how to deal with aggression from a newbie?
September 15, 2008 7:12 PM   Subscribe

NewCatFilter: We just had a scary incident involving our old and new cats--what's the best response? Much more after the cut.

BackStory: Until about three weeks ago, we had two cats: Mouse, nearly fourteen, and Kali, a little over two. My husband brought Mouse to the marriage. She has lived with other cats before, and is generally low-key with them (and with us; she's sweet but dignified and a little reserved). Kali is a wild thing; prefers to be outdoors most of the time, gets very antsy if inside for very long, enjoys a little petting on her terms only, but is not aggressive toward either people or Mouse, except for the occasional playful pounce-and-chase.

Three weeks ago I found Mali in the parking lot at my work and brought her home. She's young (the vet said between one and two years) and very, very affectionate with us--loves laps and cuddling. She had been very low-key with the other cats--occasionally a little nosy when it came to feeding time, but nothing overtly aggressive, and she'd walk the other way if Mouse or Kali growled or hissed at her. She and Mouse had even shared the bed with me and my husband once or twice with no problems.

Last Friday, we had Mali spayed and were told that she was pregnant at the time (she'd been very, very thin when I found her so she wasn't really showing). Since she rallied from the anesthesia, she has continued to be nothing but affectionate with us but is noisier and pushier about it.

Tonight she was curled on my lap, had been purring quite happily, when Mouse came down the stairs. Mali stopped purring when Mouse came in, but I didn't really think anything of it--until Mali suddenly launched herself off my lap and straight across the room at Mouse, hissing and spitting viciously. Mouse had done nothing to provoke her and was completely caught off guard; she retreated and Mali chased her and continued to hiss. I don't know how much actual physical contact was made; my husband and I broke them up. He soothed Mouse (who didn't seem hurt, just upset) and I told Mali firmly that she was a bad cat, picked her up, and shut her in our bathroom/laundry room. (She gave me no trouble with being picked up.) We have since kept her there by herself for a good hour, and we may leave her there for the rest of the night for reinforcement (her litter box and a water cup are there, so she's not kept away from any necessaries).

I'm just freaked out now, and my husband even more so. It may be too early to freak, but it just shocked us both so much since it came out of nowhere and was so serious (NOT the kind of tussle that Kali ever engaged in with Mouse). Am I overreacting? Is Mali adjusting hormonally to no longer being pregnant--and will it get worse? Why does she suddenly feel a need to get territorial or jealous, when she hadn't been at all before? Did we do the right thing isolating her immediately, and should we continue to do so if it happens again (if so, for how long)? She seems to want human attention desperately, so I figure that taking it away is the best consequence. Is there a better one?

I don't want to end up having to give her up--she's so dear with me, and I was so happy about that--but I do not want Mouse to be afraid to live in her own home either, and I know my husband won't put up with that.
posted by dlugoczaj to Pets & Animals (9 answers total)
I can't imagine a cat went from pregnant to 'not and spayed' and recovered from all the hormone issues in four days. It may be worth keeping them apart for a bit, but not in any way as punishment for Mali. She could well be just all off-balance in terms of hormones and may well be reacting completely out of character while everything is still all jumbled up.

Give her some time, and affection, alone to sort herself out. She's still very new in the house and feeling ill/off colour without any territorial rights to fall back on my make her over defensive.
posted by Brockles at 7:18 PM on September 15, 2008

Am I overreacting?

To be clear, yes I think you are. Give the cat some time and some space. Reintroduce in a week or so and then judge to see if it is an issue. I think a cat only three weeks into a house would have trouble coping with major trauma very easily and would be very likely to feel threatened.
posted by Brockles at 7:20 PM on September 15, 2008

In my experience cats tend to work things out over time. They sort of need to get their pecking order in line and then all will be gravy. I bet they become best buds. =]

Good luck!
posted by expletivization at 7:24 PM on September 15, 2008

It sounds like this was an anomaly, probably related to hormones (as mentioned above) that will sort itself out. I don't think there's any need to "punish" Mali any further. Try opening the bathroom door a bit, without getting her out, and see how she acts when she comes out on her own. She may be completely "over" whatever it was that set her off, and Mouse may be okay with it too. If you make a huge deal out of it, they'll sense it and it will make them more likely to have continued problems. Animals are usually very adept at sorting out their own issues if their owners give them time and patience. Good luck to you and to the kitties.
posted by amyms at 7:26 PM on September 15, 2008

Animals sort out a pecking order, whenever there is more than one in a house. Mali needs some time to feel secure: she may just be trying to scare off any "intruder" into her nice, comfy, new pad. Once she feels secure, she is highly unlikely to be so confrontation, although you are likely to have a few mutual maneuverings until their relative dominance is sorted out between them. Don't sweat these: they are highly unlikely to hurt each other. It is all for effect with most cats - they are just trying to look big.
posted by Susurration at 8:12 PM on September 15, 2008

If she's in pain or feels sick/hurt she'll be more aggressive, most any animal will. You should probably keep her somewhere quiet until she's completely healed up from the operation then let her interact with the other cats again.
posted by fshgrl at 8:17 PM on September 15, 2008

Response by poster: I've wondered about pain but she doesn't seem to be significantly affected. Other than the first night, when she was still dopey and just wanted to curl up in the bed I made for her and sleep, she's been up and about and doesn't seem to have any trouble climbing stairs, jumping on the couch, etc. The vet gave me oral pain meds for her (pre-filled syringes to shoot in her mouth) and I've been giving them to her as directed. I've kept an eye on her incision and it looks OK, and she has been totally cool about letting me look at and even touch her bare belly (I just did so a little while ago when I went to cuddle her in the bathroom; she was very mellow and rolled right over for me).

She may just feel vulnerable--I've been concerned about trauma, but she had seemed to adjust so well that at this point it threw me. It's comforting to hear that three weeks isn't really that long; I don't know much about cats' senses of time.

This has helped, and I'd be happy to hear from others if they care to contribute.
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:51 PM on September 15, 2008

Do be careful. One of my parents' cats lost an eye because one of the other cats got too territorial.

Having said that, I am going to agree with other posters who feel that hormonal things might be going on. Perhaps a call to the vet might be a good idea. He or she might have some suggestions.
posted by konolia at 10:02 PM on September 15, 2008

's the SF SPCA cat introduction protocol. Follow it to the letter. Start over as if your cats had never met.

There's a chance things might work out on their own, but there's also a chance that this is the beginning of a feud that will progress to all-out war, which often involves spraying (peeing on walls).

The best professional advice is to be had from veterinarians who are specialists in behavior. The most highly respected ones are based at veterinary medical schools. Some of them do distance (phone/fax/email) consultations. Tufts for example.

They will guide you to make detailed observations about the cats' behavior and their home environment. They may ask you to videotape the cats' interactions. The treatment will include environment and behavior modification. It may also include Feliway (a cat-soothing pheromone) and behavior medication ("kitty Prozac").
posted by ebellicosa at 11:10 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

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