When your cat is faced with a more powerful aggressor, he will probably submit immediately rather than return aggression with aggression and spoil for a fight. The cat will communicate his submission to the other cat through posture. This is a rather pathetic, cringing posture close to the ground, with the tail thumping the ground, and is the equivalent to wearing a brightly coloured sign round the neck that says ‘I give in’.
A cat that is confronted by a much stronger rival will quickly recognise the fact that he is defeated. He will convey his acceptance of the situation through a characteristic posture.
Cats have a strict hierarchical arrangement which determines various ranks and levels of authority. In general, the hierarchy is according to strength, with the roughest and toughest being at the top. The top cats display aggressive behaviour – making themselves look large and strong – to establish their position.
Q. My cat seems to adopt a submissive posture when he knows he’s been naughty and I’m cross with him. Is this possible?
Yes. Cats have been domesticated to such an extent that we have become an important part of their social structure. They are as just likely to display ritualised social signals to us as they are to other cats – putting us in the pecking order too.
As in so much cat behaviour, postures speak louder than miaows. When a cat meets an enemy which is either too big to fight, or which has already established its dominance, the threatened cat will indicate submission by using a complex display of body language in order to tell the opponent that he is not prepared to accept its challenge.
The submissive animal will communicate its pacifist intentions by means of posture. The cat adopts a crouching submissive posture close to the ground and dilates his pupils wide open to their maximum.
The head will be lowered and both the whiskers and the ears flattened sideways across the head. The fur will also be flattened close to the skin, with the tail held low, thumping the ground. His mouth may either be open and silent, or half open and emitting a pitiful distress call.
Why does a cat take up this position, and what does he hope to achieve in a submissive posture? EXPLAINING THE POSITION Animal psychologists believe that the intention of submissive behaviour of this kind is to appease an aggressor and to deter any potential attack, in the hope that the aggressor will withdraw. The crouched position, flattened fur and pinned-back ears all make the cat look smaller and less threatening.
If, however, the aggressor advances, a submissive cat will roll on his back, one paw raised in case defence is necessary.
Each cat possesses its territory, according to its place in the local pecking order. Females and neutered males have only a small piece of territory – though they’ll fight just as hard to protect it – while a big tom will probably have a much larger area to his name.
Unlike many other animals, such as monkeys or deer, dominant tomcats don’t own a large harem of queens. The queens choose their own mates, often irrespective of their place in the local hierarchy.
Most cats have a system of communal’ pathways between their individual territories, with a recognised highway code – rights of way, communal meeting places, no-go areas, etc – that they all adhere to.