Sudden Cat Aggression in Previously Harmonious Household - Help!
October 2, 2008 6:07 AM   Subscribe

One of my cats (male, neutered) has suddenly become violently aggressive against another of my cats (female, spayed). Both cats still interact well with our other three cats, so this seems to be something just between the two of them. I will be consulting my vet, but, assuming there is nothing physically wrong with either cat that may be triggering this (and both cats behave entirely normally when separated from each other), what can be done to heal this rift, which is seriously upsetting our multi-cat household?

We have 5 indoor cats, who have lived together for several years. They are not just tolerant of each other, but all genuinely comfortable/affectionate/playful. All five are spayed/neutered, have their claws, 2 male, three female.

This past week has been stressful for them, because my M-I-L has been staying with us, but they have generally been ok. I came home from work Monday night to find tufts of black fur, urine and feces (apparently expelled during the fight) in our hall, and the two cats involved (black cat and white cat, for reference) yowling at each other in the bedroom. I did not witness the initial fight or know what started it. Our other three cats retreated to the crawlspaces in the basement and would not come out for a day.

We have isolated black cat, who appears to be the victim and needs the security (isolated means either office or bedroom. She sees us regularly and sleeps with us). Once the other cats came up from the basement, they got along fine with white cat, and when we brought them in to visit black cat, they were fine with her too. So this is an issue solely between white cat and black cat.

Last night, white cat wriggled his way into the bedroom, and basically immediately attacked black cat (details are fuzzy, it was 2 am). Repeat of last time- screaming, running, scratching, other cats hiding in basement. Black cat bled a little from a scratch, but is otherwise well.

This is unprecedented behavior in our house and very upsetting to everyone.

Right now I am considering rotating isolation, so black cat is isolated one day and white cat the next. My mother bought us some faux "cat pheromone" spray that is really just dilute essential oils that purport to have a calming influence. I am spraying them everywhere. My M-I-L is leaving today. I will be contacting my vet today. That is all I have in my bag of tricks right now.

If you have experienced anything like this yourself and have strategies for helping the cats reclaim their equilibrium, I would really appreciate hearing them.
posted by MsElaineous to Pets & Animals (7 answers total)
We've had a really good experience with the Feliaway cat pheromone spray. It really settled our 'angry cat' and while she won't be cuddling with any of the other cats anytime soon (but we didn't expect that either) it's at least balanced the house.
posted by machine at 6:37 AM on October 2, 2008

This past week has been stressful for them, because my M-I-L has been staying with us, but they have generally been ok.'

As a cat owner, this is where the red flag went up and the duck dropped from the ceiling for me.

Cats can sometimes handle stress in funny ways, and at funny times. I had a pretty tumultuous summer -- new roommate moved in in June, relationship breakup in July, new roommate left town for the whole month of August, lots of cleaning out of stuff throughout. So my older male cat had to adjust to the loss of my old roommate (who doted on him) and my boyfriend (who also did), and the addition of a stranger, and that stranger disappearing again right when he was getting to know him, plus all sorts of chaos of furniture moving and intense vacuuming and piles of books appearing and disappearing and weird new smells from cleaning supplies and...yeah, it was probably a lot for him.

In the past he's sometimes had a nervous habit of fur chewing, and I noticed that all through August he REALLY did a lot of it. I would find the hallway dotted with huge tufts of hair he'd chewed and yanked out by the roots and he had a big bald spot near the base of his tail, and don't even get me started on the hairballs...I really worried about it for a while, keeping a close eye on him and intervening when I saw he was gnawing at his pelt. But then after a couple weeks, when the cleaning settled down and my then only sort-of-new roommate returned, and I also calmed down a little myself from the breakup drama, he started petering off with the hair chewing, and now it's gone entirely and he's fine.

My hunch based on that anecdotal evidence is that maybe your cat is indeed stressed about your MIL staying there, and this is how he's handling it. Which at least suggests a cause.

As for what to do about it, the only thing I can think is keeping the two combatants separated for a while until things settle down more.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:48 AM on October 2, 2008

Yeah, I think having a house-guest sounds like the trigger, given no other source of stress indicated. Is your MIL staying in the room that cat thinks of as "his" or "safe"? Our cats started peeing everywhere when we were ALL locked out of our bedroom due to renovations - they did not care that we were sleeping where they were sleeping, they wanted the "safe" room back. If he wants the one room for himself, and is used to it, but has been displaced by MIL, it could set up a territory battle between him and the lady-kitty for the bedroom.

As far as inter-cat spats - we took up hissing at them when they would fight with one another, and then firmly separating them. Seemed to give them pause to hear the "big cat" making the "angry noise" which was more effective than yelling or anything else at stopping them long enough to get them apart. That's all petered off though; they seem to have decided it's no fun to bite and make little hairless spots on one another. YMMV. Good luck.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:17 AM on October 2, 2008

Kitties have territory, even in a happy multi-cat home. Having one more being impinging on that territory upsets their hierarchical agreements. They'll generally pick whomever they think they can cow to show their displeasure to, if they're the fighty sort.

Feliway does help. We've used it and successfully gained (temporary) peace. YMMV.

Equalising attention between the aggrieved parties - giving the aggressor some quiet time with the 'rents in a room he's been restricted from, letting the victim mingle with the other kitties, serving whatever treats or treat food they get, bestowing pets - may help, too.

I'm sure you're already doing this, but keep checking the injured kitty's bites/scratches to make sure they don't abscess. They can seem absolutely fine and then suddenly have a seeping lump that takes all kinds of fun vet tricks to resolve.

I hope the kitties calm down and life gets closer to normal again soon.
posted by batmonkey at 8:32 AM on October 2, 2008

Definitely give the real Feliway a try. It's worked wonders on my very bite-y, aggressive cat.
posted by MsMolly at 8:52 AM on October 2, 2008

Cats pick up on people's energies and tension, to the point of recreating whatever is in the thought patterns of people in conflict. It doesn't take MUCH to push a collective of 5 out of kilter. Rescue remedy for all involved. Human and animal. 2x for humans in kitties - directly in mouth and in drinking water. You can't OD on it. Totally safe. If you want - go for the cream and dab that on their noses. They will lick it off. For humans the liquid is fine. Give MIL her own as a gift. Tell her the hive mind suggested it. Good luck. And may the status quo be re-established asap.
posted by watercarrier at 9:26 AM on October 2, 2008

I had a similar issue a few years ago when my skittish Japanese bobtail was startled by a visitor and associated the fear with my eldest tom. Every time they were in the same space, fur flew. She had not yet been spayed (laziness on my part) ad spaying took care of the issue.
posted by tigerjade at 1:16 PM on October 3, 2008

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