Catfight, and again, and again, and again...
January 12, 2009 1:47 AM   Subscribe

CatFilter. I adopted a 1.5-year-old female cat, and carefully introduced her to my 8-year-old male cat. It's been a month and they're still fighting more than I'd like. How long does this usually take, and any advice on how to help them get along better?

MrPoof: Male, 8 years, found as a stray. I've had him for 4 years. He's a big friendly Maine coon, very submissive to humans, not afraid of people or noises, comes when called. I've seen him hiss the few times he's met a new cat, but that's rare as he's indoor-only. MrPoof was lonely, so a month ago I adopted MissBug.

MissBug: Female, 1.5 years, adopted from Humane Society. Her previous owners surrendered her because she got pregnant. She had the kittens in foster care this fall, then went back to the shelter for a couple weeks, where the kittens were adopted. Then MissBug was spayed, and she came home with me a few days post-op-- a crazy few months for this little kitty. She's feisty: unafraid of noise or people, sometimes growls at me or bites me, and she's very affectionate.

I introduced the cats at a friend's large apartment & stayed there with them for 10 days. I figured if MrPoof met MissBug on neutral territory, he wouldn't be territorial with her and once they got along, I'd bring them home. There were 4 days of tons of hissing and swatting and growling, then 6 days of tense behaviour but a lot less fighting. That apartment was big, and they each claimed a room. It's hard to say who was more dominant- it seemed about equally split. I tried to make them friendly by keeping them in different rooms at first, then feeding them closer & closer together, giving lots of treats, exchanging their blankets so they'd get used to each other's smells, having an extra litterbox, putting a blanket between them when they hissed to break their death-stares, and other stuff you read on the internet.

On day 11 I brought them home to my petite apartment (a small kitchen and a big studio/bedroom, with a door between these rooms that doesn't shut all the way). Both cats prefer to hang out in the bedroom. At first they settled in pretty well, not much conflict and they both seemed pretty chill. Now it's been 3 more weeks, and suddenly the last couple days are fight city.

Sometimes one tries to play and the other gets offended and swipes.
Sometimes one claims an elevated spot (bed, sofa) and the other crouches below and swats up at them.
Sometimes one corners the other and traps them under the bed or on the sofa, guarding them & not letting them get away.
The dominance switches in each situation, about equally split in terms of who's bullying who- a pretty equal back-and-forth. When I feed them, MissBug dashes in and hogs the food while MrPoof hangs back sadly; but sometimes he chases her under the bed & lurks nearby, slapping at her if she comes out.

The past two days, the cats seem to be spatting every 40 minutes or so. Sometimes they just display tense, crouched glaring & growling, or funny windmill arms and kangaroo punching- behaviours which seem kind of playful, no big deal.
But there are also some episodes of actual anger and scratching that seem serious, with intent to injure each other (although nobody is visibly cut). When they fight "for real", they swipe hard & fast, directly at each other's eyes, instead of their usual broad, slow cuffing gestures. It's like predator body language instead of goofy kangaroo fighting.

I kind of feel like the problem is that they're both inclined to be dominant with other cats, and neither wants to back down. But I've never introduced cats to each other before, so I don't really know what normal behaviour is.

They still pass casually and touch noses a few times a day without fighting, so hopefully all is not lost. And thank goodness both are eating & using their clean, shared litterbox without problems. But the constant MRRRAAOOWW and leaping around and angry-looking behaviour is getting annoying and I'm a little worried they're learning to hate each other. It's only been a month, though- am I being too impatient?

How can I help them get along better? What timeline can I expect here?
Advice would be much appreciated!
posted by pseudostrabismus to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Be patient. We had a similar situation, and after a year, they still seem to hate each other. They did stop the fights at night, but I think that was after 2 months or so. Both got just along fine with a third cat. Male/female dynamics seem to be a problem, even when sterilized.
posted by dhoe at 2:17 AM on January 12, 2009

Best answer: It's only been a month..

That's no time at all for two cats who have both been through a fairly unsettling time - MissBug - surrendered. pregnant, fostercare, birth, back to the shelter, kittens adopted, MissBug adopted, taken to new place with MrPoof - that's quite enough to phase her - no fault of yours, but cats that have been through big life changes do take a while to regain their equilibrium, to cats, being rehomed is a case of WTF is happening to me ?

It probably wasn't the best idea to introduce them in a "neutral" apartment, but I can see the thinking behind it. It will have unsettled Mr Poof a bit, but it's done now so it's a case of dealing with how things are now.

Cats can take months to sort out the social hierarchy, so don't despair, you will have to make some changes to their environment - give them both as much space and roaming around time as you can. Ensure they have several sleeping places, including some that are high up - high up is a trouble avoiding safe place for cats. The cat on the floor tends to be the one ruling the roost at any given moment. Some very private sleeping places are a good idea too. Plenty of comfy blankets tucked away, where each cat can choose to go when they want some down time.

Make sure you give them both plenty of active daily play time with you and a good selection of toys - cat dancer wands, jingly balls, laser pointers - anything that gets them good and tired. If they are both well exercised there will be less energy for the high energy seemingly serious spats. Ensure you have a couple of sturdy scratching posts too or scratching mats. Sometimes a cat will redirect excessive energy that might lead to a spat into just having a good old claw sharpening session instead.

Set up a regular grooming schedule for both cats - use treats to keep them interested - it's a great time for bonding with you - allowing them to individually shift their focus to you will help them both chill. Ensure that each cat sees you grooming and petting the other - cats are good visual learners and will often quieten down if they see the other cat being quiet and relaxed when you are with them.

Make sure they have plenty of space to eat too. Add another couple of water bowls to the apartment so they can both drink in peace without fear of being pounced on. Adding another litter tray would be a good idea.

Really serious cat fights are a firework spectacular to behold and tend to be self limiting, you haven't described any serious cat fights happening, but do be aware that sometimes play fighting and general personal space spats can appear very wild to humans.

A couple of Feliway diffusers set up around your apartment will help both cats feel secure by making the space smell of them - you won't be able to smell it but your cats will.

If you see one bullying the other by not letting them out from under a safe place, keep your hands to yourself (safety) but quietly move between the bully cat and usher them away out of the room using your body language (no arm or hand waving - just use your legs) - face on, gently herding them away. Quiet is the key here. If they are having a spat DO NOT stick your hands in to end it, you will be injured.

A water spray bottle can be useful to break up any fight you think is getting out of hand, but use it sparingly. If the cats see you using it they will learn that it's ok to beat the crap out of each other when you aren't there. One short squirt is usually enough to break up a spat. Don't speak or shout when you use it. The idea is that the cats get a spot or two of water on them and they haven't a clue where it comes from and are distracted enough by it to quit fighting. Quiet is your friend again here.

It does sound as if they are sorting things out for themselves, but you are right to be concerned about territorial disputes getting out of hand. Nose kisses are an intimate hello to cats, as they are doing this, there's every chance that a balance will be found

Best of luck!
posted by Arqa at 3:49 AM on January 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

It took quite a while for the third cat in my three cat household to get integrated (he hid for a month before the territory fights even started). Its been a few years now and while most of the time they all three get along now, there are still screaming-hissy-fights. Its a process, it takes time, and they need to 'fight it out'. (though of course if they're going to actually hurt each other, not just make a lot of drama, you'll want to intervene).
It sounds like they've had to renegotiate with relocating back to a smaller space. Whatever they were working out in the bigger apartment no longer applies.
posted by sandraregina at 5:39 AM on January 12, 2009

I was introduced a third cat into a female/male cat household. The females still hate each other. It took some time, maybe 3 months or so, before they quit the constant fights. Now they keep it to hissing at each other as they meet in the hall. Hang in there.
posted by Silvertree at 6:48 AM on January 12, 2009

Best answer: Straight up - I do cat communications. I can read and understand the feline psyche. So - here's the deal. There are personalities involved and hierchy at risk. Hence the fighting. You can't *make* cats get along. What you can do is make sure each one has their own place, bed, dish and space - and then you do the peacemaker part. You start just relaxing both of them - in pecking order - i.e. first the one who was there first, then the newcomer. You want to reassure both of them that you love them equally - and NO ONE is going to be threatened. No their space or their attention from you. Find out what it takes to be a peacemaker. And then learn some things about how energy works. You want to *smoooooooothe* out the rough edges that are harbored between them. Whatever it takes. Singing, Rescue Remedy, alone time with each one of them - just smoothing it out. Then you talk to them - actually telling them - that this is how it's going to be - you love them BOTH. And each one will be getting the same from you.

If you have to separate them for safety's sake - then do it. You don't want fighting - you want peace. So allow them separate rooms/litter boxes - areas - if necessary. Don't force the friendship. It'll happen or it won't. But your role as mediator is crucial. They are - in fact - looking to you - to sort things out. It's a confusing time for all. Please learn all your can about introducing a new cat via google and other resources. Good luck.
posted by watercarrier at 7:09 AM on January 12, 2009

Best answer: Get the cats in the bathroom. Open two cans of tuna. Dump the oil from one can on each of the cats. Leave the bathroom. Check back in a half hour or so.

Did it when a new cat moved in, did it again when a third arrived. They all love each other now.
posted by Etrigan at 7:55 AM on January 12, 2009 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Keep claws well clipped, and exercise patience... He's been on his own for a long time, so he's having trouble settling into the normal situation for multi-gender altered cat communities, which is where the most dominant female will always assume she's in charge, and the males typically roll their eyes and ignore her.

Feliway, extra attention, separation when necessary are all good ideas, but if you're not seeing problems sharing food or a litter box, then all is liable to be good.

Most of the behavior you describe sounds like typical dominance play (a group of kittens will do this all day long, but they don't pack enough size to do much damage); as long as one doesn't accidentally scratch the other badly (which is why you need to keep claws clipped), then I'd suggest letting them sort it out.
posted by nonliteral at 8:22 AM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ummm... I didn't have tuna, but I locked them both in the bathroom and then smeared a half-can of wet catfood on the backs of their necks.
And a second too late, I remembered that cats shake. Do they ever. There are flecks of Fancy Feast ALL OVER MY BATHROOM. Not to mention in my very long, curly, catfood-trapping hair. So.... yeah.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:28 PM on January 15, 2009

It was a very bad idea. But so many thought it was a good one - and what could *possibly* go wrong, so I let it slide. Please let us know how things are going with the pham. Best wishes.
posted by watercarrier at 6:12 AM on January 16, 2009

Response by poster: I should clarify that meh, I'm not mad about the catfoood shower. It was pretty hilarious, a couple baby wipes took care of the mess, and I'm always happy to get some good anecdote material. Neither cat would lick the other so they both had beefy, spiky fur on their necks all night until I took a wet towel and scrubbed them clean. But I did leave them in the bathroom for 40 minutes or so, and I think all the time spent in close proximity, licking and licking and licking the beefy bits actually was sort of soothing for them. Like they did a quilting bee or something. There was less fighting for the rest of the night after that, so no harm, no foul.
Thanks all for the answers- all very helpful. I feel more at-ease about the whole situation now.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:39 PM on January 16, 2009

Response by poster: Hey, anyone who finds this thread by searching, it's been 2.5 months and the cats are pretty much friends now. They don't cuddle together, but they do kiss noses, sniff butts, hang out without tension, and will both sit on the bed at the same time. They play-fight a lot (kangaroo windmill arms, chasing, a little bit of humping) but they don't look mad while they do it, and they hardly ever hiss or scratch any more. Most of the time they're both visibly quite relaxed in each other's presence. My formerly lonely & bored male cat is unquestionably much happier and more mentally stimulated than he was while he was alone, and the new female cat seems pretty happy in her new life too. Success! Thanks, all!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:24 PM on March 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: I just caught them almost-snuggling on the couch!!!111!!OMG!!!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:52 PM on May 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

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