Cats Protecting Other Cats?

I take my cats on walks around my townhome complex. The grounds are quiet with mature trees and open spaces between the clusters of homes.

The other day, Zelda, the Maine Coon cat, and Gus, my ex-street cat, were ambling along the sidewalks,  stopping to smell things and poke around in the vegetation. Zelda was a few feet away from me. Gus was over noodling around in what was left of a snowbank. 

A mixed breed terrier (about 25 lbs or so) lives in one of the townhomes near where we were walking. She is an active little dog who usually runs around to check out the cats but typically the cats stand their ground and the dog is recalled by her owner.

Today was different. The terrier rounded the corner behind us and made a beeline for Zelda. Startled, Zelda ran; I lunged for Zelda but was not quick enough and the dog went off in hot pursuit. Zelda runs like a baby elephant – she is not a sprinter! The dog was closing in on Zelda.

Cat protecting cat


I started after her when something grey streaked by on my left – Gus was running with the terrier in his sights! He reached the terrier just as she was reaching Zelda and collided with the dog. The terrier returned to her owner tout de suite!

Gus turned his attention to Zelda. At first, I was worried about a possible cat fight, but  he proceeded to herd her back to the front door of our house. I found the two of them sitting quietly by the front door. Needless to say, our walk was over for the moment.

I did not expect that Gus would run the terrier dog off but I was sure glad he did, because I was not going to get there in time to prevent any injury to the dog or Zelda.

We expect this kind of behavior from mother cats protecting kittens but not from cats that did not grow up together.

Cats are known to be solitary hunters that group together to take advantage of plentiful food sources. Cats do not hunt together like a lion pride but the females can share the work of raising and feeding the kittens as do lions. What motivated Gus to help his housemate?

There are numerous videos online where cats protect children, dogs run off coyotes attacking cats, and mother cats protect their kittens from dogs and humans. Videos of  cats protecting other cats are scarce. Of course, the video would be hard to get – the last thing I was thinking about was filming the whole thing!

Years ago, a similar incident happened with my two older cats, Athena and Marley, while on our daily walk. Marley had gone ahead to the pond. I was behind Athena when a large red fox (they weigh about 30 lbs) showed up on the walk.  Athena froze. Before either Athena or I had a chance to move, the fox bolted past us with Marley on his heels. Once the fox was on his way, Marley returned and greeted both Athena and me.

Why would a cat be aggressive toward another species in these situations?

  • Threat to his territory?
  • Threat to a his own safety?
  • Hunting trigger – was the dog or fox behaving like prey?
  • Cats protecting other cats?

Why not avoid the predator, slink away and keep yourself safe?

Although the myth persists that male cats will eat kittens, many cat colonies have affiliated male cats. These males will band together with the female cats to protect the kittens from strange male cats(Organization in the Cat: A Modern Understanding) Presumably, the colony might band together to a drive off a threat such as a coyote or pack of dogs.

Gus was a community cat – he grew up living with other cats on the streets. Perhaps Gus has experienced a situation when he was a street cat where his group of cats banded together to protect the kittens or the colony from a pack of dogs. Although he and Zelda did not grow up together, they groom each other’s heads when meeting, indicating that they are part of a social group, an ad hoc “colony”.

Affiliated cats
Gus and Zelda are not a bonded pair but do groom each other.

More than just the availability of food “glues” the cat colony together. Perhaps another benefit is member cats protecting other cats: they have “got each others’ backs!”

Owning a cat does not mean that your arms and legs should be covered in bites and scratches.  Is there anything you can do if your cat gets aggressive when playing?

 First of all – understand “Play” for a cat is hunting practice and it is serious business.

Hardwired to Hunt…

Your cat is good at detecting fast motion – his eyes can process over 60 visual images per second. By comparison, we are able to process 20-30 images per second. Your cat is designed to detect the quick, rapid movements of mice and other rodents. Motion is what attracts him – if the prey “freezes” for long enough, it may get away to live another day.

A successful hunt ends with the capture of the prey. Sharp teeth and claws put an end to the game.

Aggresive play

Why your cat gets aggressive when playing…

It may seem cute to let your kitten climb your legs, and pounce on your hands and feet. When your kitten grows to be a large cat, fully equipped with sharp teeth and claws, this kind of play can be dangerous.

Even if you use gloves and let your cat bite and scratch the gloves, she is still viewing YOU as PREY.  After all, your arms are connected to the rest of you!

Cat bites and scratches easily become infected. Make sure to clean any bites and scratches with plenty of soap and water. Seek medical attention for bites  and scratches that break the skin.

So, you feel your cat gets aggressive while playing.  What can you do when he wants to play rough?

  • Use toys that keep your hands and feet away from him.
  • Don’t play games that have you pretending to be prey – if you want your cat to run after you, drag a string along behind you so that the string, not you, is the focus of his attention. 

    cat with wand toy
    Zelda plays with a toy mouse on a wand toy.

What if your cat initiates “rough play”?

What is happening?

  • Stalking and attacking your legs and feet?
  • Wrestling and attacking your hands?
  • Stalking and pouncing on you or the kids?

When does it happen?

  • When you arrive home from work?
  • When you are working and not able to pay attention to your cat?

Where does it happen?

  • Does the behavior occur in a certain place in the house?


Some examples…

Your cat attacks your legs and feet when you come in the door from work.

  • Have a basket of toys on a table near the door.
  • Direct her attention to a wand toy or catnip mouse BEFORE she starts to attack you.
  • If your cat does manage to complete the pounce, FREEZE – don’t run away, she will “hunt” you

Your cat pounces on you when go through the hallway

  •  This often starts as playing “peek-a-boo” around the corner. It usually goes away on its own, but some more bored cats may make a game of it.
  • Have a cache of toys nearby  or some treats that you toss BEFORE you get to the corner to distract him.
  • Or have a laser pointer in your pocket if this behavior happens at different corners
  • If your cat does manage to complete the pounce, FREEZE.  Do not reward him by acting like a prey animal trying to get away.

Your cat attacks your arm and hands while you are on the sofa watching TV

  • Have a cache of toys on a table next to the sofa
  • If you can intercept your cat before he launches on to the sofa, toss a treat or toy and direct him to it with a laser pointer.
  • If he gets you in a “clawed” embrace, FREEZE.  By not moving,  he should lose interest in you.


A sturdy sheet of cardboard and long pants/sleeves, socks  and gloves can shield your legs, feet and hands during the “re-training” period. “Protective gear” will make staying still a bit easier.

Your cat gets aggressive when playing…Other things you can do.

 Keep your cat busy and happy.

  • Consider meal-feeding her with food puzzles – she can hunt for her food and not you!
  • Have a regular play time around the same time every day.
  • Set up a “safe place” for your cat to go when things are getting too stressful

Planning ahead – Set up a “Safe Place” for your cat

A safe place should be a place your cat feels secure
A safe place should have all her resources in it
It could be a spare room or hallway with the doors closed

Put your cat in her safe place

  • when you are working
  • when there is just too much going on
  • when she becomes overstimulated

Your cat is a superb hunter. Make sure that he does not view you, your hands or feet as prey.  Seek professional help if the simple strategies outlined here don’t work!



Cat with Oat Milk

I have been trying some plant-based milks. My most recent purchase was oat milk, fortified with other plant proteins, so that the protein content is similar to that of cow’s milk. While I was having cereal, I was mobbed by three of my cats who demanded a taste. All three liked the oat milk, and now recognize the jug, asking for more.

I am aware that oats can be in pet foods, so a taste of oat milk occasionally should not be a problem. Cats often like cow’s  milk but are lactose intolerant. Oat milk does not have lactose.

Was the plant milk appealing because of the added protein? This brand claimed to have the 9 essential amino acids that human adults need and as much protein as cow’s milk.

What amino acids do cats need? Could  plant based cat food be healthy with the right supplements?

Cats are what we call “obligate carnivores” -they evolved to eat meat, unlike dogs and humans who are omnivores (eat a combination of plant and animal foods).  Cats not only need protein from meat for repairing and building tissue and regulating their metabolism – they need protein to provide energy.

There are 20 amino acids that make up proteins. Human bodies  can make 11 of these 20 amino acids – the rest we have to get in food.

Amino acids that we must get from food are called essential amino acids.

Cats can synthesize 9 of the 20 amino acids. Their diet must provide the remaining 11: 9 essential amino acids that we humans require plus 2 additional ones: taurine, arginine.

What happens if a cat does not get Taurine and Arginine?

Not Enough Taurine…

  • blindness due to retinal degeneration
  • heart failure
  • reproductive issues
  • abnormalities in the central nervous system

Not enough Arginine…

  • high amounts of ammonia in the bloodstream
  • seizures and death
Cats need Taurine!
Taurine is a popular supplement in human energy drinks.

Sources of taurine and arginine in nature: animal tissues such as meat, fish and eggs!

What else do cats need to get in their food?  Niacin, vitamin A, and vitamin D – their bodies do not make these vitamins.

What if we supplement plant based cat food with taurine, arginine, vitamins…

Proteins can be found in plants as well as animal tissues (meat).  However, whereas animal tissues are “complete” and provide all the essential amino acids, plant sources are  not “complete”.  Taurine is not found in plants.

Now we arrive at the question of digestibility – sufficient amounts of the amino acids and vitamins must be digested from your cat’s food to be available to her body.

Plant based proteins are not as digestible as animal proteins. Plant protein has a different structure than animal protein and there are chemical compounds in plants that affect how well your cat’s digestive enzymes break down her food.

Recent research indicates that it is the “non-protein” part of whole grains that affects the digestibility of plant proteins. One finding in this 9 year study was that cats were able to digest appropriately processed plant proteins such as corn gluten as well as they digest chicken and fish proteins.

The Future of Cat Food

There is an ethical and economical drive to reduce the carbon footprint of companion animals and one way is to reduce their consumption of meats sourced from livestock bred for this purpose. Increasing the amount of plant protein in commercial cat food is the subject of current research.

There are some plant based cat foods already on the market.  However, I was not able to find ones that advertised having done AAFCO feeding trials. There are concerns about nutritional adequacy with these foods.  Personally, I am not ready to risk my “fur babies” on these foods yet.

I feel we will see more plant-based foods for our cats in the future. In the meantime, make sure your cat’s food has taurine, arginine, niacin, Vitamin A and Vitamin D in addition to plenty of “complete” protein.

Make sure to feed your cat a diet formulated for cats.  Dog food typically does not contain the taurine, arginine, niacin, and vitamin A required by cats.

Your cat’s carrier should be his castle. His carrier should be a place of safety and comfort, a little piece of home away from home. Cats are territorial and are attached to their territory.  When your cat travels, the stroller, backpack or carrier is part of his territory – it has his scent and is a “safe place” for him.

You may need different carriers depending on what you are doing.  Strollers and backpacks are more suited to walking or hiking with your cat. A kennel-style cat carrier is better for extended car travel and veterinary visits.

Cat in hard kennek
The top comes off this hard kennel, making it easy to load Gus in the carrier.

There are many kennel-style cat carriers that you can buy. Here are some tips when choosing a cat carrier that you plan to use for extended car travel or vet visits.

  • the carrier should be large enough for your cat to stand up and turn around.
  • it should have a rigid frame so that it does not collapse on your cat.
  • it should be easy to take apart or have more than one opening where you can easily remove your cat from the carrier
  • easy to clean
  • make your cat feel safe and secure – like a wildcat’s den

Tips for Choosing a Cat Carrier for Car Travel and Vet Visits…

Hard, plastic carriers

  • come in lots of sizes.
  • many have detachable tops which makes getting your cat in and out easy
  • they are easy to clean
  • can be covered with a blanket or towel to make your cat feel secure

Flexible, fabric carriers

  • attractive and are not as bulky as the hard plastic ones
  • some of these carriers tend to collapse in on your cat and are not as comfortable for him to stay in for longer periods of time
  • more difficult to clean than the hard, plastic kennels

Even if the carrier is rigid and has a top panel that zips open or unlatches, it can be difficult to put the cat in when he doesn’t volunteer to go in on his own. It can be hard to fit your cat and your hands through the top panels. Some fabric carriers have a zippered front and side mesh panels, making loading and unloading a bit easier.

Choosing a cat carrier that comes apart into two sections – a top and a bottom – can be really handy. If you need to get the cat out of the carrier, you can remove the top half and gently pick him up out of the bottom. You can put him back in the carrier in the same way. Your veterinarian can examine your cat in the bottom half of the carrier, where he feels safe. The bottom half can double as a basket to sleep in.

Fom the feline purrspective… being dragged bodily out of a place you are sheltering in is confusing and frightening. Be aware that a cat may feel threatened if you have to drag him out and may strike or even bite.

Choosing a Cat Carrier…Make your Cat’s Carrier His Castle



Leave the carrier out at home and let your cat nap and play in it. Place it in a “neutral” area – away from food and litter boxes.



Place a towel or blanket that has your cat’s smell in the carrier. Put some of his favorite toys and treats in the carrier.



You can also play games with your cat in and around the carrier. If your cat is fond of “treat toss” (tossing treats that kitty “hunts” down), make sure some treats go into the carrier during the game.



Start with short rides, maybe just around the block. Work up to longer rides to pleasant places – if you have a cat stroller you could work up to going for walks in the park. Remember, always move at your cat’s pace – if he is hunched and hiding, slow down and shorten the length of the ride until kitty is comfortable. Ask your vet about treating carsickness if your cat is prone to it.



Clean your cat’s carrier regularly. When you are finished, spray the carrier and the bedding inside with Feliway, a synthetic feline pheromone that tells your cat that this a safe place. Make sure to give enough time for the alcohol in the spray to dissipate before using the carrier – 20 minutes should do the trick!

A Cat in his carrier
Marley is “king of his castle”!

Car travel – where to put your cat’s carrier in the car

The Center for Pet Safety recommends placing your cat’s carrier behind the front passenger seat or driver seat.
Crash tests have shown that the seatbelt used to secure a carrier can actually crush it in an accident.
Unless the manufacturer can show you that the carrier survives a crash test buckled up, don’t use the seat belts with your cat’s carrier.