All About Cats

Aggression Amongst Cats

Several factors come into play when determining the cause of aggression between cats. Identifying the cause is necessary to determine whether the aggression is problematic or simply normal kitty behavior. This also helps in selecting the most appropriate means of addressing any behavior problem. Common factors may include whether a cat has been spayed or neutered, differences in age and gender, and even side effects from medication. No matter the cause, however, it is most important to stay calm and remember that your cats' behaviors are also their means of expression. Read on for strategies you can use to help make life more comfortable for your and your furry friends.

Spaying/Neutering: My un-fixed (or recently fixed) kitty is behaving aggressively.

If your cat is not spayed or neutered, behavior problems can arise. The best way to prevent aggression is to have this safe, routine procedure performed at an appropriate age. This generally reduces aggressive behaviors, bad temperaments, litter box problems, and the risk of running away, as well as the potential for unintended pregnancies.

Should aggressive behavior prove troublesome before your kitty is ready for his or her procedure, it is best to keep the cats separated. This may involve confinement, but it is only temporary and will allow the cats some relief until the procedure is performed.

Once spayed or neutered, keep in mind that it may take up to one month after the surgery for the cat to exhibit appropriate behavior. Also note that cats spayed or neutered after 1-2 years of age may continue aggressive behavior. In this case, read on for ideas on how best to address this problem.

A note on spaying and neutering: Some cat lovers may have reservations about having their companions spayed or neutered due to health risks, cost, or the cats' "right" to reproduce. While these are legitimate concerns, keep in mind that spaying or neutering your feline friend can actually save his or her life. Spaying female cats reduces their risk of uterine, ovarian, and breast cancer. Neutering male cats reduces their risk of testicular cancer and prostate disease.

In addition, because pet overpopulation is a problem both here in St. Louis and around the world, this procedure helps ensure the well-being of all pets by reducing the number of homeless and unwanted animals. Cats do not have a sense of their ability to reproduce, and spaying or neutering does not make cats feel less feminine or masculine.

Concerning cost, there are now many great organizations that offer spaying and neutering services for little to no cost. For resources, click here.

Spaying or neutering your cat is an extremely common, routine surgery with little or no risk to your cat and great benefit to everyone. Because the benefits are so great for you and your feline friend, please consider having your cat (and other furry friends) spayed or neutered!

Introductions: My cat is aggressive toward our newest feline addition to the family.

Multi-cat households soon learn that an appropriate introductory process is much needed when welcoming a new cat to the family. If your kitties have lived together for less than six months, even if an introductory process was initially used, it may be beneficial to try again. Allow this process to occur at a pace that is comfortable for the cats, encouraging them to take their time to feel comfortable with one another. For more information on the process, click here.

Even if your cats have lived together for more than six months, it may be beneficial to try a re-introduction process. This is similar to the initial introduction but prolongs the process. For information on how to re-introduce your cats, click here. (same link as above)

Hierarchical Aggression: My cat wants to be the boss.

Some level of aggression occurs between cats when they establish and maintain hierarchies in households. This is completely normal behavior, which is marked by such actions as swatting on the head, hissing, growling, posturing, and even light combat.

The best thing to do in this situation is to allow this process to continue so a hierarchy may be established and maintained. Interfering with this process may reinforce or worsen bad behaviors. For instance, the less aggressive cat may not learn to stand up for himself/herself, which will make the aggression worse. If this behavior escalates, simply break the cats' sight of one another using an object and gently scoot one cat away.

You may also use "time-outs" by placing one cat in a separate room with no food, treats or toys. Be calm when placing your cat in time-out as cats quickly pick up on negative and heightened emotions. Keep the cats separated for 10-15 minutes. If the aggressive behavior resumes after the time-out, repeat the process for 20-30 minutes. Continue increasing time-out time until the behavior ceases.

Certain aggressive behavior may escalate. Watch for the following behaviors: fighting involving hair flying, rolling on the ground, snarling or screaming; changes in health or eating and/or litter box habits; victim continually hiding; or aggressor urinating on victim. These are not normal hierarchical aggression behaviors and require further attention. Read on for more solutions.

Territorial Aggression: My cat exhibits aggressive behavior in certain places.

Though cats may tolerate their feline roommates throughout most of the house, they may still exhibit territorial behavior by preferring their own spaces for eating, sleeping and elimination. Make sure your cats have plenty of space, especially in disputed territories. Provide them each with their own litter box and food/water bowl. You may also feed them in separate rooms.

To give the cats positive associations with one another, try using positive distractions such as stick-toys and interactive play. You can do this when you notice the cats' body language indicating a potential dispute (posturing, hair raising, ears laid flat, dilated pupils, et.c). Also, pay attention to the time of day when and places where territorial disputes usually occur, and use positive distraction in these places and at these times. Do this instead of yelling, which will only increase negative associations between the cats.

You may also consider using Feliway room diffusers or Rescue Remedy (contact Tenth Life for guidelines on using Rescue Remedy) to calm your kitties. Another effective means of positive distraction is to toss treats in different directions (so they don't go to the same area).

Boredom/Loneliness: My cats exhibit aggressive behavior when I'm not home.

If aggressive behavior tends to happen when you're away from home, separate the cats while you're gone. Give each cat his or her own comfortable space that includes food, water, and litter. This should feel comfortable and positive for your kitties, which can be achieved by providing lots of toys or turning on the TV or radio. Make sure this doesn't feel like a time-out!

Surprise Attacks: My cat attacks my other cat when she/he is eating or using the litter box.

Surprise attacks by the aggressor when the victim is eating or using the litter box can lead to behavioral problems in which the victim refuses to eat or use the litter box. Therefore, these behaviors must be addressed immediately.

If the aggressive cat is attacking the victim while eating, determine how severe the behavior is. If the aggressive cat is merely pestering the other cat, it is best to let them sort it out. Shooing the aggressive cat encourages play-prey behavior, which becomes a game. If the pestering is too disruptive, calmly place the aggressive cat in a time-out.

If the aggressive cat is actually attacking the victim while eating, calmly put the aggressor in a time-out. If you leave food out at all times, find a spot that only the victim can use. If you feed only at meals, feed the cats in separate rooms.

Similarly, if the aggressor is attacking the victim while s/he is using the litter box, consider placing the box in a "safe place" for the victim. Otherwise, it can lead to inappropriate elimination.

I have tried everything and my cats still don't get along! What can I do?

If you have tried addressing your cats' behaviors and not succeeded in resolving the problem, keep in mind that some cats simply won't get along. However, don't give up! If you are attempting to re-introduce your cats, remember that this process can take up to six months, sometimes longer.

In the event that a re-introduction or other solutions have not worked, you may want to create a permanent divided territory. In this situation, you can isolate one cat in a comfortable room equipped with food, water, toys, litter, and a source of stimulation (TV, radio, window seat, etc.). While this cat is isolated, the other cat may roam freely. The next day, switch the cats so the previously isolated cat may roam while the other may relax in the special room.

Eventually, you may be able to reintroduce the cats. By switching the cats in the room, they are able to sniff each other and get used to one another indirectly. If you do try to reintroduce them, be patient! Allow them to grow comfortable with one another at their own pace.

You can always contact our behavior counselors by calling 314-808-2454 or emailing them.