Gotta keep 'em seperated ...
April 21, 2009 9:26 PM   Subscribe

Looking for some advice to offer to friends who combined their households with two cats each about a month ago with somewhat poor results.

So these are not my cats, and the cats have been living together for about a month. I'm friends with both the owners, and have been the cat sitter for all the cats for 1.5 years. Recently the two owners moved in together. Am sitting for them for the first time since the combination, and it seems like kind of a sad situation for all kitties. What can they do now that a month has passed? (I think the owners, especially one, is sad about the situation as well, but at a loss as to what to do.)

The cats previous situation:

1 female abyssinian (Cat A) and 1 male generic housecat (Cat B) used to live in one house. Without question, the female was the top cat. She was the adventurous, in-to-everything type, and he was the overweight, velcro-kitty, super calm type. They got along great.

In the other house, two male abyssinians. Again, one was clearly the dominant cat. The dominant one (Cat C) was the bounce off the walls type, the other (Cat D) was, again, the overweight, super calm type. Same situation, the two got along great.

I think when these two households combined (into a 3rd, new house), there were plans regarding the introduction of the cats to eachother, but something made that go awry. I can't remember the situation, but I think they escaped from their areas and ran into eachother or something.

Here's the current situation: The owners are maintaining separate areas of the house because of the difficulties the cats have in getting along. Cat C is acting rather aggressive, going up and fighting fatcat B when he's minding his own in another room, knocking his old friend Cat D off his food plate so he can gobble his food. I never saw these behaviors in Cat C before the combination. He's clearly asserting himself as the dominant cat, which I suppose might be normal. Cat B and Cat D are generally clueless and non-agressive, and can hang out in the same room without issue. Cat C might walk in and be fine, or he might randomly walk in and hiss or screech at cat B.

The really sad situation involves Cat A. She has decided that the particular room her owner occupies is her territory, and will not let any cat except her old friend, Cat B, enter. She will also almost *never* leave this area. She lives in a 5,000 square foot house, and occupies a 10x15 foot area. She does go use the litterbox, but I've broken up multiple fights where cat C is attacking her while in the box. I worry that at some point she'll just stop leaving the room to use the box. Also, because cats C and D aren't able to get into cat A's room, naturally, that is the only place they want to go. Cat A will sit at the doorway to her room, and if another cat besides her friend Cat B is even in eyesight, she sits and growls until they go away.

So while it would seem that cat C is dominant over the rest of the house, cat A has decided she'll be dominant over her 120sq ft. But it's a sad situation because she's confined to one tiny room in an enormous house, and is no longer her playful, shoulder-riding self.

Cat A's owner has always babied her, even before this, (and she is the type who feels that her cat can do no wrong, and all the other cats in the house are rotten bastards for harassing her precious angel...) so all cat A's meals are carried into her room so she doesn't have to exit to eat. Also, because of her breed, she is a skinny, tiny cat... I just weighed her at 7.4 lbs., so doing something like leaving her meals outside her room in order to try to force her to exit might actually be kind of dangerous to her health. I can easily imagine Cat A going on a hunger strike.

Also, even though the owners are a couple, I guarantee Cat A's owner is willing to sleep indefinitely in a separate room specifically so that Cat A won't be lonely / harassed. She's a bit obsessive about this cat. This will obviously interfere with the creation of a happy home.

Anybody know any good ideas on how to resolve this that I might be able to pass on to the owners? If this has been going on a month, is there any way to break Cat A of her territorial-ness? Would this cause enormous fights while Cat A and Cat C fight it out for dominance? Do they need to just restrict her access to her territory? Call a pet psychiatrist? Start over with the introductions? Let it work out on its own? Sell the new house and move back to separate places? (Yikes!)

Deepest thanks to all.
posted by FortyT-wo to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not an expert, but this seems normal for about a month in.

Cat C is obviously a bit insecure and needs to be confined to her own area more so she feels safe there. Cat A is probably just fine and her room is her room for now. Let her be.
posted by dhartung at 9:35 PM on April 21, 2009

Combined a household with an alpha female and alpha male. It's been a year and they still hate each other. Female's territory is my room and the other cat is not allowed in no matter what. In public spaces, they'll go after each other but I don't break it up until it gets physical. Sometimes cats just don't get along and you can't do anything about it.
posted by idiotfactory at 9:41 PM on April 21, 2009

A month is NO time at all for this process. The biggest problem is the attacking on the litterbox behavior. That seems to be a particularly vulnerable and private time for cats, and my understanding is that attacks during this time are serious dominance and territory challenge.

Get a separate litterbox for A's room. Separate food dishes, everything. Let her have her territory; it's important to her.

Keep the door to the A's room open, so other cats with their smells can still be encountered. I've read online that taking a slightly damp towel and rubbing it on cats in succession will help them get used to the new cat smells in the house. (It will also piss them off a lot at first.) Pet the new cats and then rub your hands on A's face. You can also get some of the cat pheromone spray which helps them feel relaxed.

We introduced new cats into our house a couple of years ago, and the original cat (female) still growls and will not socialize with the newer cats (male). (She wasn't feline-socialized as a kitten.) However, she's much less pissy now than before: she stays in the same room when they enter now, will allow the males within a foot without growling or striking out, etc. The litterbox attacks seemed to stop around the 5th month.

This won't be for the TwoLegs in the household to work out. It will be up to the cats, and they will eventually get used to the smells and work out their own hierarchy. It may not be friendly, but it will be tolerant.

posted by hippybear at 9:55 PM on April 21, 2009

It's only been a month. Let it go a bit longer. Cat A will stick with that room at least for now, and this is fine. Don't play stupid games with a cat who is not yours, feed it in the room and move a litter box in there. Are there sufficient litter boxes in this home? Ideally I've heard you want n+1 boxes for n cats; this is usually not feasible, but you ought to have at least two (one for cats from each household), and preferably a third in cat A's room.
posted by jeather at 10:00 PM on April 21, 2009

I combined a household with an alpha female and an alpha male about a year and a half ago. I have the fat, usually calm boy who will assert his territory if need be but is mostly curious about other cats and just wants to sniff them and maybe share a couch for napping, housemate has skinny, fussy girl who is used to being an only cat and is very used to getting her own way. They don't really fight much anymore, but they don't get along either. They each have their own mutually respected hangout spots and they don't attack each other in the litter box anymore, but sometimes they swipe or hiss at each other as they walk by.

I think it'll get easier - they've got two dominant cats trying to figure out their new pecking order. They can try some Feliway, make sure they all get attention, shoo away the most egregious attacks. I think it'll work itself out. And I don't see a problem with feeding Cat A separately for now until she gets more comfortable.
posted by bedhead at 10:06 PM on April 21, 2009

Wow - that's pretty complicated. The only advice I can give is an idea for how to train antagonistic cats to leave each other alone. We introduced an new cat to our house, and she constantly fought and chased the old cat, so we placed a number of small spray bottles around the house, so whenever we saw a fight, we got a spray bottle and sprayed the aggressor - she hated that, and after a while it was enough to brandish the spray bottle for her to stop fighting. After about three months, they no longer fought. They didn't exactly learn to love each other, but they stopped beating each other up; they mostly avoid each other now, with an occasional staring match. Perhaps if you gave Cat C a squirt whenever she tried to assert dominance over Cat A, she'd learn to share the house. Good luck.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:33 PM on April 21, 2009

Jeather, the owners are subscribers to the n+1 idea, so there are 5 litterboxes in the house -- 3 in a large mudroom just feet from the bedroom that Cat A lives in, and two on a lower level. I can definitely say that all 5 being are used. Cats C and D, especially, always played litterbox games even in their own house, with lots of overpeeing in the litterbox, and cat C always using the litterbox immediately after it's been scooped. Cats A & B never seemed to care as much. So I do think that cat C is more concerned with who is peeing where, and making sure his pee is on top.

Just to make it clear, I have absolutely no intention of trying to change the cats' habits in the short time that I'll be staying here, I can't possibly affect the problem in any way, except that the cats may be more nervous just because their owners aren't around. Whatever makes them happiest is the only thing I need to do while I'm cat-sitting. The owner of Cat A, especially, is heartbroken about the situation, and certainly open to suggestions, so was just interested in passing on ideas.
posted by FortyT-wo at 10:39 PM on April 21, 2009

Go the utilitarian route and get rid of cat C.
posted by the cuban at 2:08 AM on April 22, 2009

This doesn't sound too awful for only a month in.

First thing, I would definitely put a litterbox in Cat A's room. Cat C attacking her en route to the litterbox could cause her to develop litterbox aversion, which would be a total cluster.

Second, Cat C might benefit from having his action cooled out a little. Putting him on a anti-depressant might take his behavior down a couple of notches. I'm currently using Elavil for behavioral issues on one of mine and it has definitely dampened his I HATE YOU AND YOU AND YOU AND YOU attitude problem. If Cat C is less aggressive, it might encourage Cat A to explore the house a little more.

I'm currently integrating a 3 cat/2 dog household into an existing 4 cat household, so I understand and sympathize. I've been using the Elavil on one walking behavior problem and also a dog crate for isolation when he becomes too hostile, kind of like a kitty time-out.

The crate might be an option for your friend, Cat C could chill out in it for a couple of hours while the rest of the cats enjoy a break from his oppression.
posted by crankylex at 6:19 AM on April 22, 2009

How about using Feliway? It helped a lot with my cats' anxiety issues (especially the one who is terrified of everything) when moving into a new space. It probably wouldn't solve the problem, but might help them relax a little. It's expensive but when it works, it's like magic kitty prozac.

Honestly, I would tend to confine Cat C in an area, since he seems to be the chief instigator (attacking Cat A on the box? That is asking for stinky, stinky trouble.), and let the other three figure out what's going on amongst themselves. Plus if Cat A were free (and willing) to start moving around the house, she'd find Cat C's scent on everything and gradually get acclimated. Meanwhile, if Cat C chilled out a little bit due to not being constantly confronted with !!ENEMY!!, he might be able to be successfully reintroduced... I don't know what caused the change from gradual introduction plans, but I'd think it's probably not too late to separate them and try again (at least separating the two aggro cats).

That said, I'd say six months or longer is not an unreasonable expectation for having to put up with catfighting, and I Nth the squirt bottle recs.
posted by sldownard at 7:31 AM on April 22, 2009

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