Cat Conflict Resolution 101
October 4, 2012 2:20 PM   Subscribe

CatFilter: I know this question has been done to death but... three cats, one apartment, two microconflicts. What is to be done?

Due to an emergency housing situation that demanded a quick move, I recently moved in with a long-time friend's lovely boyfriend who needed a roommate with some urgency as well. I have been living in this new apartment for a month next Friday. However, one issue we were aware of going into the arrangement was that he already had two cats in his apartment--Belly (5 years, alpha-male) and Lenny (5 years, significantly beta-male) who are brothers. All cats are fixed/neutered/spayed, and all cats are very friendly toward people. If it weren't for the emergency need for the move, I would probably have figured out a different arrangement to avoid having to do cat-melding. A test run of having her come over seemed to provoke some aggression that then fell into a relatively stable state. My father, who I'll consider a lay-expert in cat-dom, assured me all would be well.

Unfortunately, this isn't the case. Lenny, the beta-male brother cat, has become absolutely terrified of leaving the kitchen. He in fact sleeps on the kitchen table all day. The instigation to me posting this question was my roommate texting me to say that Lenny had begun to urinate behind the table, probably in distress. This isn't a sustainable situation, and I feel terrible and horrible about what our presence here has done to this cat. Moving out again is 100% not an option.

Primarily, Lenny is afraid of my cat. My roommate and my friend claim Fiona is being aggressive (vs. curious) which is not my perception-she pokes her head up on "his table" but never hisses or even meows, but of course I am biased. (To be honest I wonder if she just wants to play--my cat is about three years younger and while not hyperactive is still youthful, and definitely has about 100% more energy than either boy cat). Regardless and more importantly, my cat's presence alone (seeing her across the room) seems to terrify Lenny. Lenny would apparently be an occasional target for Belly before we moved in, so has been on the bottom of the pecking order for some time. (He actually tried pretty aggressively to get Fiona when I first moved in, a battle which my cat "won," perhaps apparently with lasting effect). I am willing to do cat-discipline on what interactions I do see between Fiona and Lenny.

As a side note: Belly, the alpha-male cat, aggressively harasses my cat Fiona, but in a way that's definitely decreasing and becoming slowly better in a way more typical with what I've experienced with cat-integrations. They aren't buddies by a long shot--and occasionally get into ultimately nonthreatening tousles and hisses initiated by Belly--but have begun to be able to, say, get pets on opposite sides of me without flipping out, or sleeping close to each other on different vertical levels. I don't think they'll ever be friends, but I've seen a consistently upward trajectory of toleration since I moved in. I am less concerned about this as it seems to be getting better on average (and, importantly, my cat isn't behaving oddly or reflecting stress/trauma).

MeFi, I need your cat conflict resolution tips! Is there any way to convince Lenny the cat that my cat is not a threat? Any chemical means (getting them all high on catnip with each other?) or behavioral means (spraybottle? tricking Lenny into thinking he's won a conflict so as to feel dominant?), patterns of sequestration/integration? I am willing to try anything; my cat and I are in some way guests and I was done a kindness to be able to move in, and I don't want the apartment to become unlivable for one of the original cats.

Current points:
* My roommate cut all of the cats' claws so they aren't terribly efficacious as weapons at present (perhaps for worse in Lenny's case?).
* I have tried using FeliWay (both the spray and the diffuser), to no apparent effect. I just put an order out for those kitten-pheremone collars (SentryGuard?) as a last-ditch.
* Fiona currently spends about at least 8 hours a day sequestered from the general cat population, sleeping with me.
* There are already food/water stations on opposite sides of the apartment.
* There is currently only one litter box, in a bathroom on the other side of the apartment from the kitchen. It isn't terribly practical to put a litterbox anywhere but the bathroom. I have heard the 1+(number of cats) litterbox rule before. I don't think we could have four litterboxes, but it might be possible to add one more as a sacrifice to peace in our apartment, maybe a small one in the kitchen. Does this really make a difference, do people have experience with increasing litterboxes correlating with behavioral improvements?
* I will be leaving the city for good in approximately 8-9 months, so there does not need to be friendship, merely peace in our time.

Thanks, MetaFilter!
posted by Keter to Pets & Animals (8 answers total)
I think that Lenny needs to have his own safe-zone, so he has a place where he can chill and no kitty can mess with him. NekoFeeder has one that works with a crate.

As for kitty dynamics, my little girl bosses her brother around. She was the only girl in a litter of 5 and she ruled the roost from birth. She still bops poor Malcolm on the head when she wants him to give her something (noms).

I suspect that perhaps Lenny had a female cat in his life that hassled him and he now is depressed about being 3rd in the pecking order.

You can get another litter box and conceal it in some furniture. We have one that's the size of a largish end-table. That might help.

There's a way to introduce cats to each other. When they get fed, keep one on one side of a door, and the other on the other side. They can smell each other while they eat.

Lenny may just be a sensitive soul and he may need more time to get used to the new girl in town.

Give him lots of love and make him as comfy as possible, it may take a while, but he'll come around.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:28 PM on October 4, 2012

You absolutely need another litter box. More importantly, the new litter box needs to be in a place where Lenny can enter and leave in relative peace. If the cats know they can wait until Lenny is in the can to pounce on him, he's going to understandably get nervous about using the litter box.

I had one cat growing up who was so skittish, we needed to hide his litter box in a back hallway we stopped using. He didn't even like it if he caught us cleaning his litter box, so we got an electronic one and would distract him while someone else changed the used litter. It was a weird solution, but stopped a three month stint of peeing under the bed.

One of my current cats is also skittish, so she has two different litter boxes she can choose. We have to distract the other cat regularly so that he knows that peeing is a private vulnerable act.

I imagine eventually they'll sort out a pecking order. And allowing some conflict around that is necessary. But you need to feel safe while peeing. That overrides the digging instinct.
posted by politikitty at 3:18 PM on October 4, 2012

A month doesn't seem like a long time for 3 cats to meld. We have 3 cats and the 3rd is a kitten, introduced several months ago. She gets on well with our younger cat, but the older one still hisses at her once in a while.

We have 2 giant litter boxes, side by side, in the bathroom, and I have to keep them very clean or the younger male will indeed pee due to stress. The older one is very shy and that's why he hisses when he's disturbed. The kitten is like, "hey, hey, I can do THIS!" and it will still freak out the older one once in a while.

One thing we do is give wet treats and I do kitten, then younger, then older, nudging them all gently (as the younger male is goofy and will eat anywhere unless put in front of his dish, whereas the older one will sniff but wait for his turn and the kitten just barrels in and "NOM NOM THIS IS MY FOOD!"). I also give them some catnip once in a while and play with the kitten a lot, as I did with the others when they were younger, fetch toys, etc.

Our vet told us Bach flower remedy spray works, sprayed on their lips. I thought it was woo, but we did it when we move the two older boys in crates and they were really calm. I also will throw down some catnip once in a while in three separate places and let them go at it.

It takes a bit longer for them to establish a pecking order and you may want to consider a litter box in your bedroom and keeping your cat in there for a few weeks until they have calmed down a bit. But three cats and one litter box is a bit much! He could just be fastidious and intimidated and nervous. A lot of times cats need to be introduced more slowly, as in, one in another room and let them smell each other a week or so. Maybe back it off a bit and then let them interact when you are home? I've had to give my bigger boy a lot of extra attention to make sure he knows he's still my baby despite the kitten being around.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:36 PM on October 4, 2012

With 3 cats in the situation you're describing, you *definitely* need more than one litterbox (and it needs to be in a different room from the other one, in order to space out the territory). Might be impractical to put it elsewhere space-wise, but if your choice is between "stepping in random pee" and "having to put up with a second box where you'd rather not have one", I know which option I'd prefer!
posted by aecorwin at 4:13 PM on October 4, 2012

Small litterbox in the kitchen. Not an awesome plan but will definitely work okay. My sister folded two new cats into a household that already had two cats and one cat moved into the kitchen and would not leave. So the litterbox in the kitchen wasn't so much to get the cats to get along but to stop the "cat pees in the kitchen" problem first. I am not smart in the cat whispering that the rest of your question requires but a second small litterbox is a great idea.
posted by jessamyn at 6:23 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Call your vet - you know those plug-in scented things moms use?
They make those with cat pheromones too! Smells like nothing to humans, but really helps the cats chill out. PetSmart or somewhere like that might have them too.

And yeah... multiple litterboxes is a MUST; and maybe an established feeding time 2x day where he can eat in privacy (your room, with door closed) - that way the other cat isn't eating "his" food.
posted by jrobin276 at 9:42 PM on October 4, 2012

Nthing another litter box. Actually, may work best if this new litter box was for the new cat. The other two, I assume, have their agreements with each other re: litter box/food/general hierarchy sorted out.

I know it's not ideal, but could her litter box be in your room (at least for a little while)? And could she be closed in your room when you're not there and supervising their interactions? It would give the other two time to themselves in what, until recently, was *their* territory.

[On preview:]cue rambling to show that it is in fact possible....

I've had the bedroom set-up. In a fairly small bedroom (considering the space the bed took up). The litter box was as far from the bed as possible. Believe it or not, that was my closet. Probably a good thing I didn't have a lot of clothes at that time and they only took up about half. But a charcoal filter in that little vent-thingy on top of the box, and religiously scooping daily (occasionally twice-daily, if I noticed/needed), and neither my room, nor my clothes picked up any smell. Really! I had honest friends smell me! [yeah, kinda awkward] Someone upthread said something about hiding the box in furniture?

Her food/water were near the bed, but at pretty much the opposite corner from the litter box. I had a small scratching-perch next to the window, and her food/water were kept/placed at the base of it.

Of course, I also kept her slicker-brush (which she OMGLOVES!!!) on my night-stand. Nightly brushing-cuddles, yay! Had to keep her treats inside the nightstand cabinet though, or the begging would only stop when she'd decide to rip into the bag. (Greenies, by the way, if anyone needs a healthier/ish treat recommendation for a picky cat.)

Like I said, it's not *ideal*, but maybe worth considering? And it may not be permanent. Giving the other two the time to adjust, while still being able to smell/paw through a door will probably help immensely. When they all calm down a bit, and figure out the new hierarchy, you could probably move the litter box and food/water somewhere else, though I'd still put them somewhere not-too-close to the other two's.
posted by MuChao at 10:04 PM on October 4, 2012

I will be watching this thread with interest, as I almost posted a very similar question several weeks ago.

2 and a half months ago, we ended up with an emergency new kitten, who was introduced to: oldest, very chill, cat; a teenager, who adjusted more slowly, but admirably; and Kittle--a sad, anxious young adult, who has not dealt AT ALL. He sits hunched outside looking absolutely pitiful and comes in only to grab a mouthful and run back out. He hisses and snorts non-stop, and has made himself sick on occasion snorting while also trying to eat. Just pathetic.

We have tried: time, which has not helped; feliway with no result; catnip (he is a non-responder) and the collar that you mention. For the first day, the collar seemed like a miracle. No snorting, less hypervigilance, and Kittle actually seemed comfortable staying inside for a time. Since that time, though, it seems to have reverted right back and now I question my judgement--perhaps I saw what I wanted to see until it became obvious it wasn't helping. Hopefully the collar will work better for you guys.

My next stop is xanax or prozac at our next vet visit. Good luck to you.
posted by thebrokedown at 9:19 AM on October 5, 2012

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