What Do You Do With Jealous Pets?


A year ago, the only pets in my house were Otto and my ancient cat, Shadow; she passed away last summer, in the middle of an invasion of new pets. A niece’s dog, a Chihuahua we call Tito has come to live with us indefinitely, and we kept the last two kittens of a litter we rescued from abandonment by a former neighbor. So, now there are two adolescent cats and two dogs fighting for petting and lap time.

It started out slowly. It used to be that Otto was the only one who wanted much physical affection. Shadow never liked being picked up, and was one of those cats who liked being near people more than being touched by them. Tito was very withdrawn and handshy when he first came here; he was uncomfortable being picked up and ducked away from petting – but now he craves petting and likes curling up in my lap as I watch TV or read. The kittens used to be more interested in playing than being petted. But as they’ve matured, they now demand face rubs and time in my lap, too.

The effect all of this competition for my affection on Otto? He now responds avidly to my calls to ANY animal in the house, or even just the tone of voice I might be using to address an animal. If I say, “Tito, sit!” — Otto comes running and plants himself between Tito and me, as if to say, “I know how to sit on cue!”  If I call “Kittens!” — Otto comes running. And because he’s much bigger than the rest (who are all about 10 pounds) he stomps right up and puts his big head in my lap, wagging his tail in everyone else’s faces. It’s gotten extremely difficult to spend even a moment of time snuggling with any other animal without Otto asking for his share of attention and affection right then.

I try to give him plenty of “just us” time – and strive to frequently call his name and reinforce his quick response with lots of attention. I also try to spend some of my time petting the cats when they are inside and Otto is outside, or vice versa. And I try to not reinforce him with attention when he pushes in for attention that I’m trying to give another pet; I try to just ignore him at that moment, and later, give him individual attention. But frankly, I also find myself saying, “Otto, get back! Otto, off!” more than I should – like when I’m just trying to bend down to pick up a cat or snap the leash onto Tito’s collar.

I’m pretty sure it’s just a phase, and it will pass. But I’m curious: What do you do with a jealous pet?