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Feline Housemate Aggression

Aggression Between Adult Cats

Cats fight among themselves for a variety of reasons including fighting over territory or a female in heat. The initial cause may be something as simple as a visit outside the home (like to the groomer or veterinary office), a tail accidently shut in a door, or a new pet in the household.  NOTE: If allowed to roam, all cats are at much higher risk for disease and fight injuries than neutered cats. In some cases, the cats will never get along, and must be permanently separated. However, in most cases it is recommended to keep cats 100% indoors, and follow some simple guidelines to keep the number of cats down, and the positive social interaction up.

In multiple cat households, cats may fight if resources are limited.  Resources include food, water, scratching posts, beds, litterboxes and human attention.  Up the resources to lower the aggression.

Protocol To Reduce Fighting Between Housemate Cats

  • Have both cats fully checked for minor irritating medical conditions.
  • Neuter all pets involved in aggression to remove any hormonal component.
  • If the aggression involves cats who have lived together for 1 month or longer, then isolate the aggressor cat (lower its status). Do this even if there are times that the cats get along fine. Before any fight, the aggressor cat typically "stares" at the other cat, who moves away.
  • Allow time for the aggressor to "chill" in isolation. Try for a darkened room when not in use to cause an aggressively aroused cat to calm down. For some animals this can take days.
  • Begin feeding cats meals twice a day, and don't leave any food down between meals.
  • Feed both cats meals, on either side of closed door.
  • Once all cats are eating easily and relaxed, allow sight but no contact. If body muscle tone of both cats is relaxed, proceed to the next step.
  • Confine each in its own wire front kennel, and place them several feet apart for dinner. Now they can see each other as well as hear and smell, but still cannot touch. If they show any tenseness or twitching, turn the boxes or move them further away. If they are relaxed, move them closer and closer. Tenseness may vary meal to meal. Just follow what the tenseness dictates for that meal.
  • If you can only use one portable kennel, place it up on a table, so the new cat can look down on the former aggressor or other cats.
  • When the two target cats are ignoring each other, allow short periods where the previously confined cat has free access to other cats (e.g. 10 minutes).
  • Dab a spot of a food flavor on the cat, for positive association. Do this just before feeding. Then feed in same room but at a distance. Gradually lower this distance daily, but continue to separate the cats when not supervised.
Blood work, urinalysis and fecal exams are indicated to completely rule out a physical irritation before starting behavior modification.
  • If fights occur during supervision, shoo away aggressor, then separate and go more slowly. Ignore minor squabbles. If really fighting, isolate and restart the protocol.
  • If allowed free together and no sign of aggression, Begin "cross lap petting." Two known people sit on a couch, each with one cat on their lap. For safety, it is recommended that each person have a large towel on their lap, which they can use to wrap up a cat who becomes aggressively aroused. Each person pets the cat on the OTHER person's lap, then back to their own. (Distributing scent and affection.)
  • At all times, act jolly and relaxed around the cats so they don't pick up stress, anger or anxiety from you. Praise and give food treats while acting relaxed and friendly toward each other.
  • At least initially, provide one litterbox per cat plus one extra. Remove unused boxes after 2 weeks of non-use.
  • Use medication as a last alternative. The goal is transient use during behavior modification, to help make it go smoothly. One altercation due to going too fast can set the entire process back by weeks. The medication recommended has few side effects and does not cause sedation when dosed properly.

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