Does Kitty See Green? How Cats React to Smelling Rival Scents


Have you ever noticed your cat acting strangely when you return home smelling like another cat? Maybe they avoid you, sulk, or even act aggressively. According to a study, around 66% of cat owners report signs of jealousy in their pets. This suggests that cats, with their highly social and territorial natures, may experience complex emotions like jealousy. But how do cats actually perceive jealousy and what causes this behavior? Understanding the signs, causes, and solutions can help strengthen your bond with a jealous feline.

What is Jealousy?

Jealousy is commonly defined as feelings of insecurity, fear, concern and resentment that arise when a person/animal perceives a threat to a valued relationship. In humans, jealousy is considered a complex emotion that involves feelings of anger, embarrassment, anxiousness and distrust [1].

In animals, jealousy is described as social competition over resources such as food, territory, mating privileges or social bonds. Feelings of jealousy in animals are attributed to the goal of maximizing evolutionary fitness. However, it is difficult to ascertain if animals experience the complex emotions associated with jealousy in humans [2].

Signs of jealousy in pets often suggest attention-seeking behaviors rather than complex emotions. Experts warn about anthropomorphizing normal territorial behaviors in animals as jealous feelings [3]. More research is needed to conclude if animals experience jealousy identical to humans.



Signs of Jealousy in Cats

There are several common behavioral signs that may indicate jealousy in cats. These include aggressive behavior towards other cats, people, or objects; attention-seeking behaviors; and urine marking or spraying.

Aggressive behaviors like hissing, growling, swatting, or attacking are some of the most overt signs of jealousy in cats. A cat may act this way if it perceives another cat, person, or object as a threat to its relationship with its owner. For example, a cat may hiss, growl, or even swat at a new pet that seems to be getting more attention[1].

Attention-seeking behaviors are another sign of feline jealousy. A jealous cat may meow, rub against legs, or engage in other behaviors to divert an owner’s attention back to itself. This often happens if the cat perceives that another person or animal is getting more attention.

Urine marking or spraying inside the home is also associated with jealousy in cats. A cat feeling threatened may spray walls, furniture, or other objects with urine as a way to mark its territory and communicate its insecurity[2].

Causes of Jealousy in Cats

There are several common triggers that can spark jealous feelings in cats. Some of the top causes of feline jealousy include:

New Pet: Bringing a new pet into the home is a very common trigger for jealousy in cats. Cats are territorial by nature and having a new feline competitor in their space can make them act out. They may hiss, swipe, or intimidate the newcomer. Some cats even start marking their territory by spraying urine around the house. They want to re-establish their status as the dominant cat in the home.

New Baby: A new human baby often leads to jealousy in cats too. Babies require a lot of time and attention from the owners, which means less time for kitty cuddles and playtime. Cats may start acting out to get the owners’ attention. They may meow more loudly or incessantly, knock things off shelves and tables, or start peeing outside the litter box.

Attention Diverted: Even without a major change like a new pet or baby, cats can get jealous if the owner’s attention is frequently focused elsewhere. For example, if you start a new relationship and spend more evenings away from home, your cat may act out due to the change in routine and jealousy over your divided attention. Cats are very attached to their owners and bond strongly, so divergence from that routine relationship can trigger jealous behaviors.

Scent and Jealousy

Cats have a very strong sense of smell, far beyond what humans can detect. Their olfactory system has around 200 million scent receptors, compared to only 5 million in humans. This allows cats to pick up on even very subtle scents from other animals, people, and objects in their environment [1]. When a cat smells the scent of another cat, dog, or animal on their owner, it can trigger feelings of jealousy and territorial behavior [2]. They view their owners as part of their territory, so detecting a “competitor’s” scent may lead them to become anxious, aggressive, attention-seeking, and display other signs of jealousy as discussed in this article. Understanding the role scent plays in feline jealousy can help owners identify causes and mitigate jealous behavior in their cats.

Studies on Feline Jealousy

While cat owners may observe signs of jealousy in their pets, scientific research on feline jealousy is limited. Some small studies have explored jealous behaviors in cats, but they have not conclusively demonstrated complex emotions like jealousy:

A 2014 study published in PLoS ONE analyzed cats’ behaviors when their owners interacted with a realistic fake cat. The researchers found that cats meowed more, tried to get between their owner and the fake cat, and displayed more agitated behavior like pushing and vocalizing. They concluded that cats can exhibit jealous behaviors when their social bond with their owner is threatened, but that further research would be required to determine if cats experience complex emotions like jealousy (

Another small 2013 study in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science looked at cats’ reactions to their owners initiating interactions with either a toy cat or an unfamiliar live cat. The cats showed more aggressive behavior towards the live cat, indicating they may view it as social competition, but did not demonstrate clear jealousy (

While these studies reveal interesting cat behaviors, researchers note that more work is needed to truly understand the capabilities of feline cognition and emotion. There are challenges in studying emotions in non-human animals. Clear conclusions about complex internal states like jealousy require rigorous scientific evidence that is currently lacking.


Anthropomorphism refers to attributing human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities like animals, objects, or natural phenomena. When it comes to pets like cats, anthropomorphism can be harmless at times, but there are real dangers associated with assigning complex human emotions to animals.

According to the article on anthropomorphism from Grammarly, we tend to anthropomorphize animals we feel close to, like pets, assigning them feelings like jealousy, vindictiveness, shame, and even deliberate deception. However, animals likely do not experience emotions the same complex way humans do.

While animals certainly have emotions and intelligence, assuming they experience advanced emotions like jealousy in the same way humans do can lead owners to misinterpret normal animal behaviors. For example, a cat rubbing against furniture after being near other cats is likely just scent marking, not acting out of jealousy. Anthropomorphism can even lead owners to tolerate aggressive or dangerous behaviors from their pets by excusing them as “emotional responses,” when intervention is really needed.

Rather than assigning complex emotions behind behaviors, it’s important for owners to objectively assess their pets’ actions and body language, and not make too many assumptions. While anthropomorphism may seem harmless at first, it can undermine responsible pet ownership when taken too far.

Preventing Jealousy

There are some tips cat owners can follow to help prevent or ease jealous behavior in their cats:

  • Spend equal one-on-one time with each cat. Giving each cat devoted attention and playtime helps them feel less jealous and territorial (Source).
  • Make sure each cat has their own resources like food bowls, beds, scratching posts, etc. This prevents competition over resources (Source).
  • Give new cats their own space at first. Slowly allow interactions to prevent tension. Adding new scents gradually can help cats adjust.
  • Try calming supplements or pheromones to ease stress. Consult your vet for recommendations.
  • Ensure there are plenty of hiding spots and vertical space. Cats feel more secure with options to retreat.

With patience and these tips, owners can ease jealous behavior and help cats coexist harmoniously.

Living with a Jealous Cat

Living with a jealous cat requires accommodating their needs and addressing the root causes of their jealousy. Here are some tips:

Make accommodations to give your jealous cat enough attention. Spend one-on-one time petting, playing, and interacting with them daily to fulfill their needs for affection. Set aside portions of the day focused just on them.

Give your jealous cat priority access to favored sleeping spots, toys, and other resources. This helps them feel secure in their environment. Provide duplicate resources like beds, scratching posts, and feeding stations to prevent conflict.

Introduce changes gradually to help anxious cats adjust. Slowly integrate a new pet, family member, or routine over weeks. Use treats, pheromone diffusers, and medication if needed during transitions.

Stick to your jealous cat’s schedule and routines as much as possible. Consistency and predictability help reassure them when their environment feels uncertain.

Use positive reinforcement when your jealous cat behaves appropriately around new people or animals. Reward them with treats, praise, and attention for remaining calm and friendly.

Address the root cause of jealousy, like boredom or lack of confidence. Provide more interactive playtime, catify your home with climbing areas, or consider clicker training to build their self-esteem.

Consult your vet if jealousy leads to inappropriate urination, aggression, or other issues. Medication, pheromones, or behavioral modification plans may help in extreme cases.

With time, patience, and effort to accommodate their needs, it’s possible to help even very jealous cats feel secure and content again.


In conclusion, while cats may exhibit behaviors that seem like jealousy to us, the research on whether cats actually experience the emotion of jealousy is inconclusive. Jealous behaviors in cats are likely due to more primal drives like guarding territory, resources, and social status. However, it’s possible cats have a limited capacity for jealousy, especially when bonds with their owners are disrupted.

Cats can certainly perceive and react to changes in scent that signal competition. But anthropomorphizing these behaviors as actually driven by jealousy should be avoided. Much of what looks like feline jealousy can be explained by a cat’s innate need for security, consistency, and access to resources. While cats do form attachments with us, projecting complex emotions like jealousy onto them is not well supported by science.

Rather than assuming your cat is jealous, look for ways to reassure them and meet their fundamental needs. Keep their schedule, space, resources, and relationships as stable as possible. And shower them with the love, attention, and care they deserve.

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