What can I do to calm down an angry and scared cat?
July 25, 2007 9:37 AM   Subscribe

What can I do to calm down an angry and scared cat?

I recently moved into a modest apartment with my best friend and her 2 cats. We had lengthly discussions regarding how to combine households and how to manage our cats prior to my moving in. My kitty is 6 years older than my roommate's cats and had never lived with other kitties prior to my recent move because I lived alone with my cat for years. We decided against socializing my cat with the other two cats and kept my kitty segregated from the other cats. Everything worked out fine for a month. My cat stayed inside of my bedroom, with myself or my roommate most of the time. I locked up my roommate's cats in her bedroom a few times a day (with water, food and litter, of course) and then allowed my kitty to roam freely through the house. My cat got to the point where she was comfortable enough to drink out of the other cats' water dish. My cat would occassionally see the other cats hanging around my bedroom door when I would enter or exit my bedroom and my cat wouldn't become agitated when she viewed the other cats. I assume that she knew other cats live there.

Here's the problem: About 2 weeks ago, the other cats escaped from my roommate's bedroom while my cat was roaming in the apartment and a very angry cat fight followed. My cat returned to her bedroom following the fight but has been very agitated for the past 2 weeks. I stopped sleeping in my bedroom after the fight and I leave my kitty alone, for the most part, because she is still very angry and scared. She is also aggressive towards me, which hasn't happened in the past. I make sure she has water and food and clean her litter box but things are definitely not back to normal. I have been mixing "Calm Down" into her canned food and this has been affective for short periods of time. My cat is usually a tad bit cranky but very affectionate towards myself and my roommate. She is usually happy with the "simple" things in life, like sleeping on her special blanket and playing with plastic straws. She will be going to the vet tomorrow because I'm concerned that my cat is ill or (gulp) may need to be placed on some kitty cat anti-depressants. Any suggestions?
posted by tigraviva to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Go back to normal. Moving out of the room isn't helping your cat feel any more secure or normal. You're punishing her (actually, you're being kind of a doormat, but from her perspective you're punishing her by removing your presence), and that doesn't work particularly well with cats.

I am of the "fizz it out" philosophy for cats, she's going to need to finish her hissy fit before she starts to adjust again. Go back to normal, expect normal behavior from her, stop walking on eggshells making her more anxious. Reward pleasant behavior, ignore aggression. Find a way to get her more exercise (laser pointer, toy on a rope, cat dancer glove, etc) so she can burn off some of that pent up energy.

I have heard good things about Feliway; I'm sure someone else will talk about their experiences with it.

After the increased exercise regimen evens her out some, integrate the household. I think you made the situation worse by keeping them separated for so long.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:46 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I can't imagine it is mentally healthy for a cat to be locked in a single room almost all day every day. You guys need to integrate your pets!
posted by Justinian at 9:51 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is normal territorial behavior. I'd think it'd be stressful on you and your roommate to have to segregate them forever. I think the way to get him to calm down is to realize there is no real threat from the other cats. They need to be introduced, and although they may never be best buddies, they will likely develop a truce.

For more info on cat/cat introductions.

I would hope your vet would only put her on drugs as a last resort. In the absence of physical evidence it sounds like she is scared, not ill. I'm not sure why you are leaving her alone - this probably makes her more upset as her human/safety blanket is no longer there. She probably needs you to see that things are "normal" and that she shouldn't worry.

Bring something into your room that smells like the other cats (say, your friend's shirt that they sleep on). Because it's linked to you, it will be "OK" with your cat, and she'll get used to their smell.
posted by desjardins at 9:52 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Lyn's right. I'm not sure why you decided against socializing the cats, but you need to do this.

Go back to your room. Separate the cats with something they can see each other through (baby gate), and then eventually integrate them back in, under supervision with a squirt bottle handy to break up fights.

Your kitty doesn't need Prozac, it needs a stable environment where it can come to terms with the fact that there are other cats living there in the common living spaces. Shutting the other cats away isn't doing anybody any favors.
posted by canine epigram at 9:54 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

These two were mortal enemies at first, but within weeks developed a truce, and then became buddies.
posted by desjardins at 10:00 AM on July 25, 2007

desjardins, you made me wish more answers were like picturebooks.
posted by ORthey at 10:23 AM on July 25, 2007

In my experience, you answers are all right here: scent swapping (include the humans, too!), Feliway (I have used it to great success) and socialization, first through a barrier, then freely. I do await biscotti's input, but I have 4 kitties, and hti sis what has worked with me.
posted by oflinkey at 10:29 AM on July 25, 2007

Another vote for Feliway. And supervised interaction.

I'm not really sure you need the vet appointment. Try the Feliway first, at least. Be generous with the cat treats (to both sides), too.
posted by kmennie at 10:49 AM on July 25, 2007

Don't be too quick to panic as the sight of a cat fight. Hissing and some swiping is normal and to be expected--they need a chance to figure out the boundaries. It's really easy to overreact but that won't help anything. Don't yell, don't try to separate them manually. Avoid adding any stress to the situation. When they come into contact, they will be stressed out enough. Let your kitty see that you are calm and in control of the situation.
posted by Ms. Saint at 11:01 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was just reading a little bit about cat behavior yesterday. Cats are weird little beasties and it's not always intuitively obvious what they're thinking.

Based on what I was reading about how cats are territorial animals, I think your cat may be reacting to the way you have had things set up. Previously your cat was aware that other cats were in her vicinity, but those cats were never allowed to enter what she considers to be "her territory."

Of course, she doesn't realize that you were preventing those cats from entering her territory. If I can be allowed to make a guess, your cat probably believed that the other cats were choosing not to enter her territory, because they recognized and acknowledged it to be her territory. That is why she was drinking out of the "other cats'" dish; she believed it to be her own dish, just as every part of that territory was her territory.

Now that the other cats have challenged her on her own territory, she has obviously changed her mind about this. Instead of prowling her own territory confidently without fear of challenge, she is now worried about being challenged or ambushed in the disputed area. When she smells evidence of the other cats, she is now thinking "Competitor! Competitor was in my territory!"

I think the right answer would probably be to let her make friends with the other cats.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:09 PM on July 25, 2007

I would also like to chime in in favor of Feliway. It really seems to soothe my cats whenever they are in a frightening or stressful situation.
posted by tastybrains at 12:13 PM on July 25, 2007

I agree that you need to go back to your previous routine, cat's thrive on routine and changing that right after the fight has most likely made things more confusing and stressful for her. I understand why you want to leave her alone, but sleeping in there is a pretty good way to give her company without being threatening or forcing it on her (since you're asleep after all). Mostly she needs a calm safe place to relax (which it sounds like she has in your bedroom) and a normal routine to reassure her, plus some non-contact attention and company from you to show she's still part of your family.

Other than that you're doing everything right. Sure it's taking you a while but you know your cat best and different temperaments demand different timelines. I found the information at messybeast really helpful (this was posted recently on ask.me) when introducing two cats recently. Their advice is similar to the other comments here as it's a reasonably standard procedure, and they specifically address difficult situations.

We're down to about 30% hiss rate and, while there are still fights, they are also reluctantly sleeping next to each other on the bean bag by the fire. Given how utterly upset and stressed and angry my older cat was to start with I thought this would be impossible, but the eventual change was pretty quick once it started (hate hate hate hate meh cuddle). When my older cat got really stressed we put her away in 'her' bedroom then did something in there like folding laundry, ignoring her but being present. She usually calmed down pretty fast. Quiet music can help too so that she can't hear the other cats prowling around, and make sure they can't taunt her with paws under the door. We still keep that room totally kitten free, using the kitten's bedroom for scent swapping exercises, because I felt it was more important for the older one to have a total sanctuary than pushing her too fast to integrate (Elisa (kitten) loved Mandy right from the start so stress wasn't an issue on her side). There's always going to be some stress in these situations though, unfortunately it's inevitable.

I looked into feliway but it's vet only medicine in NZ and costs about $90 for a diffuser, so decided not to go that route. My vet recommends it though, so it's not just random internet people saying it's good, and it sounds like it could be warranted in your case.
posted by shelleycat at 3:08 PM on July 25, 2007

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