Hopefully someone out there "got" my title. Now that I satisfied my rare need to be cheesy...
I’ve had a handful of cases these past few months involving aggression between cats who previously lived together peacefully. Aggression between feline housemates can be triggered by a number of different things – a trip to the vet by one of the cats, wildlife or an outdoor cat lurking around the house, the addition of a new member of the household (human or non-human), or re-directed aggression in response to a frightening event (startling noise, for example). Whatever the cause (and sometimes we don’t know the cause), sudden fighting between household kitty siblings is unsettling for all family members.
If you find yourself with bickering cats, the first thing you should do is separate them – and I don’t just mean in the moment. I mean set them up to live in secure, separate rooms temporarily. The second thing you should do is take a deep breath and let everyone decompress for a couple of days (yourself and the cats). After that, call a qualified feline behavior consultant (like me!) to talk through your options. These might include some simple tips over the phone, an in-home behavior consultation and re-integration plan, and/or a referral to a veterinary behaviorist.
As always, prevention is the best “medicine”. If you have more than one cat in your home, here are some things you can do to decrease the likelihood of fights between them:
Have sufficient resources so that there are no potential conflicts around these valued spaces and items. This means more than one litterbox, more than one feeding and water station, several perches and scratching surfaces, and access to plenty of favored spaces (e.g., the sun puddles, the cushy beds, etc.). These resources should be placed throughout the home and not clustered together.
Make sure your cats have plenty of mental and physical stimulation. Access to windows (even better if there are bird feeders to watch), ways to hunt for food, self-play toys and interactive play are all part of an enriching environment for cats.
Learn to pay attention to your cats’ body language. If you see the cats posturing or vocalizing in ways that indicate they are stressed or feeling aggressive, safely redirect their attention by calling them, shaking a treat bag, or – if neither of those sounds works – placing a visual barrier between them (you are not a visual barrier- stay safe!). Things that can serve as a visual barrier might be a blanket (if the cats are far apart and not rushing toward each other), the top of a large plastic storage bin, a folded cardboard box or anything large enough to block their view of each other that you can safely and quickly place between them.
Isolate your cat when he comes home from a veterinary appointment, particularly after a surgical or dental procedure. Put him in a room by himself where he can fully recover from the anesthesia and the stress of being at the vet clinic. Do not even open the carrier in a space where the other cat(s) can approach him. Make sure he has access to food water, litter and a bed. Leave him in this room for at least several hours and, if possible, overnight. This is not cruel, and it may save you weeks or months of working through a re-integration plan.
If you are doing all of these things and your cats are still having issues, set them up in secure separate rooms, and get some help from a qualified feline behavior consultant. You and your cats deserve to live in a peaceful home.