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How Can I Stop Cat Attacking Companion Cat?

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Question: “How can I stop cat attacks?”

Deidre writes, “I have a multiple cat household.  We recently adopted two female kittens who have settled in wonderfully.  The problem is my one tom cat Domino, 14-months-old, keeps attacking another one of my tom cats Marmalade, who is 12-months-old.  He never used to do this—they used to be friends. 

Both Domino and Marmalade were sterilized in December.  Marmalade did give one of my younger males Fox (five-months-old) a very hard time when he first joined our house but he has since settled down and leaves Fox alone.  He has never given the female kittens a hard time at all.  Domino only became aggressive towards Marmalade about two or three weeks after we adopted the female kittens, and we got them about the middle of January. I have read Franny’s article about redirected aggression; however, Domino gets on very well with the kittens.  He actually grooms them.  Domino is getting worse with his aggression.  Marmalade is totally intimidated by him.  Domino is actually creating bite wounds on Marmalade’s neck.  I am very worried. Please help.  It is very upsetting.

Amy’s Answer

Cat aggressive behavior is one of the most complicated issues owners must face. There are different types of aggression in cats based on the cat’s emotional state, physical status, and social and environmental situation. The H.I.S.S. Test, which stands for health, instinct, stress, and symptom solvers, can help narrow down the cause to better choose ways to deal with the behavior. Unfortunately, I don’t have all the necessary information so will be making “best guesses” and offering more generic suggestions that also may help other readers.

H=Health

Aggression can arise from pain or discomfort. Simply feeling bad can make cats act out, become cranky, and have less patience for otherwise normal interactions. When aggression suddenly happens for no apparent reason, especially with older cats, a health issue often may be the instigating factor.

In fact, the cat that’s ill may actually invite attack by changing his behavior. If Marmalade has a health or behavior change, Domino could be acting aggressively in reaction to a change of smell or other issue.

I=Instinct

Play aggression is the most common type among young cats. Domino and Marmalade are not much out of kittenhood. Play aggression easily tips over into real aggression when the participants become overly aroused. 

S=Stress

Stress is the top reason cats become aggressive. And the number one cause of feline stress is too many cats, and being forced to live in close proximity. A change in the makeup of the cat’s social group—the addition of a new cat, or loss of an established feline—very often changes the relationships between the kitties for good or for ill. 

S=Symptom, Signs & Solutions 

Deidre, I’m delighted you read Franny’s article on redirected aggression. Without any further information than you’ve provided, I agree with you that since Domino gets along well with the kittens, it doesn’t appear that he’d redirect aggression from the kittens to Marmalade. However, this time of year (spring) brings out the hormones in the intact felines and you may have stray animals (cats or other critters) parading outside the house that get Domino upset and prompt redirected aggression. It would make sense if these two cats used to be good friends, that Marmalade being nearby would make a great target. 

I don’t have a good grasp of how many cats you have. You mention Domino, Marmalade, “one of your younger males” (so there’s more than one) and the two kittens—so at least five, and possibly more. Increasing the number of cats also increases the potential for behavior problems. 

Further, I don’t have information about the environment. Do you keep all these cats in a tiny apartment, or a large house; do the cats have indoor/outdoor access or stay exclusively indoors; how many litter boxes, food stations, toys, cat trees, and other cat property is available, and where is it located? 

Finally, it would be helpful to know the location, the time of day, and whether other cats are present during the attacks. How does Marmalade react? Has Marmalade’s behavior changed at the same time? 

Start With Basics

I’d strongly urge that both Domino and Marmalade be checked out by the veterinarian. If nothing else, getting Marmalade’s injuries treated is important to help prevent the potential for abscess. 

When a cat gets beat up repeatedly, his fearful behavior can invite further bullying. If Marmalade now avoids interaction, slinks around, his body language could actually provoke Domino to attack. So to reduce the aggression it’s important to also increase Marmalade’s confidence. 

In addition, once a cat becomes so aroused that he attacks and leaves injuries, he becomes accustomed to reacting in this fashion. Domino may not even remember why he first attacked Marmalade. But after ‘practicing’ so much, by now it’s likely that simply the sight of the other cat prompts an attack. He needs to un-learn the bad and re-learn a more pleasant association. 

Start over with introductions as if Domino and Marmalade had never met. Isolate Domino in a room by himself with all kitty accoutrements for at least a week and possibly longer. Meanwhile, let Marmalade maintain run of the house—that helps him build confidence, which will also help once the two cats again co-mingle. Help them remember that they are family by sharing scent—rub each cat in turn with a towel to help them smell like each other. 

Once the cats again have run of the house, help reduce kitty stress by providing multiple litter boxes, feeding stations, toys, and more. A house of plenty means the cats won’t have to argue over owned property.

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