Misplaced aggression and Cat Crazies - What to do?
February 15, 2011 7:24 PM   Subscribe

Yet another cat question. I recently moved to a new place, and now my cats hate each other. Help, please?

About a month ago, Molly, Ed and I moved from my townhouse back home to my parent's place. I moved here to help my mother care for my grandmother, who is on hospice.

The new living situation is hard for my little guys - I'm certain they are picking up on the stress and sadness in the family, and nurses, aides and visitors are tromping in and out at all hours. While they were great pals at the townhouse, since the move they have turned on each other, hissing and fighting all the time. It's like a cat war zone! Molly, as former queen of the castle, is especially unsettled. Territory issues, misplaced aggression, and other freak-outs are all beginning to wear on already frayed nerves. I have to admit I did not see this one coming, and I have no idea what to do about it.

I expected them to have trouble settling in so I invested in Feliway dispensers, tried to find lots of "safe zones" for them, and have tried to give them as much love as possible in amongst the chaos. But when I bend down to pet one, the other comes running over, and the clawing and hissing starts up. Keeping them in separate rooms isn't really an option, since both of them loathe closed doors, and have been following me around like devoted servants since we arrived here. But I'm not sure what else to try.

Has anyone else out there ever dealt with anything similar? I realize that I may be looking for a magical answer that doesn't exist, but any advice on how to sooth them, and keep them from killing each other would be much appreciated!
posted by backwards compatible to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are they really going to kill each other? I've only had kittens close in age, so less of an issue, but I find throwing them together in a room and letting the balls of fluff sort it out seems to work.

(also Molly looks just like my Matty so I know SHE's the angel...)
posted by sweetkid at 7:54 PM on February 15, 2011

Feline prozac- seriously.
posted by TheBones at 8:28 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

FYI, cats can injure each other pretty badly, yes. Granted, "my" cats are feral and pretty territorial--fighty--but I've seen some ugly injuries from cat fights. Even with a couple of much tamer, previously friendly cats, I would not want to see the results of "let them fight it out."
posted by galadriel at 8:34 PM on February 15, 2011

I have a friend whose two cats (elderly brother and sister) hiss and claw at each other upon her return if she has taken one of them to the vet w/o the other. We've surmised that the one who left the house returns carrying scents that set the other one off. Do your parents have cats or other pets, or do other animals hang around outside where Molly and Ed can smell them?

Anyway, my friend has had success in defusing the conflict by rubbing each cat's face with a dryer sheet, so that each one smells like the other.

I've never had any luck using Feliway to calm down my cats when they were fighty. But after I last used it, I read that using the Feliway spray/plug-ins is more effective when the cat is also getting a supplement called Composure Bite-Sized Chews. In this thread, gilsonal suggests them.

Also: I ran into an interesting answer to another cat behavior question. Since your kitties' living situation has been altered, see what you think of this idea.

Good luck!
posted by virago at 9:05 PM on February 15, 2011

Have you tried one of those baby room-divider-gate-things that has small holes? I've heard they work wonders for introducing a new cat to a home that's already got a cat.

I don't see why it wouldn't work with these two kitties as a way to keep them separated while also allowing them to smell and get to know each other in order to realize they aren't each others enemies.

I have 4 cats at home, 2 pairs of sisters. When we first introduced the kittens to the "senior" cats there was major tension. There still is between two of them if they cross paths too closely... but they manage to stay out of each others' way most of the time. Besides that, they all co-exist quite happily most of the time and will even curl up on the bed together.
posted by Bron-Y-Aur at 9:05 PM on February 15, 2011

Here's a better link to the thread that mentions the Composure Chews.
posted by virago at 9:07 PM on February 15, 2011

On second thought, your cats are most likely old enough to jump easily over the gate. So, scratch that idea.

Pun slightly intended.
posted by Bron-Y-Aur at 9:10 PM on February 15, 2011

Ask your vet for some happy pills. They don't need to keep stressing out like that. They'll settle down eventually.
posted by saragoodman3 at 9:38 PM on February 15, 2011

First things first, for everybody's safety (including yours) clip their claws. Check them daily (it's amazing how fast a sharp tip can appear) and keep them trimmed. This will minimize the amount of real damage possible (they can still bite, but most territory squabble injuries tend to be clawing.)

The smell idea is a good one, but I'm not sure I'd go with dryer sheets (I've seen a few kitties with respiratory problems around them); instead you might consider giving them both a bath with the same shampoo. Johnson's baby shampoo is safe, effective, and pretty strong smelling, plus it won't cause freakouts if you get a bit in their eyes. Be sure to get paws, lower legs, head and backside well cleaned; this will catch most of the major scent-marking areas.

With or without doing this, they'll eventually settle into a new social order; the trick is to keep the damage (to kitties, nerves and belongings) to a minimum in the meantime. If worse comes to worse, until they calm down keep them separated on opposite sides of a door outside of times when you're free to babysit; they'll be able to smell each other and all of the new-house smells and slowly get used to the idea.

During times when you're babysitting them, don't tolerate aggression between them. If one of them gets cranky, a sharp (not hard, but enough for them to notice) tap or two on top of their head should settle them down (most cat territory fights come down to the winner swatting the other on top of the head a few times; you're asserting your territory here instead.) If that doesn't work, grab them by the scruff of the neck (where momma kitty picks up kittens; it tends to make them go slack), support their weight with your other hand, and separate them again for the time being.
posted by nonliteral at 9:53 PM on February 15, 2011

What types of safety zones did you set up for them?

You may want to check out Cat vs Cat. Probably, a fair amount of it won't apply to your very particular situation, but this author is fantastic and has great insight.

One of the most important things I learned about her is how much cats care about vertical space. They like to be up high, and they like to be on a plane that no one else could be on at the same time. So, a shelf on the wall that's just big enough for one kitty is perfect. Cats are cool with sharing space, but only in a timeshare sort of way--they want where they are at that moment to be THEIR space, but as soon as they move, that spot is no longer THEIRS. They also really like high areas because it's easy for them to see everything that's going on and harder for them to be caught. If these are nervous kitties, scared of new, hectic environments, it's important that you give them many different options for moving up away from everything.

Of course, if the safety zones you already have are like this, then I don't have any good advice for you. (Sorry!) But, Cat vs Cat most certainly does.
posted by meese at 4:55 AM on February 16, 2011

There's also Rescue Remedy that you can put in their water (use in yours too! It works for pets and humans) and it might help calm their anxiety somewhat. It's easy to find and not very expensive so might be a good alternative if you can't get in to see a vet and get some kitty prozac if needed.)

Good luck!
posted by Mysticalchick at 5:44 AM on February 16, 2011

Thank you all so much for your answers! I will get going on these right away.
posted by backwards compatible at 6:47 AM on February 16, 2011

Check to see whether there's a specific place or piece of furniture that's problematic. When we moved to New Jersey, I followed my husband after several months and he'd bought a desk and chair at Office Depot. The desk chair was such a huge bone of kitty contention that we got rid of it rather than have the cats continue to fight over it. We had an appropriate replacement chair in the furniture that came with me, and using it cut down on the number of arguments significantly.
posted by immlass at 7:46 AM on February 16, 2011

How long has this been going on?

When I've had to move my cats, they tend to hate each other for a few days or a week, but they eventually settle down. It's like they don't even remember that they've been living with the other cat for years; it's a new cat! in a new place! Grr, hiss, spit, and so on, until finally they get tired of it and are back to being okay with the other's presence.

If you're really concerned about damage you could try something like SoftPaws. These are soft rubber covers that you glue to the cats' paws. You can imagine that gluing things to each of your cats' claws might be a bit of a hassle, but as a temporary measure it might not be too bad.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:00 PM on February 16, 2011

When one of my cats had a bout of anxiety-induced anorexia, the vet told me to make sure I got the kind of Rescue Remedy without alcohol in it. I don't know if it really would have made too much difference, but I did so, and I thought I'd pass it on. (Feliway ended up working for him, and while he's still a bit neurotic, he's WAY better than he used to be, even a year or more after I stopped using it.)

When my cats have had differences of opinion or hierarchy struggles, I've just let them fight it out. But they were never so violent that they actually *were* likely to damage each other, with the exception of a couple of incidents when my younger two were kittens and my older two were less than thrilled. Those fights I did put a stop to. But for the most part, a little hissing and growling and even scratching isn't going to turn genuinely murderous. If it's not, I'd let them just get through it. But I'm not there, so I can't tell whether this is worse than anything my kids have inflicted on each other. Only you know whether their safety actually *is* at risk.

Keep going with the Feliway, though. That stuff is surprisingly effective.
posted by Because at 8:35 PM on February 16, 2011

I agree with nonliteral-- if you can trim those claws without them turning on you, do it ASAP.

Feliway WORKS. Plug ins diffuse most effectively. Put one near food, litter box, favorite hiding/resting place.

Rescue Remedy, and "Happy Traveler" (Valerian root, St. John's Wort, L-Tryptophan, and German Camomile) are great herbal remedies. When I was a vet tech, cats and dogs chilled out without being weird and drugged on both products.

A month seems like forever, but it is likely that your kitties' dominance issues are close to being settled. It generally takes that long.
posted by Bunsen Betty at 9:22 PM on February 16, 2011

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