaviorist

Karen became so desperate, she decided to go out on a limb and call in a cat behaviorist who spent an hour and a half in the home, paying complete attention to Penny and ignoring Tank. She played a CD during her visit (ocean sounds, humpback whales), which she instructed Karen to play on repeat for the next several days, especially when she wasn’t around, to “continue the desensitization.”

The “Prescription”

“You have to run everything by Penny first,” said the behaviorist. “If you want to snuggle with Tank, check with Penny. If you want to feed Tank, check with Penny. If you want to play a game with Tank, check with Penny.” 

Surprising though this might sound, Karen was instructed to praise Penny when Tank behaved well. Yes, you heard that right. For example, “Penny, great job teaching Tank how to wait patiently while you eat!” Or the opposite—Karen and Penny teaming up to give Tank a time-out if he became really rambunctious.

United front. Karen and Penny: a team; Tank: odd man out. Sounds cruel but is really a matter of readjusting the hierarchy with Penny the Elder reigning supreme and  Tank the Toddler falling in step.

“The New Normal” (post-intervention)

Karen says, “It sounds absurd but we have had a complete and total turnaround. And a month later, it’s still sticking.”

Now, when she comes home, she makes a point of initially ignoring Tank, even if Tank is jumping up to say hello, warmly greeting Penny first.

Two cats on a bed

How about you? How have you integrated a new arrival in your home?

Check out “Getting Your Pet a Pet? Here’s How…” for tips on acclimating your pets to each other and more stories about Penny and Tank’s ups and downs. 


  1. dishofdailylife

    That is too funny! I would never have thought to do something like that!! We have 7 pets (3 dogs, 4 cats) and one of the cats definitely rules the roost. The funny thing is, she was not first on the scene. We had two of the dogs, brought in 3 kittens at the same time (2 are siblings, but not the one that rules the roost), then later we got another cat and another dog. They all get along very well…but the cat was roughly the same age as the other cats, and the dog was a puppy. All the disruptions come from the puppy bugging one of the older dogs, but even so, they do get along. I think we’ve been really lucky!

    March 22, 2013 at 11:58 am
  2. PigLove

    Smile – LOVE those pictures. There is a pecking order in our house. Although it makes me flinch to say it, Hemi the purr thing is top cat in our household. Followed by me the oinker. Then there’s the other purr thing Mouse. On the bottom is the newest pet, Bashful – he’s my pet rock. XOXO – Bacon

    March 22, 2013 at 1:14 pm
  3. Linda W

    I have a 6 yr old cat. I had a little dog first, then brought her home. They got along great. Then we got a big dog. Took time for the cat to adjust, but all were great. The little dog passed, so I got a kitten thinking this would help my 6 yr old fat cat play more and keep her company. That was not what she wanted. She tolerated him,but growls at him when he walks by her. Then I brought home a 1 yr old cat to spare him from the animal kill shelter. That threw my 6 yr old cat over the edge. She trees him. She will jump him & attack him. He runs & hides from her (he was raised as an only cat with a dog). He has claws, she doesn’t. ?? I have to keep them in seperate rooms at all times to keep her from attacking him. So hurt they don’t get along.

    March 22, 2013 at 6:07 pm
  4. debby

    Because our 15 year old cat had hyperthroidism, we needed to feed him more than the new kitten needed, so the heirarchy was automatic. New Chibi learned to wait until older Buddy was done before eating. She is very considerate, and doesn’t know any better than to wait paitently to eat. They love each other and no problems developed at all….maybe because older Buddy is male and new Chibi is female. He is in heaven, and they preen each other regularly.

    March 23, 2013 at 2:56 am

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