How do I get my cats to get along?
March 8, 2021 9:59 AM   Subscribe

We have two cats that don't get along. Is there anything I can do to help them?

One of the cats is 16 years old, arthritic, with bad kidneys. We've had him since he was three weeks old. He's stable/fine day to day, but he's old and slow and mostly just wants to spend his days either in front of the fireplace or in my or my wife's lap. The other one is a six month old kitten, who we have come to realize is 95% great and 5% complete doodyhead.

He's mostly a normal kitten - has a ton of energy, runs around a lot, jumps up on everything, all the standard kitten stuff. And he hangs out on my shoulder a lot, like a furry parrot, which is adorable and I love it.

But, annoyingly, he spends most of his waking hours absolutely torturing Old Man Kitty. We tried to do a good job of slowly introducing New Kitty to our other two cats (the third cat is not really part of this story, as he's just sort of...aloof and doesn't care much about the kitten) - we kept New Kitten in his own room for about 10 days, and slowly introduced him to the sights and smells of the rest of the cats and the rest of the house.

That seemed to work, at first. But then, as New Kitty has gotten more comfortable in the house, he has made it his mission to attack Old Man Kitty at literally every opportunity he gets. And not just friendly "let's play!" kind of attacks, either - he does some of that, but more often than not it's WWE-style leaps from four feet away that land on Old Man Kitty's back, it's full-on charges into Old Man Kitty that result in him being pinned to the ground under New Kitty, and all sorts of other random aggressive swipes, charges, and tail-biting, all the dang time. New Kitty hisses, growls, guttural-moans, and expresses all sorts of displeasure at this, but New Kitty doesn't care, he just keeps on attacking.

What have we done to try to help? Here's a list:

- We've tried putting New Kitty in time out. He doesn't care - he'd come out of TO and make a beeline for Old Man Kitty.
- We've tried the squirt bottle. He thinks it's part of the game now.
- We have Feliway diffusers in our bedroom, and the room where he spends a lot of his day, and we use drops of Rescue Remedy in his food. Neither have had a noticeable effect.
- We've tried separation, although that is very tricky because of two factors: we live in about 1000 square feet of mostly open-plan floorspace, and Old Man Kitty has been with us for so long that any change of his routine that denies him access to space he's used to being in is met with yowls until he is granted said access.
- We've even gone to (virtual) kitty counseling with the Humane Society in an effort to get some insight on how to help resolve this problem. We tried some of the things they suggested, primarily click-training New Kitty to come when called, but that only seems to work if we can get to New Kitty before the attack itself starts - once he's in attack mode, nothing breaks it up other than us physically removing him from Old Man Kitty.

We're kind of at our wit's end right now - which is admittedly not helped by the massive fight New Kitty got into with Old Man Kitty at 4AM today on our bed, which involved New Kitty leaping from the floor to my midsection and trampolining off my midsection onto Old Man Kitty, and thus ensuring no more sleep for OId Man Human.

Much of the time, New Kitty is as adorable as you'd expect a new kitten to be. But when he's bad, he's absolutely awful. Is there anything that you've done to help calm down a kitten (or to get a kitten to get along with its sibling) that works, that we could try in order to calm him down?
posted by pdb to Pets & Animals (10 answers total)
We had the exact same situation a few years ago when we adopted a kitten to go with our middle-aged cat. We ended up making the very difficult decision to return the kitten after a few months because it just wasn't working out and we couldn't adopt a third (apartment rules) so that kitten would have an age-appropriate friend.

Now we live in a house and have successfully integrated two kittens into the house. Old Cat still doesn't love them, but when kittens have energy they can successfully direct it at each other instead of at Old Cat and so peace is largely maintained. I know it seems counterintuitive for the advice here to be "adopt another", but I do think New Kitty is displaying some normal behavior and might need a friend.
posted by soonertbone at 10:30 AM on March 8 [7 favorites]

Per this recent thread, I think you really need to get new kitty a playmate. Let old kitty live in peace.
posted by hydra77 at 10:31 AM on March 8 [6 favorites]

Have you tried tiring out new kitty? I know that's hard with a kitten. The usual way is with another kitten (so they attack each other instead of senior household members) but that may not be feasible.

In lieu of additional cat... daily playtimes using Jackson Galaxy's boil and simmer method. One before each (human) meal, maybe, or some other household schedule. Ensure there's variety - wand toys, laser pointer - and ensure that the style of play actually tires him out. (My go-to to get a cat stop stalking and start pouncing is move the toy slowly out of their line of sight.)

I recommend food toys and treat games on top of clicking training. Anything where the cat has to use its brain to get a snack. One of my go-tos is scavenger hunt (stick cats in bathroom; close door; hide treats around; cats race around to sniff out the treats), but I also do a lot of ad-hoccy type stuff. I'll wrap some treats in newspaper and crunch it up so they have to tear the paper to get the treats, or put out an empty pasta sauce jar with treats so they have to fish them out with their paws.

A kitty hack I haven't seen anywhere else (and is mildly embarrassing but WORKS) is sticking a piece of string or a shoelace in the back of your pants and walking around with it dragging on the ground, while you're doing chores or whatever.

You might also consider harness training + taking him on walks so you can both get him a lot of novel stimulation and give old kitty some alone in the house time.

I think time out is on the right track, but instead of just letting him out and he gets to charge at old kitty, an immediate play session to get the energy out.
posted by snerson at 10:32 AM on March 8 [7 favorites]

You need an additional kitten the same age as the first kitten - it's almost always a bad idea to get a solo kitten when you have a senior cat. The kitten by nature wants to play, and wants companionship from his own species, and is not able to learn to leave the old cat alone when his socialization needs are not being met. If he had another cat who *wanted* to play, he would bother that cat instead because it's more fun (senior kitty is probably more fun to go for than your third cat because he is less able to evade the kitten due to arthritis).
posted by nevernines at 10:36 AM on March 8 [4 favorites]

Thanks for the suggestions so far. Unfortunately, getting another kitten is not an option for us - we're in a small space (if nothing else, we have nowhere to put another litter box), and more restrictive than that, we're at our HOA-mandated max for pets in our place.
posted by pdb at 10:59 AM on March 8

Sounds like you need an adult cat then, sorry to say.
posted by kschang at 11:14 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]

Even if you had a second kitten, it sounds like this one just wants to dominate the elder cat. I'm so sorry; he sounds adorable, especially the shoulder sitting.

You might get somewhere with a genius cat behaviorist, but honestly, if you need to give up the kitten and go for a 3+-year-old calmer cat (who will still be self-assured enough to defend him or herself from a future kitten), the sooner the better.
posted by amtho at 11:38 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I went through something similar, but the key difference was that my older cat is still spry and he could dominate the kitten when the situation demanded it. If your elder cat isn't able to do that, it's going to be hard for the kitten to ever learn boundaries around playtime. My kitten (a true combo of sweetness and terror) didn't start to calm down until 1yr/14 months- so you possibly have a long time to go. I know it sucks, but I'd seriously consider trying to rehome the kitten.
posted by coffeecat at 12:50 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]

Rehome the kitten now while he's still adorable and easier to place. You've done your due diligence and this situation isn't working. Your older cat deserves to live out his golden years in peace.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 8:10 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]

IIRC, there's at least two different kinds of Feliway that use different pheromones and one of them is specifically for encouraging prosocial behavior in multicat households. So you might want to check if that's the one you have.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:35 PM on March 8

« Older Stacking dishes for an eventual small crowd   |   Beard barber in NYC Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments