Can Cats Really Feel Jealousy? The Surprising Truth About Feline Envy


Pet ownership is extremely common in the U.S., with reports indicating that 38.4% of households own dogs and 25.4% own cats as of 2022. With so many furry companions in our lives, it’s natural to wonder – can cats actually feel jealousy?

This article will dive into the evidence around feline jealousy. We’ll explore the signs that a cat may be envious, look at scientific research on the topic, gather opinions from experts, and provide tips on managing a jealous cat. Whether you’re a proud cat owner yourself or just curious about cat behavior, read on to uncover the truth about one of our favorite furry companions.

What is Jealousy?

According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, jealousy is defined as “a negative emotion in which an individual resents a third party for appearing to take away (or being likely to take away) the affections of a person with whom they have a close relationship”. It involves feelings of suspicion, insecurity, fear, and resentment.

Jealousy is often confused with envy, but they are distinct emotions. While envy focuses on wanting what someone else has, jealousy involves the fear of losing something or someone you value to a third party. As Psychology Today notes, jealousy stems from the perception of a threat to a valued relationship, whereas envy relates to lacking a desired attribute, object, or status of another.

Signs of Jealousy in Cats

Cats can exhibit various behaviors when they feel jealous or territorial. Some of the most common signs of feline jealousy include:

Aggressive Behavior

Jealous cats may display aggressive tendencies like hissing, growling, or swatting at the person or animal they feel threatened by. They may physically come between their owner and the object of jealousy in an attempt to divert attention back to themselves (source).

Marking Territory

A jealous cat may feel the need to mark their territory by rubbing, scratching, or spraying urine on objects and people. This sends the message that “this belongs to me!” (source).


To regain their owner’s attention, a jealous cat may vocalize more through meowing or yowling. They may also exhibit attention-seeking behaviors like knocking items off shelves or tables.

Withholding Affection

Some jealous cats may give their owners the “cold shoulder” by avoiding them or refusing to sit on their lap. This is their way of sulking and expressing their displeasure over the perceived slight.

Causes of Feline Jealousy

There are several common triggers that can cause jealousy in cats.

The arrival of a new pet, person, or baby in the home is a frequent cause of feline jealousy. Cats are creatures of habit who feel most secure with consistent routines. The sudden presence of a new individual competing for your attention and disrupting your cat’s schedule can provoke jealous behaviors as they struggle to adjust (Source).

Similarly, any major change in your cat’s normal routine or the amount of care and affection you provide can lead to jealousy. Cats thrive on predictability and environment stability. If you drastically reduce playtime, lap time, treats, or other bonding rituals with your cat, they may act out due to a perceived neglect or preference for something else (Source).

Your cat may also perceive new people, pets, or objects as competition for vital resources like food, territory, toys, and your attention. This sense of rivalry can manifest as jealous behaviors like aggression, marking, or attention-seeking (Source). It’s important to reassure your cat of their place in the family.

Scientific Research

There have been a few studies that have explored whether cats exhibit jealousy or not. One notable study was conducted by researchers at the University of Valencia in Spain in 2020 The researchers tested cats’ reactions when their owners paid attention to a stuffed cat versus an unfamiliar human. When the owner petted and talked sweetly to the stuffed cat, the real cats would push their heads into their owners and try to get between their owner and the stuffed cat. This protective behavior was viewed as a possible sign of jealousy.

However, the evidence is still inconclusive when it comes to cat jealousy. Some experts argue this behavior stems from curiosity, playfulness, or attention-seeking rather than complex emotions like jealousy. More research is needed to fully understand the motivations behind this behavior in cats. Overall the scientific community remains divided about whether cats experience jealousy or have the cognitive capacity for such a complex emotion.

Expert Opinions

Veterinarians and animal behaviorists have a lot to say about feline jealousy and how to manage it. As Dr. Katherine Miller, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, explains, “Cats are territorial, and they can be worried when their environment changes – like when a new cat, dog, or baby enters their territory.” She recommends using pheromones and making gradual introductions to help cats adjust (

Another veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Joey Lusvardi, confirms that “At the root, jealousy in cats is about their territory being threatened.” To prevent jealous behavior, she suggests “Set up multiple feeding stations, water bowls, scratching posts, beds, and litter boxes when integrating a new cat.” This helps ensure the existing cat still has their own dedicated resources (

While cats can exhibit jealous behavior, experts agree it’s important not to anthropomorphize our feline companions too much. As behaviorist Jackson Galaxy cautions, “Jealousy is a human construct we tend to thrust upon cats.” The overriding factor is usually a cat’s natural desire to protect territory and resources.

Anthropomorphism vs Reality

It’s common for cat owners to attribute human emotions and characteristics to their pets, a concept known as anthropomorphism. However, anthropomorphism can lead to misunderstandings about feline behavior and negatively impact the human-cat relationship. Let’s take an objective look at the facts around jealousy in cats.

While it may seem like a cat is acting out of jealousy when a new pet or person gets attention, this is likely our own projection of human emotions onto the animal. As experts point out, cats do not experience complex emotions like jealousy or spite (source). What appears as jealous behavior is more likely the cat reacting instinctively to changes in its territory and social environment. Cats thrive on routine and can be stressed by disruptions.

Attributing human motivations to normal cat behavior can lead owners to misinterpret signs of stress, anxiety, or fear as more complex emotional states like jealousy or anger. This misattribution can result in ineffective or even counterproductive responses. It’s important for owners to understand cats on their own terms, recognizing their unique psychology and needs. While anthropomorphism may seem harmless, an objective perspective allows for properly supporting cats’ wellbeing.

Managing a Jealous Cat

If your cat is acting out of jealousy, there are some things you can do to help manage their behavior:

  • Give your jealous cat extra attention first – Make sure to greet them, pet them, and give them affection before other pets or people. This helps reassure them of their place in the home.
  • Maintain their routine – Try to feed, play with, and interact with your cat at their usual times. Consistency is comforting for a jealous cat.
  • Cat-proof the new baby’s room – If you have a new baby at home, make sure the cat can’t get into the crib or bassinet so they don’t act out. Provide them an alternative sleeping space.
  • Redirect aggressive behavior – If your cat is acting aggressively due to jealousy, redirect them to a toy or treat to interrupt the behavior. Don’t give attention for bad behavior.

With time and consistency, a jealous cat will likely become more comfortable again. But if the behavior persists or worsens, consult with your veterinarian. They can check for underlying medical issues and help you manage your cat’s jealousy in a healthy way (source).

When to Seek Help

In some cases, jealousy in cats can become severe and lead to destructive behavior that requires professional intervention. According to this article, you may need to seek help from your veterinarian or a cat behaviorist if your cat’s jealous behavior is dangerous or causes damage in the home.

Specifically, look out for signs like aggression towards people or other pets, house soiling outside the litter box, or excessive vocalizing like constant meowing or yowling. These can indicate your cat is extremely distressed and having trouble coping with feelings of jealousy.

Left untreated, problematic jealous behaviors often get worse over time rather than improving on their own. Consulting an expert can help uncover the root causes of your cat’s jealousy and provide solutions tailored to your pet’s needs. This may involve adjustments to your cat’s routine, changes to the home environment, or in some cases medication to help lower your cat’s anxiety. The sooner you seek help, the easier it will be to get your jealous feline back to their happy, friendly self.


To recap, cats can display behaviors that appear jealous in response to changes in their environment or the addition of a new pet or person. While cats may not experience complex emotions like jealousy in the same way humans do, they can feel stressed, anxious, or frustrated when their routine is disrupted or their access to favored people decreases.

The reality is that feline jealousy likely falls on a spectrum, with some cats more prone to distressed behaviors than others in situations that appear jealous to us. While anthropomorphism can be a concern, understanding your cat’s unique personality and looking for signs of conflict, insecurity, or acting out can help you manage tumultuous transitions in your home.

Taking time to understand why your cat is exhibiting jealous behaviors, rather than just labeling them as jealous, will lead to a better relationship. Providing them with plenty of affection, routine, vertical space, territory, and activities can help ease any tensions. But if the behaviors persist or turn aggressive, consulting an animal behaviorist may be needed. Remember – understanding your cat’s needs leads to a better bond between both species.

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