Purrfectly Jealous. When Your Cat Gets Green-Eyed Over Your Attention


Jealousy is defined as the feeling of insecurity or fear that something you possess will be taken away by someone else. While often associated with human emotions, some research indicates that animals like cats may also experience jealousy.

Cats are territorial creatures who can form strong bonds with their owners. They thrive on routine and want to feel like they are the center of your world. When something disrupts this status quo, such as the arrival of a new baby, pet, or partner, some cats may see it as a threat. Common signs of feline jealousy include behaviors like hissing, swatting, urinating on belongings, or trying to physically come between their owner and the object of jealousy.

While jealousy is not well understood in cats, experts believe it stems from a cat’s perception that a valued resource—like affection, toys, or space—is at risk of being taken away by a rival. Their resulting behaviors are attempts to restore what they view as the proper balance and priority.

Evidence of Jealousy in Cats

There is some scientific evidence that cats can exhibit jealous behaviors, especially when their bond with their owner is disrupted. A 2020 study published in the journal Pet Behaviour Science conducted experiments where cats watched their owners interact with unfamiliar objects and other cats (Bucher, 2020). The results showed cats displayed more negative behaviors like growling and tail swishing when their owners paid attention to the other stimuli. This indicates cats can get distressed when their exclusive relationship with their owner is threatened.

Additionally, many cat owners have witnessed jealous behaviors firsthand. Common anecdotes include cats acting aloof or aggressive when a new pet is brought home, meowing loudly when their owner pays attention to someone else, or knocking objects off shelves to get attention back on themselves. While anecdotal, these stories suggest cats are capable of some form of jealousy.

Why Cats Might Exhibit Jealous Behaviors

There are a few key reasons why cats may display behaviors that appear jealous when their owners pay attention to others:

Territoriality and resource guarding play a large role. Cats are very attached to their territory and can get anxious when it is “invaded” by others, whether human or animal. They view their owners and homes as resources, so sharing attention with others can trigger mild guarding behaviors. According to The Wildest, cats often react this way because their “prey drive clicks on” when someone new enters their territory.

Cats are also social creatures that need affection and playtime. If a cat feels it is not getting enough quality interaction from its owner, it may act out when its owner pays attention to others. The Spruce Pets notes jealous cats “crave attention” and exhibit attention-seeking behaviors.

Finally, boredom and lack of stimulation can cause negative behaviors. Cats that are under-stimulated may become overly attached to their owners for entertainment. As PetMD explains, this can lead to clingy, attention-seeking actions that appear jealous when the owner is occupied with something or someone else.

In summary, territory and resource guarding, social needs, and boredom are common reasons cats display behaviors that look like jealousy when their owners are interacting with others.

Common Triggers for Jealousy

There are several common triggers that can spark jealous behavior in cats:

  • Owner petting another animal – Cats can become very possessive of their owners and get upset when attention is diverted to other pets. This is especially true if the owner is petting and showing affection to a new pet that the cat is not familiar with yet. Cats want to be the center of their owner’s attention.
  • Owner giving attention to other people – Similarly, some cats get irritated when their owner is paying more attention to other people than them. For example, when a new romantic partner enters the picture, the cat may act out due to jealousy over the shifting dynamics and less quality time with their owner.
  • Changes in routine or environment – Cats are creatures of habit and can get stressed by disruptions to their normal routine or environment. Introducing a new family member, moving homes, or rearranging furniture are examples of changes that may provoke jealousy in cats due to the unfamiliarity and insecurity it causes.

At the root of jealous behavior in cats is their desire for stability, attachment to their owner, and need to feel safe and secure. When these core needs are threatened by perceived competitors for affection or changes in their territory, jealous cats try to reassert their bond with their owner through attention-seeking and territorial behaviors.

Signs of Jealousy

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

Aggression/attacking – A jealous cat may hiss, growl, or even bite or scratch their owner or the person/animal they perceive as a threat. Aggressive body language like swatting, stiff tail, and ears folded back can also occur. They may attack or swat at the object of their jealousy.

Excessive vocalization – Cats may become very vocal when jealous by meowing, yowling, or making other loud noises excessively. These vocalizations are their way of demanding attention.

Marking territory – Territorial cats may spray urine or rub/scratch objects to mark their territory when feeling jealous. This sends the message that they are the dominant cat in the home.

Attention-seeking behaviors – A jealous cat will often try to divert their owner’s attention back to themselves through actions like jumping in their owner’s lap, nudging, purring loudly, or knocking objects off surfaces.

Paying attention to body language and behavioral changes can help clue owners into feelings of jealousy in their cats before it escalates to more aggressive actions. If a cat exhibits multiple signs of jealousy, it likely requires addressing through training, environmental changes, or consulting a vet or animal behaviorist.

Managing Jealous Behaviors

There are several ways to manage jealous behaviors in cats:

Ensure your cat gets regular social interaction with you. Set aside dedicated one-on-one playtime and cuddle sessions. Giving your cat positive attention regularly can help curb attention-seeking behaviors (The Wildest).

Have a set routine for feeding, play time, etc so your cat knows what to expect. Cats feel more secure when they can anticipate your schedule (Neater Pets).

Give your cat alone time with you, away from other pets, children, or distractions that may be triggering jealousy. Quality solo time reinforces your bond and reassures your cat (The Spruce Pets).

Try to avoid punishing or scolding jealous behaviors, as this can reinforce the attention-seeking. Instead, redirect your cat’s energy into a positive activity when they act out.

When to Seek Help

In most cases, jealous behaviors in cats can be managed through training, providing adequate attention, and making environment adjustments. However, if your cat’s jealous behaviors escalate and begin severely impacting their wellbeing or yours, it’s important to seek professional help.

Some concerning signs to watch for that may indicate the need for intervention include:

  • Litterbox issues – cats who urinate or defecate outside the box due to stress or anxiety from jealousy.
  • Aggression that causes injury – jealous cats may bite or scratch owners, other pets, or even inanimate objects. Seek help if these aggressive acts result in significant harm.
  • Destructive behaviors – cats experiencing extreme jealousy may engage in destructive acts like knocking over furniture, shredding belongings, or breaking household items.

A veterinary behaviorist can help identify the root cause of these issues and create an effective treatment plan. Medication may be prescribed in some cases to help reduce a cat’s anxiety. Providing dedicated playtime, puzzle feeders, cat trees, and other environmental enhancements can also help curb jealous behaviors before they become dangerous.

Don’t delay in seeking professional support if your cat is posing a risk to themselves or others. With compassion, patience, and the right guidance, jealous cats can overcome their stress and regain their typical happy, relaxed demeanor.

Preventing Jealousy

Proper socialization as a kitten is key to preventing jealous behaviors later in life. Kittens that are exposed to new people, animals, sights, and sounds from a young age will be less likely to react negatively to changes in their environment as adult cats. It’s important to handle kittens frequently, introduce them to friendly visitors, and take them on short car rides during the critical socialization window before 12 weeks of age.

Setting clear expectations and boundaries can also curb jealous behaviors in cats. Provide each cat their own food bowls, beds, scratching posts, and play time. Consistency is important, so feed them and interact with them at the same times each day. Make sure each cat gets individual play sessions using interactive toys. This will help them feel mentally stimulated.

Boredom is often an underlying cause of jealous behaviors. Be sure to provide adequate mental stimulation through play, clicker training, food puzzles, cat trees and perches. Rotating toys helps keep cats engaged. Daily play sessions are recommended. Environmental enrichment such as bird feeders outside windows or cat videos can also keep cats occupied.

Cats vs. Dogs: Differences in Jealousy

While both cats and dogs can exhibit jealous behaviors, there tend to be some differences due to their inherent natures. Dogs, being pack animals, form very close bonds with their human families. It is well known that dogs aim to please their owners and crave attention from them. Cats, on the other hand, are more solitary and independent by nature. As a result, they are generally less bonded to their owners than dogs are.

According to this article, dogs often become jealous when their owner pays attention to another pet. Cats may show jealousy too, but since the cat-human bond is weaker, jealous behaviors tend to be less common or intense in cats compared to dogs.

While a dog may become very distressed if ignored in favor of another dog or animal, a cat is more likely to simply walk away and entertain itself. This demonstrates the more aloof and independent personality of cats. However, some cats can still exhibit jealous behaviors, especially if they are particularly attached to their owner.


Jealous behavior in cats is often a sign of insecurity or fear of losing their owner’s affection. While jealousy is a normal emotion that most cats will exhibit at some point, persistent or intense jealousy can be problematic.

The key takeaways for cat owners are:

  • Look for triggers like changes in routine, new pets, or decreased attention that may be causing your cat’s jealous behaviors.
  • Have realistic expectations for sharing your time and affection with multiple pets.
  • Reassure your cat with calming pheromones, more playtime, or treats when they meet new people/pets.
  • Never punish or scold jealous behaviors, as this can make them worse.
  • Consult your vet if your cat shows signs of separation anxiety, aggression, inappropriate urination, or other issues.
  • Prevent jealousy by socializing your cat young and maintaining positive routines.

While jealous behaviors can be annoying for owners, have patience. With time and effort, most cats can be taught to accept changes and share their owners’ affection.

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