Can't they all just get along?!
December 30, 2012 4:33 PM   Subscribe

[New Cat Filter]: Help us integrate an elderly male cat into our home. It's not going smoothly. At all.

About a month ago, my housemate flew down to visit with her father. While she was there, it became clear he was no longer up to pet care. Even though we were at what we felt was a comfortable max cat count (3), this is an older cat, that we felt would be fairly difficult to place due to his age (14), and one her father loves. So, the cat came back with her.

We know the steps for cat integration, and we applied them as best we could. A week of quarantine, with bowls and towels being swapped back so they could smell each other. A week with a toddler gate up, so they could check one another out safely. Short visits into the rest of the house, that got longer and longer, until the gate came down entirely.

At first, things seemed cautiously good.

Our biggest concern was our oldest male (13). But honestly, he just doesn't care. He looks at the newcomer occasionally, and then goes back to sleep. No spraying, posturing, or concern.

Our second biggest concern was our 1 1/2 year old male cat. He was a little alarmed at first. Some posturing, some hissing and yowling. And then he was all "Okay, you're a cat!! Play with me??" (which can be an issue, cause he's huge, and the cats don't generally like to have all 17 pounds of him land on their head). In general, these two are getting along well. They stop and sniff noses and no longer freak each other out.

Lowest on our list of concerns, when it should have been our highest, apparently, was our 3 1/2 year old female. She started off cautious and inclined to run from him, but the longer he stays, and the more obvious it becomes he's not leaving, the angrier she gets. She stalks him. She traps him in corners. Under beds. He howls at her, cause that's all he has to work with (declawed by my roommate's parents when they had him). She's got her claws and she's got him outmatched for weight and strength.

She despises him. We were sitting downstairs, watching tv when he started to meow in the upstairs hallway. She hurled herself up the stairs, outraged, and chased him back into his starting bedroom, and under the bed again.

She's generally such a sweet-natured, low maintenance cat, that we just don't know what to do or think about this. She gets along with the other two boys. Mutual grooming with the older one, and tolerating or avoidance with the younger one. But this newcomer, HE MUST DIE.

We don't like to get involved with cats working out status issues, but she's setting him back at this point. He'd finally gotten to the point of exploring the first floor (he had never seen stairs before), and now he's trapped back on the second again, and occasionally, even that's not good enough for her. We're also worried that after a while where things looked like they were going well, we have an escalation of hostilities, getting worse and worse. We've given her a couple timeouts at this point, just to break up the standoffs.

We have a Feliway plugin. Things have actually gotten worse since we started using it. We had just reached a really nice equilibrium with the three existing cats, one that did not involve cat fights under the beds and in the hallways at 3 am. Any suggestions to help us get back there?


Attractive Elderly Gentleman Newcomer! | It's true, Orange Cats are Good Natured.

Tough Young Girl Cat takes No Guff.

This handsome boy was the subject of a previous Ask Metafilter post.

This is not some kind of optical illusion. He's huge.


These two get along. | Okay, mostly! | These two also mostly get along! | These two basically adore each other.
posted by instead of three wishes to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I greatly admire your cats (elderly males are totally my feline type) and your cat-friendly haven, which I hope will soon be harmonious once again. Probably no thanks to my advice, but here's what I've got:

* Rub the same cloth on the scent glands of each cat in turn, repeatedly, to make them smell like each other.

* Arrange a situation where they are together, but no blood can be shed. (Install a temporary screen door? Put your female cat in a cat carrier?) Arrange for good things to happen -- treats, attention, whatever pushes their buttons. Maybe this is how she eats all her meals for a while.

I really hope something works, as everyone concerned sounds awesome. (If all else fails, try watching My Cat From Hell episodes for inspiration.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 4:59 PM on December 30, 2012

To paraphrase if all else fails, talk to your vet about anti-anxiety meds for your female cat to ease her stress with the new addition and give them a better chance to work things out, or enlist the guidance of a veterinary behaviorist. The right med can often be a temporary measure that gives you a better chance to make behavioral improvements.

Wishing you and your gorgeous lot of kitties a rapid return to peaceful cohabitation.
posted by vers at 5:45 PM on December 30, 2012

Do they have separate litter boxes?
posted by brujita at 5:53 PM on December 30, 2012

Response by poster: Four cats, four litter boxes, extra large ones. Three are in the basement, and One is on the second floor, because our new boy has only just got the hang of the stairs to the first floor, and is not up to going that far yet.
posted by instead of three wishes at 5:56 PM on December 30, 2012

Maybe try a pheromone collar on Miss Tuffy, it will create a concentrated cloud of chill out around her head rather than the hit or miss diffuse wafting of the Feliway plugin you're using now (it is the same stuff as Feliway otherwise). I put one on one of my cats when she suddenly decided to concentrate a lot of evil in the direction of one of my other cats, it was startling how well it worked. By the time the collar lost its scent (about 20 days) she had apparently forgotten all about why the other cat had pissed her off so and peace was restored.
posted by jamaro at 6:30 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Where are most of the fights taking place? It sounds like girl cat is (vociferously) establishing territory. We've encountered this situation twice; adding vertical climbing/perch space in the form of cat trees and window sills solved one problem pair within a week. The second time around, after 6 months of cat Vietnam, we kept declawed-deaf-old-man-cat-rescue on his own floor behind a door. (Everyone got lots of cuddles and TLC, just apart from each other.) It sounds cruel, but all of the cats, including the old man were MUCH more comfortable with this arrangement.

Keep in mind that while it feels awful now, barring any serious physical injury fights, you may want to tough it out a few more weeks before considering more drastic measures. Sometimes after the uber-territoreal cat feels he (she) has adequately claimed his/her space, peace will return. You can hasten this process by making sure the newcomer doesn't have to cross battleground territory to get to the litterbox/food bowl/water/comfy perch/nest.

You might also want to trim The General's claws or use silicone claw caps to even the field, so to speak.
posted by muirne81 at 6:43 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, can you put a jingle bell on the aggressor's collar, so the old man can hear her coming?
posted by muirne81 at 6:47 PM on December 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

We had a very similar problem integrating our cats - two declawed siblings vs. a younger clawed girl who looks a lot like your cute TYG. Our three got along well at first but then our younger clawed cat increasingly attacked the other two, particularly after we moved houses. Our vet suggested something that ended up working really well. He said that whenever the cats got into it with each other, to spray them with a water bottle but to do it in a way that they did not see it was us who was spraying them. That way, the cats learned to associate bickering with getting spritzed first and foremost. It worked very surprisingly fast. Also, we were not shy about wading into the cat dynamics as necessary - we decided that we were in fact entitled to set some rules for their behavior and for how they got along with each other, and that also helped restore the peace. So if I couldn't get to the water bottle in time I clapped my hands or otherwise interrupted the cat fights and told them "no" - which they did actually listen to. Our young girl is older now, still tough, and she still does try to rule the roost sometimes, but she's gotten great at sharing, which is so much nicer for everyone. Good luck! And those cats of yours are all super-sweet - thanks for the pictures.
posted by hazleweather at 6:50 PM on December 30, 2012

We've been dealing with the integration from hell, to the point where we engaged a pet behaviorist. We're now seeing progress, to the point that the two cats actually shared a couch today, though it's been a multi-month process. We tried Feliway, a calming collar, kitty prozac. Nothing worked until we followed the below steps. This is what we've learned:

1) Environmental:
a) plenty of litterboxes. If the boxes have a single entrance, consider having at least one that is a pan-type. You don't want a cat to be afraid of using the litterbox 'cause it's afraid of getting cornered.
b) Lots of alternate routes and places to hang out. Cat's think vertically too, so have lots of perch's.

2) Integration process
a) keep the cats completely separate.
b) swap the two cats between the spaces for random periods of times and at random times (you don't want to build a pattern of cat A is upstairs at night and downstairs in the morning, for example).
c) Get two cages/crates. Train the cats that the crates are where they get fed. If you're free-feeding, transition to timed feeding. Watch the cats eat, and as soon as they're done let them out of the cage. Do not train them to the pattern that when they meow they get out of the cage.
d) Once the cats are used to eating in the cages, place the cages as far apart as you can put them. Feed the cats in cage. As soon as a cat is done it's taken out of the cage and removed from area.
e) slowly bring the cages closer together.

The goal is to get the cats thinking that the other cat's presence is associated with good things (food). Eventually they'll get happy about the other cat.
posted by Runes at 6:53 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, such beautiful kitties! Hang in there. Females can be a real pain. It's only been a month, you say? Has the newcomer been a solo cat prior to moving in with your bunch? There's a lot of territorial stuff that has to happen. Really, give it more time. It's ok if he lives upstairs for a few months. Maybe put the gate at the top of the stairs when you're not home to give everyone an excuse to not interact, and allow him to have the whole upstairs as his turf?

I brought home a very young male recently to a five year old female, and she's was very rage-filled to start. He's bigger and more spry than she is, but he's very mellow and submissive. She'll spit at him and he'll flop over on his side and blink at her. She's slowly getting better with time. They occasionally play together and chase around the house, but then she'll get annoyed and growl at him again. I'm hoping that within another few months she'll get over herself. As hazleweather mentioned, I get involved in their dynamics, too. Lots of NO and picking up one and removing them from the action. Seems to help?

If the Feliway has made it worse, get rid of it.
posted by clone boulevard at 6:57 PM on December 30, 2012

Patience grasshopper. We had three cats, two siblings and a feral tortie. We fed stray orange cat on the porch through a brutal -30 winter. We trapped and neutered orange stray (also feral) and released him in our basement.

After a month of confinement he ventured out into the house to be balefully hated by girl tortie feral. She would rule the upstairs floor and the minute he poked his little nose out from the basement, she would whistle like a steamkettle and chase him back into his room.

This lasted about two-three months or so. The orange stray was bored and persistent, and tortie girl was very assertive about her dominance. What finally helped was giving her tons of extra attention, Bach's Rescue Remedy in everyone's food, and the Feliway plug in. But mainly it just took time and time. She couldn't keep it up forever, and reluctantly caved. Now they are buddies.
posted by tatiana131 at 7:19 PM on December 30, 2012

I have had a couple of different situations with aggressive cats and these calming collars made a big, instantaneous difference (within five minutes of putting them on the cat!). Put them on both the male and the female. Add Feliway plugins for extra pheremone goodness.
posted by schroedinger at 8:11 PM on December 30, 2012

What tatiana131 said. Time will, eventually, settle them into a pattern of indifference, if not tolerance.
posted by Mezentian at 9:58 PM on December 30, 2012

Years ago I integrated my three cat/two dog household with my now-husband's four cat household. There were a ton of variables to consider and my number one goal was to prevent peeing outside of the litterbox, because with seven cats that would have been a clusterfuck. So when it became apparent who the problem cats were going to be, I medicated them. The problem cats got daily doses of amitriptyline for a few months, and after a while we took them off of it and drama subsided to a cease-fire with only occassional flareups of hostility.
posted by crankylex at 6:07 AM on December 31, 2012

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