Pets, Places, & Things, Points on Pets

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Well, sometimes, the answer to that question, “Can’t we all just get along?” might seem to be “No.”  Just as with humans, pets don’t get along all the time.  There are a few scenarios where you might encounter interpersonal (or should we say “interfeline”) issues.  The good news is that in most cases there are solutions.

You Can’t Teach an Old Cat New Tricks
Let’s say you’ve just brought a kitten home and he’s terrorizing your older cat; chasing him, biting him, just generally pushing your older cat to the limit.  What to do?  First off, remember that your kitten is just a baby (or toddler):  he’s got lots of energy to expend, and your older cat is probably past that stage and just looking for a chance to snooze in peace.  Make sure you give your older cat plenty of attention and love, one on one.  And provide lots and lots of other stimulation and exercise for your kitten so that he doesn’t take his energy out your older kitty.  Get a cat tree or other climbing station; make or buy toys that require your kitten to run and chase and pounce, such as toys on strings (but make sure not to leave her alone with them because she may ingest the string).  Also, there are lots of interactive toys for cats such as puzzles and toys with treats that must be found and accessed.  Offer her chew toys, too:  they are helpful for teething kitties as well as providing an outlet for some of that energy.

Off My Turf
Another problem you might run into with multiple cats are turf wars. Since cats are territorial animals, each with their own area (which is much larger than you might think), sharing a small space such as a house can sometimes be a challenge.  If your cats aren’t spayed or neutered, do so.  Make sure each cat has his own litter box, toys, sleeping space, and area to reduce competition.  Ensure there are plenty of safe, quiet spaces or perches for each cat to retreat to or hide in when needed.

The Thrill is Gone
What if your two cats all of a sudden stop getting along?  If this happens, make sure that one of them hasn’t developed a health problem that is making him anxious, irritable, or fearful.  If both cats seem to be otherwise healthy, you might try separating them for several days—and this means keeping each confined to his own room or group of rooms.  Put their food bowls on opposite sides of the same door so they can be near each other without seeing or touching each other.  Switch them to each other’s rooms every other day so they can get used to each other’s scent again.  After a week or so, try reintroducing them in short intervals, but distract them during this time with treats or playing, and keep these make-up sessions brief, relaxed, and supervised.  If they seem to be going okay, you might try rubbing something tasty on each’s face, head, and ears, like tuna or salmon juice.  This will encourage them to groom and thus keep them from interacting too much.  Some cats may even groom each other in order to get at the tasty smell, and in this way they may reestablish their bond.

Biting the Hand That Feeds You
What if your cat is or begins to be aggressive toward you or other people?  There are a variety of reasons this kind of aggression may occur, and in fact there are a variety of types of aggression that can cause this.  If your cat is sore or ill, he may lash out in self-defense.  If his aggression has been aroused and you interfere (say he’s watching a bird outside the window and you come up behind him to pet him, at which he lashes out), this is simply re-directed aggression.  Another instance may be play aggression, where your cat starts playing too rough.  The trick here is to learn the signs of when your kitty is going to start biting or scratching, and cease the play before that starts, or play in ways that don’t involve physical contact (by using toys instead).  You can reward gentle play with treats and simply walk away or ignore your cat when he plays too rough; this will teach him the consequences of hurting you.  Finally, your cat may act aggressive because of fear—a change in routine or place, the arrival of visitors, or any number of events can cause stress and make your cat lash out.  For the most part, removing humans from her space is the most helpful  in reducing her stress.  Don’t try to console or reward her when she acts out in fear; don’t show fear yourself, either—both of these actions will only reinforce negative behavior and teach her to continue it.

The best way to reduce aggressiveness in your cat is to have either a spray bottle of water or something loud on hand (such as a canister of coins you can shake; you can even clap loudly), catch the aggressive behavior as soon as it starts and curtail it by spraying water or making a loud noise without touching your cat, since physical discipline only increases agitation or aggressiveness.  And rewarding positive behavior with attention and treats will encourage your cat to act the way you want.

Parting Advice
Don’t assume cats will work it out on their own all the time.  Sometimes this may be the case, but often you may need to intervene.  And don’t let them “fight it out” – a fight can escalate to the point where one or both cats can be seriously injured. Help them help themselves, so everyone can live in peace!

Written by: Ashley Denham Busse

Ashley Denham Busse has worked part-time for since 2006. is a professional pet-sitting company located in Old Town Alexandria, celebrating more than 13 years of providing daily walks and customized in-home pet care.
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