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What is an Alpha syndrome in cats and how to treat it?

Updated on November 29, 2007

Do you remember when I told you that cats really pick their owners rather then other way around? Although I did say that half jokingly, in our family the feline members came to us of their own accord. And fact of the matter is cats do have a mind of their own, when it comes to food, when it comes to play time and when it comes to cuddle time.

But what if your cat is showing symptoms of Alpha syndrome? The popular opinion is that cats are friendly creatures that seek approval from their owners (perhaps little less then dogs do but even so) and are happy to purr the afternoon away in your company.

However cats that do have the alpha syndrome might not be so content unless they are the masters of every situation. They want their food when they want and how they want it, they demand attention, but will only let be petted under their terms and for short periods of time or perhaps bite you if they do not get their way. The predominant example of an alpha behavior would be this scenario - you pick your cat in your lap and he starts purring. After a minute or so, you will realize he has had enough as the ears will go back, eyes will be narrowed and he will turn over on his stomach to have a better swipe at your hands or even worse he will start biting them. Does that sound familiar?

Alpha cats are the leaders of the pack and if there is no pack to lead guess who will have to do? You of course.

What can you do if your cat is showing symptoms of an alpha cat?

Well it is a tough love approach, but according to animal behaviorialists it is the only thing that will work. You will have to remove yourself from the situations that make your cat react. This way you are avoiding confrontations, but also what they will learn this way is that when they do not get their own way you will not react. If the cat bites you when you pet him, reduce petting time. If he bites you so you can get out of bed and serve him food, close the bedroom doors. If the meowing starts, ignore it and do not give in.

When it comes to petting and especially if your cat bites or scratches you, reduce the petting time. This way a) you cat will welcome the attention and b) save it for the times when your cat does something to deserve them such as reacting to a vocal cue and/or hand signal. Even if the eyes narrow and he gets ready to swipe, remove yourself and do not think you can pet your way through the aggressive behavior, trust me it never works.

Remove the toys and also take them out when you want to reward your cat's behavior. They can play but if they lose interest quickly, put the toys away where he cannot get to them. The same applies to playing games. If the biting or aggression starts remove yourself from your cat or put him away in another room. That way he will learn fairly quickly you are not a toy, but that you will go away if negative behavior starts.

And above all, do not give in to the meowing and attention seeking behavior. You should have a well behaved cat in no time.

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