what to do if your cats fight

If your cats are not getting along

Then what? Here are some suggestions: what to do if your cats fight.

Toby is over twelve years old. He lost his younger sister (not blood siblings) February 2015. He missed her, so we knew we needed another cat – for him and us. Marnie was three when we brought her home: an adult, but still young enough to be quite playful, and keep Toby active. Which for the most part, works. But not at first.

what to do if your cats fight

Toby & Marnie stare down
photo by shari smith dunaif ©2017

Dr. Jill Sackman, head of behavior medicine service at BluePearl Veterinary Partners suggests understanding cat relationships in the wild. Usually, family groups are close, but once a cat goes on their own, they are likely to be solitary. Solitary cats are also territorial, so if another cat ventures into their turf, chances are, a stand off will occur.
Domestic cats likewise view their home as their territory. So needless to say, if an unknown (or new) cat appears on their turf, they will protect that turf. This also can apply to being possessive of food bowls, toys, or a person.

When we first brought Marnie home, our newly adopted three year old cat, she and Toby had intense staring contests.

cats stare down

Toby & Marnie having intense stare down
photo by shari smith dunaif ©2017

Some hissing, plenty of growling. And this was after nearly a week introducing their scent, seeing each other, and eventually meeting; it was a very gradual process. Even so, Marnie was trying to assert herself and claim some territory while Toby defended his turf.
Signs that your cats aren’t getting along range from the obvious to more subtle

  • hissing, scratching
  • growling
  • stare downs between the cats
  • nudging a more submissive cat away from their food/water bowl
  • the more submissive cat leaves when the dominate cat arrives

We saw all of the above between Toby and Marnie, except not the scratching part. We did notice that if Marnie was sitting with us and Toby appeared, Marnie would leave. We wanted to remedy that, we wanted to have two purring cats, both of them hanging out with us.

what to do?

If your cats really get into an actual fight, of course our reaction is to STOP it! Maybe by yelling, clapping or even using a water gun or all of those.  But according to Dr. Sackman, “This could just make things worse.”

Instead, she suggests the following

  • Take a deep calming breath and insert an object like a large piece of cardboard between the cats. This creates a gentle but impenetrable barrier between the them.
  • If the cats are locked together, pick one up by the scruff, which will force him to release the other cat.
  • Keep the cats separated for a while to let them cool down.

Dr. Sackman explains “Every time your cats fight, the relationship gets worse.” In addition, she says “The longer the fights have been going on, the harder it is to correct the relationship.”

How to help your cats get along

Trying to fix a bad relationship between cats takes time, space, and tons of patience. These suggestions are also great when introducing a new cat in your house.

  • Put the cats in separate areas with their own food and water dishes, litter pan, and climbing spaces.
  • Make sure to spend plenty of quality time with each cat in their particular areas.

First, let the cats share scents. We got two socks, took one and rubbed Toby with it, especially around his head. Then left Toby’s sock scent with Marnie in her area. We did the same with rubbing Marnie with the other sock and left the sock with Toby. Another suggestion is to feed the cats at the same time on the opposite sides of a door, which enables them to associate the other’s scent with something pleasant, like dinner. This is good to do with treats, too.

Continue the scent swap by mixing their used litter together, Dr. Sackman says.

Finally, swap the cats: put each cat into the other cat’s area. That way, each cat has an opportunity to completely adjust to the other cat’s scent.

Now, your cats should be ready for a proper introduction. Start by placing the cats on opposite sides of a screen or baby gate. This way, they now smell and see each other, while maintaining a barrier.

When you can see that they are not freaking out, it’s probably time to remove the barrier.

Now that you and your cats are in the same room, give each cat lots of love and attention, while the other cat watches. This is intended to give another positive association: being with each other, the cats get good stuff, like affection, praise, play, treats.

How to maintain a good relationship between your cats

shelter cats getting along

cats at ARF(animal rescue shelter) hanging out
photo by shari smith dunaif ©2017

Continue to provide each cat with her own food and water dishes, play space, and litter pan. This will most likely be permenant. It is with our cats. Cats need places to climb, but they also need their very own secure den, these are spots where a cat can feel safe and comfortable enough to lounge and sleep.

it’s possible that your cats may never like each other, but at least you can help them tolerate each other. If you’re persistent and lucky, your cats may eventually play. Like Toby and Marnie.

cats getting along

Toby & Marnie playing
photo by shari smith dunaif ©2017