Behavior Issues in the Multi-cat Household Blog: Part 3

A lot of people will argue that having two cats is better than one. They can be a source of much joy, laughter, fun and love. Most cats are social and enjoy the company of other cats, but not all companion cats are going to get along 100% of the time. Perhaps those who used to get along suddenly decide to engage in a turf war. Or perhaps the ongoing tension between your furry felines takes a sharp turn to outright hostility and aggression. What’s a cat parent to do? Number one, it’s important for you to find the cause of aggression. It may be surprising to some cat owners that while there may be no overt signs of aggression, they’ve been missing the subtle indications that their cats aren’t getting along. Aggression that is sudden and uncharacteristic may be caused by an underlying medical condition, such as pain or arthritis, which would need to be treated. Your cat should be examined by a veterinarian should this be the case. If your cats have gotten along previously but suddenly become enemies then redirected aggression may be a possible cause. If you are experiencing redirected aggression or aggression for no apparent reason you should make some changes to your cats’ environment so that it inspires security as well as provides behavior modification. First, you should completely separate your cats for a couple of days so they do not see each other at all. You can alternate which cat is confined so no one feels that they are being punished. As discussed in the previous blog, you should provide each cat with its own food, litter box, bedding and toys because sharing isn’t always a good thing when it comes to cats. Then use positive reinforcement and have the cats join each other for a few minutes. In other words, provide opportunities for good things to happen when they’re in the presence of each other. Maybe give them a special treat or a favorite toy to motivate them. Afterwards, separate them behind solid doors immediately again to prevent any additional experiences they have being aggressive with each other. If positive reinforcement reintroduction is not successful after a few days it is best to contact your veterinarian or a certified cat behavior consultant. They may suggest using playtime as a behavior modification tool by conducting individual interactive therapy play sessions so each cat can focus on being the hunter and can enjoy the game without worrying about the other cat. Clicker training your cats is another valuable tool that can be used when two cats are not getting along. It involves the sound of a little sound-generating device that makes a cricket-type noise when you press it with your finger. The sound of the clicker marks the behavior you want from your cat. By pairing the sound of the clicker with a food reward, for example, the cat will learn to associate the clicker with something positive. This rewards the cat for any positive behavior – however small. It is important to keep a few things in mind:

  1. Keep your distance and never try to break up a cat fight; you could be seriously scratched or bitten. Seek medical attention if you are injured.
  2. Never allow cats to “fight it out.” They more they fight, the worse the problem is likely to become.
  3. To stop a fight in progress, make a loud noise (like blowing a whistle), squirt the cats with water, or throw something soft at them.
  4. Don’t punish your cats for fighting as it could cause further aggression and fearful responses which will lead to additional problems.

The final blog will review some products that are available to alleviate behavior issues in the multi-cat household. To receive an email when this blog is posted, sign up at the orange button below.


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