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What To Do When Your Cats Don’t Like Each Other

As a multi cat household I have many tips and ideas for how to help your furry friends all get along! Here are some things you can do when your cats are just not friendly!

What To Do When Your Cats Don't Like Each Other

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A peaceful home.  That’s pretty much what everyone wants but add two or more cats to the equation and that peace may just go out the window!  

What to do?  There are a few things that may help.  

My Cat Story

I am NOT some kind of crazy cat collecting lady… cats just happen to come live with me!

I had a great cat, Nick the Cat as a single young woman living the good life in my 20s and currently have 2 cats living with me (our older cat passed recently at the age of 18).

So before 2018 we had two cats, our old cat Pepper and our daughter's hand me down cat Betty. In 2018 we moved my Mother In Law (who has dementia) in with us and she came with a cat named Elsa.

We are fortunate to have a HUGE house so the cats all have their own spaces, and my husband and I work from home so we get to see ALL the interaction that the girls have all day long!

Oh, and I am super curious about animals (we have 3 dogs too), am a contentious objector to eating animals AND have a Bachelors Degree in Psychology so I love figuring things out!

Lovey Dovey Cats

So this is not a post to help you have those kinds of cats that love-love-love each other and cuddle all day long. I haven't ever had those kinds of cats… sigh.

And I don't think MOST multi cat households have that unless they adopt littermates who grew up together.

Cats are pretty solitary beings and having this utopia in mind where they hug each other is probably a recipe for disaster. Cats simply are not all that social among themselves.

Instead I am going to talk about how to have a home where your cats feel safe, can live together peacefully and they gets lots of love time from their people!

Why Do Cats Fight?

Cats fight for a variety of reasons.  Some of these are social ranking, personality, illness, stress and territory.

Today we are going to talk about how you can recognize current problems and then some solutions to help fix things!

Social Ranking

Like with people, there are social hierarchies among your cats!

These can depend on all kinds of things like how long the cats have lived together, who is older or younger, how much space they have to live in and how much “enrichment” or play the kitties have access to!

The hard thing about this situation is that we have NO control over the cats! Your favorite cat might be less “popular” than you want… sigh.

With social ranking, there is probably more “play” fighting going on than actual aggression. Your dominant cat might bap, bap, bap a submissive one or a sassy underling might play chase after an older, more statured cat.

Personality

This one is fun and sometimes heartbreaking!

Our derpy girl Betty just wants everyone to love her. She is DEFINITELY at the bottom of the kitty hierarchy (my Mother In Law's cat moved up when our old dear passed on).

Betty in USPS Box

But each cat has its own personality and we have to work within that framework.

Mom's cat, Elsa is definitely a diva who thinks hanging out with other cats is beneath her. She only likes to hang out with my mother in law.

Betty is willing to hang out with anyone who pay attention to her! She tries to get Elsa to like her, but is WAY more successful with people.

She lets our 1 year old grand daughter pet her and comes to see anyone who happens to be sitting on the toilet… if you think that is TMI (too much information) you definitely want to avoid my “how to clean up poop” articles… hahaha!

Functionally you need to see what each cat needs and help them achieve that to make your house happier.

If your old cat doesn't like kittens, distract the little ones yourself to give her some room! Or if you have a needy one like Betty YOU might have to step in and provide some companionship that she can't get from the other felines in the house!

Illness

When our old cat was dying the younger ones got more aggressive towards her… sigh. This is just natural when one of the has a medical condition, but is really hard to watch.

If your one cat is sick or dying, you need to be super vigilant and make sure no one is picking on her! A good idea might be to give her a safe “cave” or room to stay alone in.

Here are some articles you can read to learn more about this phenomenon:

Stress

I was going to ask if you have ever felt stressed, but DUH, we have ALL felt stressed! And your cats get stressed too (probably much more than dogs do!)

If your multi cat house is all calm and normal, whatever normal looks like for you, your cats are probably going to be just fine together. They have established their social rankings and have their territories mapped out.

But add a little stress to the mix and BAM… you may have some super anxious cats that are unhappy living together again!

The stress might be caused by interpersonal relationships between human family members, moving or even nice things like decorating for the holidays and displacing their favorite sitting spot.

Cat sitting on a chessboard

Remember the stressor might not even be obvious to you! Say the neighbor just got a new dog and it barks all day while you are at work. Your cats might be in fight-or-flight all day until they understand that there is not an actual threat.

Try to keep their world, which is your house or apartment “normal”. If strange things are happening, make sure your cats feel like they have a place to hide and for sure do not try to force them to come out.

Cats hide to feel safe. When things are weird here (like the whole family is over for dinner), we open the closet doors so Betty can get in there and snuggle up where she feels safe.

Try to figure out your cat's safe spaces and then make sure they are available during times of stress.

Additional Resource : Interim Guidance on Health and Safety Hazards When Working with Displaced Domestic Animals source CDC

New Cat Territory

You may be reading this article because this is the first time you have multiple cats and there is trouble. So let's talk about what happens when you add a strange cat to your home.

Before your single cat or even multiple cats had their territory picked. In our house Betty has the main bathroom and the kitchen counters. Elsa has Mom's room and the dining room table.

When you add a new cat into an existing cat household the territory can get shuffled. The new cat might not know that they are invading in someone's space and fights might break out until a new order can be established.

How you introduce the new cat can make all the difference in how well things work.  At the start separate your cats!

Basically you need to give the new cat a safe place in your home (room with a door) where you put his or her water, food, litter box and bed/toys.  

For the first several days leave the door shut.  

Your other cat(s) will smell the new kitty and come to the door and will “meet” through the space at the bottom of the door.  This gives them each time to get used to each other’s smell.  

During this time, put a clean towel on the space where they sleep for each cat in the house.  

After a few days of them sleeping on the towels, swap them so each cat can get used to the new cat and vis-versa.  Next, put each cat in their cat carrier and place them facing each other a few feet apart.  Do this a few times a day for a few days, each time put the carriers a bit closer to each other.  

Last, put them in the carriers on opposite ends of a room and open the doors.  There may be hissing, growling, swatting or maybe just sniffing.  

If a fight breaks out, break it up with a loud clap or stomp, then distract each cat with toys or treats.  

Do this for no more than an hour, put new kitty back in his or her room and try again the next day.  Be sure to reward good behaviors with each other with praise and treats.  

Current Cats Territory

But what if there is NOT a new cat and your kitties have decided that they are unhappy with each other or their living arrangements.

Try to think if anything you have done has upset the balance that was working before. Did you take one cat's spare bedroom to use as your office or was a favorite couch replaced with a new one that could be less comfortable to sleep on?

Generally you can trace back what changed and help your cats find new special places that they can call their own!

The best solution is to be sure that each cat has it’s own litter box, separate eating  and sleeping space and equal amounts of your attention.

Separating Aggressive Cats

While we have the occasional spat from time to time or a “chase around the house hissing” incident, my girls are not that much into aggressive behaviour.

If your cats are overtly aggressive be sure to separate them, and don’t let them all “fight it out”. Start by making sure they are spayed or neutered and then reward good behavior.  

Here is a genius idea that I found on the ASPCA website:  “Some cat parents have had success with rubbing a bit of tuna juice on their cats’ bodies and heads. The cats become so occupied with grooming, which is a relaxing behavior, that they’re less likely to be bothered by the other cat. If things go really well, the cats may actually groom each other because they can’t reach the juice on their own heads.” source ASPCA

If you really need help with aggressive cats I recommend starting with Jackson Galaxy's “When Intros Get Ugly” video! I love how he addresses cat aggression and body language that we can observe!

How We Help Our Girls Get Along!

So here are some things that we do to help our girls get along….

Set Food Times

We are super routine focused in our house. The cats (and dogs) get fed at 7am when I get up and at 5pm when my son feeds them dinner.

The dogs get their real food and the cats get a small dish of wet food. This helps with their hydration AND gets them in the same room at the same time twice a day for something nice.

Lots of High Places

We have cat trees two places in the house… one by Mom's room and one in our bedroom.

Cats like to have high places where they can be “safe” and see any coming danger (like stupid dogs that might chase them!)

Cat Enrichment

Each of the girls has has something that they like to do!

Betty likes to drink out of the tub faucet, so at least a few times a day I turn on the faucet and let it run so she can get in the tub and have a drink.

Elsa has a bench where she can look out the window and see the outside. She also likes to pull tape so I let her mess up my tape roller from time to time!

What To Do When Your Cats Don't Like Each Other Wrapup

Okay, that was a LOT of info and hopefully somewhere in there you get an idea about something you can do to help your cats get along better.

Right now our house is happy and non-grumpy, but it is inevitable that there will come a time when the girls are not doing so well and there is aggressive behavior again!

Honestly, I often write these posts to help myself remember what to do when things go all ker-fluey!