How can we keep our cats from fighting?
December 11, 2003 8:30 AM   Subscribe

Cat Trouble- my wife and I have two huge cats, each of whom grew up being the only game in town. They seem to live for combat. How can we keep them from clawing the hell out of each other? [more inside]

They've lived together now for about two and a half years and still don't seem to integrate too well. We've tried everything we can think of to prevent battles- playing with them to tire them out, physically seperating them when we're not around, and so on- but it's still pretty common to hear a dustup in the other room and find someone missing a patch of fur. Is there any way to stop the violence? Failing that, is there any way to prevent serious damage (one's declawed, the other has his claws clipped frequently)?
posted by COBRA! to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You have my sympathies, COBRA!. We have two spirited little guys, but number 2 moved in when number 1 was young enough that (after 6 months of terror) they now get along.

I'm not a proponent of declawing, but it seems like a good idea here to level the playing field. When the fur flies, is there biting, or just clawing? Does the declawed cat still find a way to do damage?

Our cats playfight a lot, but the bulk of the real fighting comes when they are competing over something (usually, who gets a prime spot in bed). It's generally good practice to set habits, give each of them a set cuddle-time, and make sure that each of them has his/her own place to go to be alone.
posted by stonerose at 8:40 AM on December 11, 2003

Response by poster: is there biting, or just clawing? Does the declawed cat still find a way to do damage?

There's both biting and clawing. The one with claws is more likely to start stuff, but the one without (who is a few pounds bigger and infinitely meaner) is more likely to be the one who does damage, usually with her back claws.

I can't tell if they're fighting over spots, or if they're bored or just don't like each other. Or some combination.
posted by COBRA! at 8:44 AM on December 11, 2003

My wife and I have three cats. Toto, the cat we've had the longest, loved her brother, Tintin. Tintin died, though, and we replaced him with Simon. Toto and Simon had some rows, but that was nothing compared to the conflic that's occurred since we brought Nemo home last summer. Lordy. Toto's a ball of growls and hisses and claws now.

I asked my vet what we could do about it and his response was: "Nothing. Just give them a few months to sort it out."

This hasn't seem to have worked well. Simon goes out of his way to provoke Toto (which isn't difficult, I'll admit), and Nemo has no fear of anything and so doesn't respect Toto's space. We have to lock her away at night or we can't sleep.

Still, we're hoping the vets advice pans out (though it sounds, from your experience, like it may not). To facilitate the beasts, each has a separate litterbox and separate food bowl in different rooms.

The contortions we go through for animals. Sheesh.
posted by jdroth at 8:44 AM on December 11, 2003

I had a 2 year old female who wasn't so keen on the new kitten that my girlfriend and I brought home one night.

The biggest problem was that the kitten had no fear of the older cat and would run full tilt at her, scaring the beejeezus out of everyone involved.

This was quickly fixed by the addition of a bell to the kitten's collar. It also made it handy to figure out where the kitten was when we needed to find him.
posted by bshort at 8:52 AM on December 11, 2003

From my experience, fighting is a natural occurance when there are two alpha cats living in the same household. That said, and not knowing the hierarchy of your pair, the fact that one is declawed and thus, defenseless, may be the crux of your problem. While I am adamantly opposed to declawing, in this circumstance, it may be the only way to even out the battlefield, short of finding a new home for one of the combatants.
posted by lola at 8:56 AM on December 11, 2003

Claw caps, maybe?
posted by brownpau at 9:19 AM on December 11, 2003

The obvious question (At least to me) are they both neutered/spayed yet? If not done already, getting that done can sometimes cut down/lessen the problem.
posted by tonelesscereal at 9:39 AM on December 11, 2003

Response by poster: The obvious question (At least to me) are they both neutered/spayed yet?

They're both fixed... I can just imagine how bad it would be if they weren't.

bshort, did the kitten seem to mind the bell? Did the constant tinkling drive you nuts as he moved around the house? I think that sort of early-warning might work here, if the tinkling isn't a worse problem.

The picture in the claw caps link reminds me of when I was a kid and my sister would insist on putting makeup on the family dog, including nail polish. Not a pretty sight, although the dog weirdly seemed to like it.
posted by COBRA! at 9:46 AM on December 11, 2003

Does either cat seemed stressed out over this? Is one frightened of the other? If so, you might try this, which helps to calm things down and may help a little with the aggressiveness.

If that's not a problem, and nobody is getting seriously injured, then I wouldn't worry about it -- cats cannot be made to understand the concept of "Life would be better if we all got along." Hell, even humans can't quite get it. I've got 3 cats, and #1 quarrels with #s 2 and 3, charges them, whaps at them, etc. This has been going on for nearly a year. I just holler, "HEY!!!" to break it up when it gets too bad and then get out the handvac to clean up the fur.

And you may be right about the boredom. After all, glaring at each other gives the cats something to do, some excitement.
posted by JanetLand at 9:47 AM on December 11, 2003

COBRA!: Nope, the kitten was fine with the bell, although he was also really young (8 weeks), so he didn't seem to mind much of anything.

The bell was small enough that the tinkling didn't make us ballistic, but large enough to still warn the older cat.

BTW: the two cats are now the best of friends. After 2 months they started in with the grooming and the good-natured playing.
posted by bshort at 11:18 AM on December 11, 2003

Some cats just never get along, and there's not much you can do about it (same with some dogs). SoftPaws claw covers may be an idea to keep serious injuries from happening, but unless you can keep them separated, or are willing to rehome one of them, I suspect you may just have to live with it. At very least provide hiding places where they can each go to get away from the other (covered beds are a great idea for this), provide two litterboxes in different rooms, and provide separate food and water bowls in different rooms (not so much so that each has its own food, water and litterbox, but so that they each have somewhere to go to get food, water and a litterbox if the other decides to guard the other food, water and litterbox).
posted by biscotti at 11:23 AM on December 11, 2003

We have four cats (the result of merged households), and the oldest female hates the youngest male. And I mean hates. All he has to do is look at her, and she cuts loose with the most blood-curdling screams I've ever heard. Nice way to come out of a deep sleep at 4 in the morning. The vet suggested ClomiCalm, which is used to treat separation anxiety in dogs. Since she refuses to take a pill, the pharmacy provided it as a suspension which I apply to her inner ears whenever I can remember to do it. I honestly can't say how much of a difference it's making, but I'm sure that the sporadic dosing schedule is to blame for that.
posted by Dean King at 12:14 PM on December 11, 2003

All the suggestions here are great. I would add that, for the most part, you don't need to worry too much about serious damage occuring. Cat fights are all about dominance - the cats figure out who's boss, and then the other cat backs down, preventing further violence. As long as the subdominant cat has somewhere to run off and hide, as per biscotti's suggestion, the fights should end with very little actual bloodshed. If you start seeing more serious injuries than the usual cat-scratches, it's time to worry, but otherwise you can rest assured that they won't actually maim each other. Of course, it'd be best if you could get them to stop fighting entirely, so hopefully one of the suggestions here will do the trick!
posted by vorfeed at 1:20 PM on December 11, 2003

I'm not a cat owner, but I've heard of a method that involved two cats who had been smeared with the oil from a can of tuna, placed together in a small, confined space. The end result seems to be a toss-up between brutal mayhem or an orgy of licking which may lead to cat detente. Take this advice with a boulder of salt, though, as I have never attempted it, and it does have that risk of the brutal mayhem and all.
posted by Dreama at 1:22 PM on December 11, 2003

Thank you brownpau for the claw caps link. You just solved a cat crisis for me. I never knew such a thing existed. Of course, getting them on my cat may be an adventure in itself. :D
posted by Orb at 1:39 PM on December 11, 2003

Ha, Dreama. My cats co-exist fairly peacefully, but I might try your suggestion just for fun!
posted by jess at 2:04 PM on December 11, 2003

Most of these responses seem to be taking an aversive or physically preventative approach to the situation. A different mechanism might be to determine what would constitute good behavior and reward-shape to get that. Cats are highly reward-driven and many of them enjoy the mental stimulation of training. This Yahoo list (and their wonderful library of files) really spells out how to use positive means to work on specific problem behaviors (including the multi-cat household, aggressive behavior problem).
posted by salt at 2:59 PM on December 11, 2003

I've heard that a dab of vaseline on the nose inhibits their sense of smell, which they use to sense & identify rivals, etc. I can't confirm this, and it's no permanent solution, but you might try it and see if it has any effect.
posted by scarabic at 3:59 PM on December 11, 2003

We did the claw caps. My cat was so humiliated that she hid under the bed for several days when anyone was around.

I suggest you try something like Feliway or Rescue Remedy, both of which are supposed to give animals the feeling of well-being.
posted by answergrape at 7:14 PM on December 11, 2003

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