Feuding Felines – the Peace Mantra
Feline behavioural problems are common in multiple cat households. Many times cats are not well understood as dogs. But knowing some basics about cat culture can help pet parents solve many problems.
Some cats just don’t give peace a chance. It can be a difficult and frustrating situation living with feuding felines. Resolving their temperamental and behavioural problems may take some time and experimenting. Learning the different techniques that work may vary for each pet. However, there is always hope that they’ll be friendly with each other.
There are several reasons that cats might not get along.
- Under socialisation: The most common is under socialisation – lack of pleasant experiences with other cats during early age in life. If your cat grew up as the only cat, with little or no contact with other felines, he may react strongly when he is finally introduced to another cat. This can be because he’s afraid of the unknown, lacks feline social skills, or dislikes the disruption to his routine and environment.
- A newcomer: Cats prefer consistency over change. This is especially true if the change involves a newcomer to the cat’s well-established territory. Cats are highly territorial animals. Two unrelated males or two unrelated females might have a particularly hard time sharing space.
- Other factor: In some cases, the cats get along just fine, and then one of the cats reaches sexual maturity and trouble brews, social maturation might be the factor.
How to bring peace between feuding felines?
- Separate your cats for several days or weeks in different rooms, with different beds, bowls and litter boxes. This way, they can hear and smell each other, but they don’t have to interact with each other.
- Place their food bowls on opposite sides of a closed door. This will encourage them to be close together while they are doing something that makes them feel good.
- Each day, have the cats switch rooms so that they both experience some variation and get access to each other’s scents.
- After a few weeks, if both of your cats appear relaxed, crack the door open one inch. If they remain calm, open the door a bit more, then a bit more.
- Provide daily reintroduction sessions that gradually move the cats closer and closer together under supervision.
- If they show any signs of aggression, such as spitting, swatting, growling or hissing, separate them and gradually reintroduce them again.
- During these sessions, you might find it easier to control your cats with harnesses and leashes, or by confining one or both in crates.
- During the sessions, keep both the cats distracted with treats and toys. Start out with them being far apart.
- Keep the sessions short. Set them up for success.
- Separate them between reintroduction sessions to prevent reversion to aggression towards one another.
- Only when the cats can peacefully eat and play within a couple feet of each other should they be left alone together unsupervised. Trust them only for short periods of time in the beginning and increase their alone time gradually.
How to manage fighting cats?
Never let your cats ‘fight it out’. Cats don’t resolve their issues by fighting it out and the fighting usually just keeps getting worse and can lead to serious injuries.
- Interrupt aggression with a loud clap, splash of water, or swoosh from a can.
- Get your pets spayed and neutered to avoid behavioural problems.
- Give them each a separate stash of resources and reduce competition between them.
- Provide multiple, identical food bowls, beds, perches, scratching posts, and litter boxes in different areas of your house.
- Don’t try to soothe an aggressive cat. Just let her be and give her some space. If you come close at this time, she might turn and direct the aggression at you.
- Keep reward handy, and if you see them behaving in a friendly manner, toss treats as rewards.
- Also ask your vet about a synthetic calming pheromone. This is a product that mimics a natural cat odour, which humans can’t smell. It reduces tensions between cats. Use a diffuser while the aggression issue is being resolved.
All said and done, the fact is that some cats simply cannot coexist. Since chronic stress and tension isn’t healthy for people or pets, rather than forcing them to suffer years of stressful coexistence, it’s more humane to keep them permanently separated in the house, or to find them another loving family.
(Garima Singhal is a behaviourist, neurobiologist, school teacher and a long-term pet parent of her pooch Dobie).
Degrees of aggression
Maternal aggression: A female cat with litter may hiss, growl, chase, swat or try to bite another cat who approaches, even one with whom she was formerly friendly. This usually subsides once the kittens are weaned. Spaying and neutering your cats can help deal with this problem.
Playtime aggression: Kittens and young cats engage in rough, active play and all feline play consists of mock aggression. They stalk, chase, sneak, pounce, swat, kick, scratch, ambush, attack and bite each other, but they also know their boundaries, so it’s all in good fun. If they are playing, it is reciprocal. They change roles frequently and their ears are
forward and their bodies lean forward, not back. Their claws are mostly inside and even if they are out, they don’t do much damage.