Resource Guarding — Why Some Cats Can’t Share

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Resource guarding is fairly common in multi-cat households, and most people have experienced it with their cats. Yet in our cat behavior practice, we have found that many people don’t know the term for it, nor what causes it to happen, let alone what to do about it.

Why it happens

Cats who have spent a great deal of time homeless or in shelters, especially those who have been deprived of food in the past, are most likely to resource guard. This behavior usually happens when there is a perceived lack of resources for the cats, even if there are plenty. Usually there is also an underlying stress component that triggers this type of behavior. Often, we will see it happen by the resident cat when another cat enters the household. A new cat may also exhibit guarding if he has come from a situation of abandonment or lack of food and water. Feline insecurity can also cause your cat to feel stressed by any household changes, such as new people entering (new spouse or roommate) or by people leaving the household (divorce, kids leaving for college). One of my cats, Smoochy, is very protective of her time with me. If any other cats try to come near me when Smoochy is on my lap, she will swat at them. Before swatting, she will growl and often “bark” at the other cat. When she’s on my lap, the other cats know to stay away until she leaves. When she does try to bully the other cats, I simply set her down on the floor and walk away. She’s learning that her guarding of my lap equals removal of my attention, so she’s getting better about sharing me.

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