We’ve all heard the legend that biting a cat’s ear will show them who is the boss around the house. But will nibbling on Fluffy’s pointy ear really mark you as a dominant member of the family? Or will it just convince your cat that you are insane and to be avoided?
Does Biting A Cat´s Ear Show Dominance? Biting a cat’s ear is not only very difficult to do, but also completely useless. In the best possible scenario, nothing will happen. Your cat will carry on with her life and continue to consider you inferior. In the worst case scenario, you will end up severely scratched, and your cat will be traumatized for life.
It has been proven that having a healthy, well-rounded relationship with your pet is what you really should be striving for. Read on to find out more about where this awkward advice comes from, why it’s completely crazy and what you should really be doing!
So what’s wrong with the ear-biting advice?
The most dangerous lousy advice is the one that is closest to the truth. We tend to follow it more blindly because it “sounds right”.
Even though the theory of biting a cat, or any pet, to show dominance has been thoroughly debunked for decades, it still floats around the internet and gets passed on as a “good tip”.
The problem with this myth is that it is based on actual observation. Animals, in the wild and in the home, will use subtle cues to establish and assert their dominance within their group, pack or herd. Most of these cues involve some sort of physical interaction.
In the case of dogs and cats, it has been often observed that a dominant specimen will bite the ears of a submissive specimen.
So this must mean, logically, that if we do the same thing, we will establish ourselves as the dominant pack member, right?
There are two essential problems with this advice that people keep ignoring, whether by mistake or on purpose.
- We are not as subtle communicators as cats, dogs, or any other animal. We have speech, and they don’t. The way they communicate is as far beyond our grasp as Shakespeare is beyond theirs.
The way they send these messages of dominance and submission is complicated and involves many cues.
The gesture is coupled with body language, heart rate, a certain level of pressure of the bite, and even chemicals released by their organism. Humans don’t have that range of transmission, so even if we think that we are sending a very clear message to our cat, we’re really not.
- We are observing an effect, not the cause of dominance. A dominant animal will often bite the ear of a submissive one, yes, but that’s not how they became dominant in the first place.
Their dominance is often a factor of size, health, bravery, the result of many fights, and hundreds of other things we can’t fully comprehend.
The fact that they bite each other’s ear is simply an effect that takes place after dominance has already been established. Us trying to do it would be very much like trying to occupy a job that we didn’t actually get.
What is unacceptable dominant behavior?
Dominant behavior is not automatically bad or good, it’s just behavior. Your cat, especially in a multi-cat household, will be more dominant than some cats, and less dominant than others.
What kind of behavior you find unacceptable depends very much on you, and nobody else can dictate how your household should live. While for some people, having their cat sleep on their chest is not OK, others think it’s a treat.
Here is a list of cat behavior that people often think is “wrong” but is in fact completely normal.
Remember though, just because it’s normal doesn’t mean you have to accept it! It just means that there’s nothing wrong with your cat and she is simply displaying behavior normally found within her DNA.
- sitting on you,
- sleeping on your chest,
- nipping, biting (yes, really),
- biting, then licking,
- biting or scratching when being petted,
- getting overexcited when being petted,
- refusing to be picked up,
- refusing to be bathed,
- hissing at you to defend food,
- getting angry when woken up from a deep sleep
These, as well as many others, are completely natural, explainable attitudes. Which ones you are willing to put up with and which ones you need to stop are entirely your decision and depend on the background and personality of your cat.
Perhaps, for example, a stray cat that was nearly starved to death will be extra defensive about food, and knowing her circumstances, you might decide to allow that. Your roof, your rules!
What will happen if I bite my cat’s ear?
First of all, I sincerely wish you the best of luck in doing that. Since you are considering biting your cat’s ear, you probably already have a cat which has displayed some sort of behavioral issues towards you.
That just makes it all the more unlikely that you are going to get anywhere near their ears at all, let alone with your mouth.
Second of all, if you do insist on trying, I strongly advise that you prepare bandages, disinfectant, and potentially sutures beforehand. A knowledge of how to stitch gaping wounds is advisable.
Otherwise, a friend ready to call the ambulance will suffice. Remember that your cat has claws, and it takes a split second for her to move them from the ground to your face.
Even a cat that has never once scratched you might decide to give it a try on this occasion.
Finally, if you do get a good chomp in and survive, be prepared that she may never let you get near her ever again. Rightfully so, your cat has now understood that you are a psychopath and not to be trusted.
You probably don’t have to worry about your cat trying to dominate you anymore, but that’s because it just won’t come anywhere close to you.
Did your cat just lie there placidly, completely unconcerned, and let you bite its ear without even caring? Congratulations, you have a cat that likes you, trusts you, and has zero dominance issues whatsoever.
So there was no point in doing it at all unless you fancied finding out what it feels like to have a furry tongue.
What can I do to show my cat that I am boss?
While quick fixes for bad behavior may do more damage than good, there are definitely things you can do in order to improve the situation that don’t involve abusing your cat.
- Accept that you are not going to be “dominating” your cat. The whole “be the alpha of your pack” attitude is primitive and had been repeatedly proven faulty for both dogs and cats. In a healthy relationship with your pet, you would be a friend and guide, not an evil dictator.
- Accept that cats are not as trainable as dogs, so there are some aspects of their personality that no amount of work can erase. It is possible, for example, to educate your cat to bite less. However, you can’t turn an independent, fierce and adventurous cat into a pet that will heel at the snap of your fingers.
- It’s OK to be assertive in the right conditions. If you’re absolutely sure that your cat doesn’t frighten easily, isn’t already wary of you, and doesn’t show any signs of being shy, there’s nothing wrong with standing your ground. Believe it or not, even the most stubborn of cats will understand a firm, well-growled “no”.
- Aim for a balanced, well-rounded relationship. Rather than trying to “dominate”, try to provide your cat with plenty of outlets for her energy. Play, socialize, offer treats and rewards for good behavior, and redirect bad behavior. Being calm and consistent in your rules is much more likely to establish you as the leader in your family than trying to dominate the other members.
Do cats have dominance issues? Some cats can, in fact, display undesirable dominant behaviors. While not all dominant behavior is bad, such as when an older cat displays dominance over a kitten, some can become a problem. This is especially the case for elderly, sick or smaller pets who can end up being severely bullied.
Do cats show dominance over humans? Cats trying to dominate humans doesn’t happen very often. Most of the behaviors that you think are trying to show dominance over you are in fact a simple and natural part of cat social interactions, which are much more subtle and complex than humans can fully understand. That is why they are often misunderstood, and we attribute human explanations to them.