Jealous Pets: What to look for and how to respond

Our pets do not actually experience jealousy in the way we humans attribute to their behavior. A dog may whine if another pet gets attention or a cat may push his best friend out of the way to get petted first, but our pets are not actually experiencing human jealousy. They are behaviors instead that assert a social hierarchy in the cat or dog’s perspective. If a cat or dog asserts itself, acts rude, or is bossy to a peer, they are stating that they are the top dog or cat and have a higher rank than the one who was headbutted out of the way or blocked from jumping on the couch. What we consider jealousy in our pets is motivated by competition for attention, affection, and what an animal wants, whether it is food or scratching behind the ears.

It appears dogs more often do have a more human emotion akin to and behaviors associated with feeling jealous. A study showed that dogs showed aggression such as snapping and getting between their owner or pushing and shoving their owner’s hands from an animatronic toy dog that barked and moved when compared to their reaction when their owner interacted with a book or an inanimate object. Dogs seem to act up and feel something like jealousy if their owner is paying more attention and giving affection to another “dog” than if the owner was paying attention to a non-dog.

The common unhealthy behaviors associated with jealous pets can be problematic and disruptive. Recognizing the behavioral issues that come due to a dog or cat competing with someone or another thing needs to be recognized and dealt with before it becomes a serious problem. A dog or cat can even become physically aggressive and bite or gnaw of the person or animal who thy feel is getting preferential treatment. Pets who are feeling ignored, slighted, left out, or any number of perceived slights or distress may sometimes urinate or poop indoors or outside of their litter box. When a normally well-trained pet has a change in bathroom habits and goes where they shouldn’t, they are usually trying to communicate and it could be an annoyance, jealousy or even that they are ill, especially in the case of cats who often miss the litter box when ill as well as when upset. A pet can also become extra affectionate, which is a positive sign of affection and wanting attention or can become clingy and possessive towards their owner. If a pet starts pushing back other animals or playing keep away when it comes to other people or nudging in and demanding the attention of someone and not allowing any outcome but the one they want, it can even lead to dogs growling, barking, hissing, and get into a physical conflict when competing for owner human resources. A pet may also try to scare off strangers to not have to share their owner with the mailman or a friend. Dogs can also do another positive behavior when showing distress and wanting our attention such as performing tricks such as standing up, dancing, or rolling over without command or gesture just to get your eyes and ears all on them. An angry pet can also be passive-aggressive and display jealousy by walking away and withdrawing from their normal activities.

These behaviors indicate boredom and insecurity. All these behaviors serve to achieve the same goal, to get your attention. If there’s competition for human quality time, resources, or social conflict, as well as stress and a lack of mental and physical exercise can cause a dog or cat to show jealousy-type behavior. Your pet wants something from you and cannot communicate using words, so they use actions. Make sure that there is enough and equal love, food and treats to go around amongst all pets and family members, especially if a new pet or family member, especially a new baby, has joined your household.

Your dog or cat may need a little extra tender loving care to not feel neglected and know they are still your beloved pet. Never play favorites amongst pets as this can incite jealousy and behavioral issues. By making sure your dog can relax and feel safe in their crate during “time outs” and allowing cats to have a high perch to get away from stress and people can allow them to handle jealousy better. If you have food bowl jealousy, feeding your pets in separate areas can ensure mealtimes are peaceful and all your pets get enough to eat. One of the best ways to overcome a pet’s emotional neediness and demands is to ignore your pets completely for some time when you get in from work or errands until their level of excitement and demands lessens. By training them that no one is getting preferential treatment, the emotional intensity of their jealousy is lessened, and aggression, competitive behavior, pushing and shoving is far less likely. Walking dogs together will make sure they do not feel one is getting more than the other and will also provide them time to do something they both enjoy with their favorite person. Make sure you pet both pets when it’s petting time, both get hugs and kisses, have toys for all your pets so none are left out at playtime, avoid dogs or cats having to share food-related puzzle toys and make sure they even have their own beds. Always reinforce good and positive behavior when you see them getting along and that is when you need to praise and give them attention. Our pets need to be loved and to behave so be a fair pet parent.



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