Fighting Cats
Don’t ignore cat squabbles. Board-certified veterinary behaviorist Christopher Pachel, DVM, DACVB, says being peacemaker is easiest if you take the right steps before a little irritation turns into ingrained habit.  

And don’t forget to check with your veterinarian, who can assess whether there is a medical cause behind increased irritability or aggression. Your vet may recommend behavioral medicines, such as antidepressants, as part of the solution.  

Stepping in Early

When cats get along, they approach each other with tails in the air. They touch noses. They share food and water, they groom one another, and they nap close together, Dr. Pachel says. But if one cat hogs all the good resting places or blocks the way to the food bowls, trouble is brewing. Fighting is actually a very late step in a progression of more subtle behaviors owners often miss. If you see signs of escalating tension, or if one cat has grown aggressive, there may still be time to step in and turn the situation around.

Dr. Pachel offers these tips to help keep — or restore — the feline peace. 

1. Somebody stop us! Interrupt mild conflict by walking through the room or distracting the cats by tossing a toy nearby. Never put your hand into the fray — injury is highly likely. If the battle is really out of hand, splash the cats with water or throw a blanket over the aggressor. A laundry basket can also do the trick, as can the quick introduction of a couch cushion between the fighters. Then, keep the cats in separate rooms with food, water, and litterboxes. Give them a chance to calm down without you, another cat or the kids interfering. When both seem to be their old selves, you can open doors, allowing a chance to interact. 

2. Yay! We’re rich! Cats who feel like there’s plenty for all are less likely to fight over access to food and water. One way to enhance your cats’ perception of abundance is by spreading the good stuff around. Add climbing structures and hiding places in multiple rooms of the house. Split meals into multiple portions and place them throughout the house — now kitty must forage, an activity that will help keep him mentally engaged. Put water dishes in several rooms. Give cats plenty of litterboxes in various locations — the rule is one litterbox for each cat and one extra. Provide a peaceful, separate eating place if dietary restrictions are an issue.  

3. I’m bored. Food-dispensing toys for meals, short play sessions throughout the day or safe outdoor access — if practical — can keep cats from practicing their hunting skills on a housemate. 

4. This hall isn’t big enough for both of us. Sometimes, it’s about personal space — some cats need a lot of it. Are squabbles taking place in narrow halls or other confined areas? Provide climbing structures in the hot spot, so the nervous cat can maintain his comfort zone. 

5. This is a bad place. Remember the time the driver of the Lexus came out of nowhere and T-boned your car? Of course you do — especially when you drive through that intersection. Cats remember the bad times, too, and may associate a spot in the house with fear. Again, the answer may be to go vertical. Providing a place for a quick getaway often diffuses tension in hot spots. 

6. Here comes the bully. Is one cat the troublemaker? Consider attaching a bell to a break-away collar and accustom your “bully cat” to wearing it. The bell will give other cats time to find their hiding places.

7. Whoa! We’re under attack! Some cats worry about cats they see from their windows. A fearful cat may displace its aggression on whomever is nearby, even a much-loved littermate. If you see this kind of aggression, try moving perches away from the windows. Often, though, the solution is an opaque window covering. 

8. A room of one’s own. If cat interactions go beyond hissing or swatting, or one cat generally responds to another with signs of fear, anxiety or aggression, Dr. Pachel recommends the cats be kept separately, at least for a time. Keep the cats in places where they’ll be comfortable, supplied with food, water, a litterbox and places to perch or hide. Continued stressful encounters can do irreparable damage to the cats’ relationships, whereas separating cats can be the first step to peaceful coexistence.

Friendly Cats Grooming
9. Reintroductions. Go slowly. The longer your cats have been fighting, the more gradual the reintroduction must be. Let the cats’ behavior be your guide. Their comfort levels will tell you how quickly to move.

Step 1: Rub a soft cloth on one cat’s cheek and let the second cat sniff and investigate the cloth. If the cat seems comfortable, rub the cloth on the cheek of the second cat and present it to the first cat. Provide food rewards during the scent exchange. Do this over several days, making sure your cats are comfortable, before moving to the next step. Exchanging bedding can also act as a scent exchange.

Step 2: Let the cats see each other through a glass door or a screen. They don’t have to stand at the barrier but can keep a distance they find comfortable. While the cats can see each other, play with them and give them treats. Keep these encounters short at first, no more than a few minutes. If a barrier isn’t available and your cats are comfortable with a carrier, use the carriers for the introduction, putting the cats at a distance from each other, such as at opposite ends of a hallway where they can see each other. Provide them with a favorite food — such as a few spoons of canned food — during the exercise. As the cats grow more comfortable and tolerant, move the carriers closer.

Step 3: Increase contact by letting one cat wander free for a few minutes while the other remains in a carrier or, when using a barrier, allowing the cats to have brief, barrier-free contact.

Step 4: Remember that this process takes as long as it takes. The most common mistake is rushing. Watch your cats. They’ll let you know when they’re ready to live together again. Make sure the environment is ready for them when they’re back in regular contact, with ample available food, water, litter and perches.

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