If this behavior happens out in a free-range environment with intact cats, or if we see it on a nature program, it’s something we understand as normal animal behavior. However, when it’s a neutered male cat attempting to mount a female or even another male in the household, it causes concern for many cat parents. Even more upsetting for cat parents is when the family cat decides to start humping Aunt Ethel’s leg when she’s visiting for the holiday.
Some Reasons for Mounting Behavior in Neutered Cats
For most cats, this type of behavior stops after being neutered. The behavior may not stop immediately after castration surgery though. It may take weeks and in some cases, months or even years. After being neutered, there is a dramatic reduction in testosterone levels but the hormone is still present just as a reduced level of progesterone will still exist in the system of the female cat.
Even after being neutered, the male may become stimulated enough to try to mount a nearby female cat in heat due to her scent. A neutered male can even display mounting behavior toward a spayed female. Veterinary behaviorist, Nicholas Dodman, has suggested this may have something to do with the fact that the female doesn’t smell like a male. Since intact males can detect the odor of a female in heat from a distance, the fact that the female, although not giving off the scent of being in heat, may have enough of a scent to trigger the male.
Cats neutered at an older age may be more likely to engage in mounting behavior as well.
Mounting behavior in neutered cats can also be an attempt at reinforcing status.
If you allow your neutered cat outdoors he may encounter an unspayed female and her scent may be enough to trigger the behavior.
Some cats display the behavior toward objects such as pillows or toys, and then there are also the embarrassing situations where the cat humps a human’s leg. This behavior may be an indication that the cat requires more attention and constructive outlets for his energy.
How to Reduce the Unwanted Behavior
Neuter. If cats aren’t neutered or spayed, obviously that step should top the list. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you just have to neuter the males without spaying females. It’s not just about eliminating the risk of pregnancy, it’s about reducing stress and creating an environment for healthy behavior.
Never punish. Never punish a cat for exhibiting mounting behavior because it’ll only elevate stress levels. A cat who is attempting to mount due to social stress in the environment will only feel even more anxiety if physically or verbally punished.
Increase vertical territory. Increase your cat’s sense of territorial security by expanding vertical territory. This can be done by way of cat trees, window perches, elevated walkways and elevated beds. Vertical territory allows the cats to more peacefully establish and maintain status. Claiming a top elevated spot is an important factor in status.
Provide scratching posts. Scratching serves many purposes for a cat and one them is to mark territory. This can also help in communicating status. It also serves as a displacement behavior to help relieve stress.
Resource availability. Provide multiple resources in multiple locations to prevent competition and jockeying for prime position. This means more than one feeding station, more litter boxes than cats, and plenty of napping, hiding and personal space options.
Introduce new cats carefully. The addition of a new cat may trigger the behavior. To reduce the chances of this, do a gradual, positive new cat introduction.
Increase the fun factor. Increase physical and mental activity to give your cat beneficial outlets for his energy. Engage in interactive play sessions at least twice a day.
Other ways to occupy your cat’s time in a fun way is to set out puzzle feeders. This provides your cat with the opportunity to work for food rewards.
Work to improve relationships. In addition to the above suggestions, pay attention to the specific dynamics between cats so you can help them co-exist peacefully. This may just involve making environmental adjustments as mentioned above, or you may have to separate them and do a reintroduction.
Pay Attention to Warning Signs
Pay attention to the body language signs indicating your cat may be about to engage in the behavior. This way you can provide more appropriate alternatives for his energy. Stash some interactive toys in each room so you can conveniently access one if you need to refocus your cat. Even tossing a fuzzy mouse, ping pong ball or other little toy may be enough to redirect him. Try to distract your cat before he engages in the behavior.
When petting your cat, watch for signs that he might be starting to get too stimulated. Your cat may have certain areas of the body that over-stimulate him when petted so stick to the spots that appear to cause relaxation. If he gets over-stimulated due to the length of time you pet him, be mindful of that so you can end well in advance of it.
Need More Help?
If you’re unable to improve the behavior and you need help, talk to your veterinarian about a referral to a qualified, professional behavior expert such as a veterinary behaviorist, certified applied animal behaviorist or an IAABC-certified cat behavior consultant.
For more information on cat behavior and training, refer to the books by best-selling author, Pam Johnson-Bennett. Pam’s books are available at Amazon and other online retailers, in bookstores everywhere, and also here on our website.
Pam is unable to respond to comments. If you have a questions about your cat’s behavior you can find many answers in the articles on this site and in Pam’s books. If you have questions or concerns about your cat’s health, contact your veterinarian. This article in not intended as a replacement for your cat’s veterinary care.