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When Housemates Fight

Female Cats & How to Handle Aggression

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Picture of cat fight

Scruffing might be indicated here

© HOSTYez

Cat Behavior & Training > Cat Behavior 101 > Aggression Between Family Cats

Aggression in Female Cats

Female cats have their own separate agenda. They are often very territorial and resent other female cats intruding into their space. Female-female aggression most often takes on the characteristics of territorial aggression, and you would handle it much the same way.

There is another form of aggression peculiar to female cats, that of aggression toward an adolescent male kitten, one they may have "adopted" and loved on when he was younger. One day (much to the kitten's surprise and dismay) his previously loving surrogate mother suddenly turns on him, growling, hissing, and attacking. This form of aggression will take place whether or not the female is spayed, or whether or not she has borne kittens herself. I call it "Get Out of the Nest" aggression. If that title isn't self-explanatory, think of it as telling the youngster he's loafed around at home long enough, and that it is time he gets out and takes care of himself.

This kind of behavior can be found in the big cats, where a pride of lions will chase off the adolescent males, forcing them to move on elsewhere, to establish their own prides.

My cat Arthur, now deceased, exhibited classic "Get Out of the Nest" aggression toward Bubba, which she lived to regret as he grew up. After a period of territorial aggression, during which they both liberally sprayed vertical surfaces in our house, Arthur conceded, and Bubba subsequently became the alpha cat, deferring only to Shannon who never had to fight for his territory.

How to Handle Inter-cat Aggression

There are as many ways of dealing with cat-to-cat aggression as there are forms of aggression. I have separated them into three groups, in the order they should be approached: Distraction, Physical Intervention, and Medical Treatment

Distraction

Overly zealous play aggression, sexual aggression, and most Territorial/Dominance Aggression can be dealt with effectively by distracting the cats and redirecting their energies toward play with a toy. Here are some ideas:

  • Clap your hands, then say "No!" or "Time Out!" in a loud voice.
  • Blow a whistle or sound an air horn (I can't imagine always having one available, but for ongoing problems it wouldn't hurt.)
  • Hiss loudly. This is in imitation of their mother cat, a lesson cats remember well into adulthood. It can work effectively along with scruffing, described below.
  • Provide the aggressor cat with a large stuffed toy, such as a teddy bear. Keep it aside as his own personal "surrogate victim," and throw it to him to redirect his attention away from his feline victim (after getting his attention).
  • After you've gotten their attention, bring out an interactive toy, such as Da Bird, to redirect all that energy.

Physical Intervention

As mentioned before, never physically intervene between two cats locked in combat. However, there are times (during pauses between attacks, with less violent fighting, or during sexual aggression) where one form of physical intervention is extremely effective: that of scruffing.

Scruffing is performed by grasping the loose skin at the scruff of the neck of the aggressor cat, then gently, but firmly, pushing him down toward the floor. "Gently" is the optimum word here. Never use scruffing as punishment, but rather as a form of discipline.

Scruffing is a close approximation of the actions a mother cat will take with a disruly kitten. You can accompany scruffing with loud hissing, to reinforce the memory. The aggressor cat will immediately relax into a subservient posture, and may even roll over slightly. No doubt during this scruffing activity, the victim cat will beat feet away from the scene. Once you are sure the aggressor has calmed down, release him and talk to him quietly. A few gentle strokes will be appropriate at this time, much as a mother cat would lick and groom the kitten she has just disciplined.

Another form of physical intervention is separation, which may be necessary when a series of fights has occurred between two cats, or in the case of redirected aggression. Assign a "time out" room for the aggressor cat, and allow the victim the rest of the house. Separation can take place in as short as an hour or two, or as long as a day or two. Some cats living with forum members have needed separation for as long as several months, but most of them have eventually come to their own form of living peacefully together.

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