According to pet parents, one of the more common cat behavioral problems is
aggression between cats in a multi-cat household. The source of the explosive
behavior could be due to any of several reasons, including incompatible
personalities, territorial competition or overcrowding. Cats normally establish
a hierarchy among themselves, but the tricky thing is it can be fairly
unpredictable and can change suddenly: cats that have gotten along for a long
time may experience an abrupt falling out, leaving pet parents mystified.
If this happens, try to determine if there has been a change in the household,
such as visitors, renovations, a new baby, going on vacation, you having an
illness, a change in your routine, etc. All of these seemingly inconsequential
changes are stressful to your feline and can have profound effects on their
behavior. Aggression following a separation between your cats, such as after a
cat returns home from a visit to the veterinarian, can cause non-recognition
aggression. Redirected aggression can be caused when one cat is startled by an
external stimulus, such as seeing an intruding outdoor cat through a window,
and attacks the other as a result of agitation. Most of these situations can be
remedied by separating the cats with time to cool down followed by a gradual
reintroduction to each other paired with positive experiences and things that
will provide pleasure, such as affection, toys, catnip and/or treats. Before
reintroducing your cats, dab a spot of cologne or dust a light layer of a
scented dusting powder on them. This helps because all of the cats have similar
The best thing to do with cats is to try and reduce stress and aggression before
things really escalate. Here are four tips on how to keep cat fights from
happening in the first place:
1. Provide Sanctuary for Each Cat
Many times, cats quibble over territory. Most cats prefer a little place to call
their own, so find out where each cat likes to spend the bulk of time and make
it a safe haven with a cat bed, some food and water, maybe a scratching post or
cat tree and, if possible, a litterbox.
2. Practice No Reaction to Cat Quibbles
If your felines are having a hard time getting along, it is very important for
you to keep your body language and tone of voice relaxed and playful. Keep it
light and say something like, “Come on silly kitties. Be sweet!” A soothing
response on your part can help defuse the situation.
3. Distraction Works Wonders
If your cats are hissing and tense, try distracting them with a toy, such as a
laser pointer or a fishing pole. You can also toss treats or catnip near the
kitties and speak in a relaxed tone - the key is to provide something
distracting and enjoyable for the kitties. Do this as often as possible - the
more positive time cats spend together, the better.
4. Feline Facial Pheromones
There are a number of products on the market that copy a cat’s facial pheromone
and create familiarity in the cat’s surrounding, and they can help crabby cats
during stressful situations. They are available as a plug-in or a spray.
How long it will take for these methods to reduce fighting and tension in your
multi-cat household depends on several factors, including the size of the
meltdown and how long the problem has been going on. For severe cases, there are
medications available to help your cat cope, so talk to your family veterinarian
to find the method that works best for your cat.
What do you do if you witness an actual cat fight between your beloved felines?
The most important thing to remember is never attempt to breakup the fight by
handling the cats. In the ruckus, one or both of your cats can injure you with
painful bites or deep scratches which can become infected and require
antibiotics, sutures or surgery, or lead to a condition called Cat Scratch
Cats are quick and powerful and in a cat fight, seconds count. To break up the
fight, try tossing a jacket or blanket on top of them, or throw a soft pillow in
their direction. Striking a section of rolled-up newspaper against something
also works, as the sudden sound startles them. If you have a history of cat
fights in your home, you should keep a stash of newspaper available. As a last
resort, sprinkling them with water will always break up a fight.
As soon as they are separated, close them in separate rooms to allow them to
cool down. Once they are calm, gently assess them for signs of bleeding or
swelling. Approach them slowly and speak in a soothing manner. It is also
important to examine your cats for two days following the fight as well, as
abscesses can develop 24-48 hours after the fight. If you find any wounds, call
your family veterinarian.
My sincere hope is that by following some of these suggestions, cooler heads
will prevail in your multi-cat household.
Thank you so much for all you do to make the world a better
place for companion animals.
Dr. Jane Bicks
Note: If you missed the first post on Feline Aggression, you can read it here.