Owning multiple cats can be a real joy but can also be frustrating at times. Cats are very complex creatures and putting more than one together, even littermates, can lead to complicated social structures. This can lead to tension, stress, and even fighting. And like all animals (and people) cats sometimes just don’t know how to play nice.
Skirmishes among felines can be dangerous both to the cats involved, as well as any innocent bystander caught in the middle of the frenzy. While dogs typically use only their teeth (which are formidable on their own) cats can use their teeth and sharp nails on all four feet to inflict injury. Any cat scratches or cat bites can lead to serious infections in some cases.
In the home, while it’s best to never allow cats to “fight it out” since fighting can escalate and lead to injury for one or both kitties, it’s important not to get hurt yourself. That’s why finding preventative solutions can be really beneficial.
In this article, we’ll review some causes for feline aggression as well as some potential solutions.
Causes for Aggression
There are three types of aggression that can cause your kitties to go haywire:
- The first is redirected aggression. A cat may experience an emotion such as frustration, fear, or arousal and redirect those feelings to an object, a person, or another animal nearby. Perfect examples include when a cat hisses and swats after being rudely spooked while sleeping, or when your cat sees the neighbor’s cat outside and attacks a housemate out of arousal and frustration.
- The second type is play aggression. This occurs during playtime when a kitty gets too rough and begins clawing or biting her playmate, you, or random objects.
- The third and last type is fear aggression. A cat can experience anxiety which triggers a reaction of fear, leading him to lash out at his owners or other pets. Cats have good memory retention and may associate what seems like a normal situation with one that was traumatizing in the past.
Besides the three types of aggression, there are other external factors that can influence your cats and cause them to become combative:
- Adding or removing a member to or from a cat’s social group can be enough to stimulate aggression. It may not seem like it at times, but cats have very complex social structures and behavior. Disrupting it can lead to behavior changes.
- Cats are creatures of habit. Generally, they dislike when patterns they’re familiar with are disrupted. This includes where they like to sleep and relax, where the food bowl and litter box are located, as well as mealtimes.
Cats can also be territorial and sometimes a fight can break out due to disputes over space. This can especially be true of intact, or not spayed/neutered cats. They mark their “territory” by patrolling an area, using a combination of urine marking and scenting to inform other cats of their presence. Some very sneaky cats will actually lure others into their territory and then “discipline” them for trespassing.
Cats have numerous scent glands, especially on their head and face. The act of “bunting” or “cheek rubs” is a very common display your might see in your kitty where he rubs on objects, people, or other cats. This can serve as both a signal to other cats of his presence and perceived territory, but can also ironically be a sign of affection.
Cats mostly use verbal and silent communication techniques during aggressive confrontations. In most cases, they don’t deliberately attack with the intention to hurt. Instead, they use challenging stares, intimidating body positions, vocalizations such as hissing and growling or blocking access to sources of food, attention or play, just to let others know that they mean business.
So How Do You Stop The Catfights?
Thankfully, there are actions you can take that will hopefully get your cats to lay down their claws and raise the white flag. But first and foremost, be very careful intervening in an active fight to ensure you do not get hurt.
1. Spray Distraction
When attempting to break up a group of brawling cats, try using an aerosol’s hiss to grab their attention. A water-sprayer can also serve as a safe and harmless interruption. Once they give up their pursuit, allow all parties to calm down in separate areas of the house, then reinforce good behavior with a treat, toy, or your attention.
2. Chemical Warfare
Pheromones can be helpful in curbing unwanted stress-related behavior. Pheromones are naturally occuring chemicals produced by the body to produce a certain emotional response. They are odorless and can only be perceived by other cats. Feline calming pheromones can be really beneficial for multiple cat households to reduce stress-related behaviors.
Commercially available pheromones, like the product Feliway come in several forms including an outlet plug-in diffuser and spray. Utilize these products in areas of the house your kitties need to share, like the litter box, feeding areas, and common furniture.
3. Don’t Be an Enabler
Avoid giving rewards for bad behavior. If you notice a particular situation where one cat is picking on another, redirect the aggressor’s attention by flashing a toy (don’t give it to them afterward!).
Be careful about giving food or special attention to aggressive cats as they might take it as a prize for a job well done; which is definitely not what you want.
4. Gimme Some Space
Having separate areas for each cat can reduce fighting over toys or attention. Try giving each cat her own play area, toys, and cat trees or scratching posts. By having their own private playthings, cats are less likely to start conflicts.
Although we can’t perfectly control what toys our cats use or furniture they like to sleep on, at a minimum try to ensure there is enough of each item your cats like that they can enjoy alone time apart from each other if they need to.
5. Paw-sitive Pills
Medication can be a nice means of supplementing other training methods if you haven’t been having much success with behavior modification alone. Certain antianxiety and antidepressant medications can help reduce aggressive behavior as well as stress-related urine marking.
Not all cats with behavior concerns need to be on medication, so it’s best to consult with your veterinarian to see if medication might be helpful as part of a comprehensive plan and which medication to start with.
6. Electronic Cat Door
In some cases, a cat that is sick or who is in his senior years can be bullied by other cats in the home. This poor kitty may slink around catching cold stares. A special cat door that allows this kitty private access to his own space of the house can be helpful to reduce his stress.
It works by using a magnetic “key” of sorts, located inside a special collar. When linked with a special cat door you install into your regular door for the basement, a certain bedroom or other area of the house, the bullied cat can then have free access while the aggressors will be unable to follow.
7. New Beginnings
It doesn’t always work, but you can try treating aggressive cats as if they are new pets. Let the beleaguered cat choose where to stay, put the bully cat in a different location, and then make an “introduction” by letting them meet in a communal room such as a hallway or living room. Gradual “reintroduction” over 1-2 weeks can sometimes be the clean slate you needed.
8. Separate Them in Shared Areas
Similar to re-introduction, you might try allowing your cats to play and interact separately, but in a space where they can see each other. Try communal areas where your cats will inevitably meet and create a controlled environment by using a leash, harness, or by placing them in separate cat carriers. They will be exposed to one another but unable to get near enough to exert their aggression.
You can reward them both with treats or play time. They will learn that they can have fun with each other and there is a benefit to being nice. And as mentioned earlier, consider using calming feline pheromone products in common areas as an extra aid.
9. Sickness Tantrums
While most times aggressive behavior in cats is just that–behavior, a kitty might sometimes act confrontational if she’s not feeling well. Cats can hide signs of illness well for long periods of time and sometimes a change in behavior is the only clue that something’s wrong. This is why if you do notice new behavior changes in your cat, it’s important to take a trip to the vet for your kitty to be examined and have a discussion about the possibility of an underlying medical condition.
Most importantly, don’t get frustrated if you’ve tried these methods and haven’t been seeing any immediate results. Cats can certainly be very stubborn and sometimes it might feel like you have two humans who have been forced to live under the same roof.
Some cats may simply need to live separately. If you have a large enough living space, one cat might be content to live downstairs while the other lives upstairs. If this seems to be the only method that will work, just make sure each cat has an equal supply of food, water, and environmental stimulation like toys and scratching posts. And of course, make sure you provide them as much as possible with the same attention if they desire it.
If you do feel extremely frustrated or don’t feel that more simple methods are going to cut it, talk to your veterinarian. He or she may have some tips you haven’t thought of, and can also refer your kitty to a veterinary behavioral specialist if indicated.
Lastly, always make sure to stay safe yourself during times of feline confrontation. Cat bites can be very serious and often require prompt medical attention. Cat scratches are often less serious for most people, but if you develop signs of a fever or illness after getting scratched, make sure to be examined by your physician.
LIkewise, cats can injure each other during fights. If your kitty shows signs of decreased appetite and lowered activity following a fight, especially for more than one day, it’s important to have her checked out by your vet to see if she might have a wound that needs treatment.