What To Do If Your Cats Are Not Getting Along
By Emily Hoppmann, DVM
Most cats live in multi-cat households and, whether it is introducing a new cat or a new issue that has started between old friends, there are times when our cats do not get along as well as we would like. We all want a happy, peaceful household so these are just some quick tips on how to deal with the situation when you have cats that are fighting with each other.
The first step is to separate your cats into different rooms for several days or weeks, with separate beds, bowls and litter boxes. This way they can hear and smell each other but do not have to interact. It is important to always remember the rule that you should have multiple areas that your cats can retreat to in order to relax and to always have one more litter box and water bowl than you do cats to avoid issues over territory to begin with. Cats need to be able to spend time alone and never should feel like they are fighting over resources, so developing these areas from day one is important. If you do not have your house set up this way and fighting begins, you need to immediately address this.
While you have your cats separated, place each cat’s food bowl on opposite sides of the closed door. This will encourage them to be close together while they’re doing something that makes them feel good and remind them that they do not have to fight for resources. Also, each day of separation, have the cats switch rooms so they both experience some variation and are exposed to each other’s scents. It can also be helpful to use the same cloth to pet each cat so they are getting love from you while being exposed to each other’s smell and be reminded that there is enough of you to go around!
After some time has passed and both cats appear to be more relaxed, crack the door open one inch and if they remain calm, open the door a bit more each day. If the cats remain relaxed, they may be ready to be together again. However, if they react with any signs of aggressive behavior (such as growling/spitting, hissing, swatting, etc.) go back to having the door only open enough that they are not aggressive or unusually stimulated. The goal is to have a gradual reintroduction that does not cause any negativity.
This process takes patience and a willingness to take one step forward and two steps back if that is what is needed. However, any time you try to move forward too quickly and the cats have a negative experience with each other it delays the process or can cause you to have to start over again. Again, it is all about the positive! If this is a new issue that has come up in your household, it is important to take a good look around your environment and be sure that your cats have multiple places in the home that they can claim as their own and that they do not feel like they are forced to interact if they do not want to. You may also pay attention to what is happening outside of your home – a new outside cat in the area may be taunting your pets through the window and so they are attaching each other (called displaced aggression). You may also need to be sure to be spending enough one-on-one time with each cat, interacting and playing, each day. The general rule of thumb is every cat needs at least 20 minutes a day of interaction with you – the use of a laser or playing fetch or chasing a mouse or feather on a string can be a great way for them to get out some of their energy.