If you have more than one cat at home, you may be all too familiar with cat fights. They can be incredibly stressful for both the animals and yourself as the pet parent. Not only do cats risk physical harm if they engage aggressively, but their overall stress levels will be elevated which can result in an unhappy home.
Ideally, you want your home to be a place of safety and relaxation for your animals, so it’s important to understand why your cats are fighting and how to employ long-term solutions to correct this.
Causes for Aggression
Cats are not pack animals and generally, like to be solitary. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have two or more cats coexist peacefully. It’s just that, there can sometimes be a hill to climb before this is accomplished.
When introducing a new cat into your home, it is not uncommon for the resident animals to feel threatened. Everything was their territory up to this point and now there’s a perceived intruder coming in.
This is why is it so important that “cat to cat” introductions are done at a very gradual pace; with sensitivities paid towards the comfort of each animal. However, failure to do so can result in unsightly skirmishes.
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 may 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 cats get too rough and begin clawing or biting their playmate, you, or random objects.
- The third is fear aggression. Cats can experience anxiety which triggers a reaction of fear, leading them to lash out at their owners or other pets. They 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 them can lead to behavior changes.
- Cats are creatures of habit. Generally, they dislike when patterns they’re familiar with disrupted. These include where they like to sleep and relax, where the food bowl and litter box are located, as well as mealtimes.
Cats have numerous scent glands, especially on their head and face. The act of “bunting” or “cheek rubs” is a very common display you might see in cats where they rub on objects, people or other cats. This can serve as both a signal to other cats of their 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. Separation First
You should never just bring new cats in and set them right in front of your cat. There should first be a period of physical separation between the animals.
Setting new cats up in a small room like a bedroom or bathroom with all their things and closing the door is perfectly fine and usually recommended in most situations. This way, any aggression will occur on opposite sides of a door where they can’t physically harm each other. It can also buy time before direct confrontations erupt and ill feelings may eventually subside.
Separation also allows you to slowly introduce the new cat to the space so that the feline is not overwhelmed by the huge new environment and to the possibly hostile resident cat. Similarly, a gradual introduction helps acclimate your resident cat to the new family member as well.
2. Scent Swapping
A useful tip is that you should introduce the cats to each other’s scents before they see each other. This helps them get used to the smell of one another.
This is especially beneficial for resident cats because it lets them know that this will be a new scent in their home from now on. You can do this by giving each cat a piece of bedding or a toy that the other has rubbed against or spent time with.
Furthermore, you should feed both cats near the separating door at the same time of day for some time before the introduction. This will result in them associating the smell of one another with feeding time which can have a positive association with the new cat.
3. Separate Resources
Another reason for kitty conflict is that cats are fighting over the resources. They can be very sensitive about their provisions, so you should ideally have separate food and water bowls for each animal.
In some cases, you may even want to try feeding them in different areas of your home if problems continue. This goes for litter boxes as well, as keeping each cat’s things in different areas reduces the chances that they will feel threatened or encroached upon.
Cats can be particularly picky about litter boxes and sometimes, one cat can bully another for control over the use of a box. This is again the reason why having multiple, separate boxes for each cat – preferably in an area where they like to hang out most – is the best practice.
Although we can’t perfectly control what toys our cats use or furniture they like to sleep on, at a minimum, try to ensure that there is enough of each item that your cats like that they can enjoy alone time apart from each other if they need to.
4. Provide More Room
In addition to conflicts over territory for things, the physical space that cats share can also be an antecedent to fighting. Although you can’t realistically provide more home for the cats, you can create space such that they can separate themselves if need be.
Adding more hiding spaces through the use of cat houses/trees or even boxes can help. You can also try adding new perches which are essentially just shelves or walkways for cats.
Cats love vertical spaces and so letting one escape up while the other is on the ground can reduce fighting. Also, similar to re-introduction, you might want to 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 playtime. They will learn that they can have fun with each other and there is a benefit to being nice.
Pheromones can be helpful in curbing unwanted stress-related behavior. Pheromones are naturally-occurring 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.
There are a number of products that have been available on the market for a while now such as Feliway which function as synthetic feline pheromones. Specifically, these pheromones mimic those produced by cats which indicate to other animals that they are not a threat.
Feliway comes in several forms, including an outlet plug-in diffuser and spray. Utilize these products in areas of the house that your kitties need to share like the litter box, feeding areas, and common furniture.
By spraying these around your home, they can help both cats feel better through a scent that almost says “It’s all good.”
6. Quality Time
Cats can get jealous of one another if they perceive inequity in terms of the attention that they are getting which can result in fighting. Therefore, it’s important to spend the same amount of quality time with each animal. It doesn’t even need to be the same activity.
If one of your cats love to play, consistent play sessions should be given. However, you should also give equal time to giving affection towards your other animal, even if it’s just cuddling in bed.
Even though you might consider using treats to reinforce desirable behaviors as part of training dogs only, cats can benefit from this as well!
Try giving treats or other positive rewards to your cats when they are together and calm. This will both reinforce non-aggressive behavior and also lead them to associate positive feelings with being near one another.
8. Fix Your Pets
Cats can also be territorial and sometimes a fight can break out due to disputes over space. This can especially be true for intact or unspayed/unneutered cats. Inter-cat aggression can be sexual in nature for male cats and both the female and male cats can show aggression based on territoriality.
They mark their “territories” 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.
Much of these are hormonally-regulated, so fixing your kitty can help significantly cut down on aggression and overall, make them more tolerant in handling the changes in their environment.
9. Medical Causes
If you employ all of the above recommendations and still find that the conflict is escalating between your cats, especially if one cat seems to be the instigator, it is possible that a medical issue could be at fault.
Sometimes cats may act out if they aren’t feeling well, which makes sense. In this case, you would likely see aggression towards people as well. Therefore, getting them in to see a vet right away is the best course of action.
There are also a surprising number of pretty severe conditions that can result in increased aggressive behavior including toxoplasmosis, hyperthyroidism, arthritis, and dental disease.
10. Professional Help
Lastly, if all else fails, you can always seek professional help. There are licensed cat behaviorists who can visit your home and observe what’s going on.
Once they get an understanding of the personalities of your pets and how they live and interact with each other and other people in the home, they can start making a plan to undo and rectify sources of conflict.
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 that 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. They 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 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 they show signs of decreased appetite and lowered activity following a fight, especially for more than one day, it’s important to have them checked out by your vet to see if they might have a wound that needs treatment.