Why do my cats suddenly hate each other?
September 24, 2007 10:20 PM   Subscribe

My cats have suddenly become very aggressive towards each other. What gives?

They're brother and sister, about three years old. I've had them since they were 10 weeks, and a week ago we moved into an apartment in Brooklyn from DC. This will be the fourth apartment they've lived in, and beyond the standard play fighting, they've never been even remotely aggressive towards each other. They've always taken moves very well, and this one is no exception; after being skittish for a day or so, they livened right up and made themselves at home. They were last at the vet less than a year ago for their yearly checkup, and they got their rabies and other boosters when they were there.

Until now: I woke up this morning to girl cat hissing and growling at boy cat. This is very strange; last night they were being their sweet, affectionate selves towards each other, and it seemed like someone flipped a switch overnight. I thought it might go away after a day at work, but it's continuing, and I'm worried.

So, what can I do about this?
posted by kdar to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are they neutered and spayed?
posted by amyms at 10:44 PM on September 24, 2007

Response by poster: Yup, they are, and have been since they were 5 months old.

Also: they're completely indoor cats.
posted by kdar at 10:58 PM on September 24, 2007

It's the new place and something in it they've discovered and must adjust to.

The last time I moved with my two cats, who were complete cuddle-buddies-in-love prior, they pretended as though they had never met (and decidedly hated each other) for about a week, beginning a day or two after we'd all settled. Until they got used to their surroundings, their new smells, and became confident of their domain and safety, they acted defensive and skittish, often lashing out (and seemingly blaming each other with their hostility).

Give it another few days. Maybe spend some time with each of them playing with toys or providing some catnip treat. But if you really want to speed things up, put some fish oil on the backs of each of their necks and lock 'em in a bathroom together for about an hour. They'll bond.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:11 PM on September 24, 2007

How is she reacting to you? I wonder if she's in pain in any way and is striking out at him because of it.
posted by thebrokedown at 11:12 PM on September 24, 2007

IANAVeteranarian, but I am a lifelong cat owner. Cats are mysterious creatures, and inter-feline interactions are complex and don't always make sense to us feeble humans. If it's only been about 24 hours since girl kitty started hating on boy kitty, I don't think you have much to worry about. My two adopted Siamese are the best of friends, but once in a GREAT while (read: every 2-3 years), the female will get angry at the male for god-knows-what, and spend a couple of days hissing at him. After the female gets over her grudge, everything goes back to normal and the two are back to being BFFs again.

Give them a few days, and girl kitty will probably get over whatever it was boy kitty did to piss her off.
posted by MiaWallace at 11:16 PM on September 24, 2007

Bach Flower Remedies are extremely effective for animals. You can just put a few drops in their drinking water and/or rub some on your hands into their skin. For your cats specifically, Rescue Remedy (for trauma) and Walnut (helps animals feel safe during change and transition). These remedies are VIBRATIONAL, not systemic--they will not impact any organs or biological functions, they are even safe for newborn animals. by the way, these are also GREAT for humans! Learn More
posted by Lylo at 11:51 PM on September 24, 2007

It'll work itself out. Sometimes (for no real reason humans can detect) cats act ultra weird.

It may be that the boy cat felt more comfortable in the new place before the girl cat was entirely comfortable and he decided it was back to the old comfy times of the old place and girl cat is putting the smackdown on him because she's not perfectly comfortable yet. Or it could simply be that boy cat pushed the girl cat's buttons for a millisecond too long and she's telling him to knock it off. They are still investigating the new place and there are new smells/new sounds and it may just take them some time to figure out that they really are the only cats in the apartment.

It's possible that they have done this type of fighting in the past when you weren't around (during the day when you were at school/work or whatever) and this is just the first time you've been around for it.

Cats are pretty good about working these things out themselves.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 2:14 AM on September 25, 2007

Vibrational? This perfume, it shakes? Is there a unicode character to represent rolling eyes?

You've just introduced a major change into their lives. Don't get worked up over -one-morning- of crankyness. Didn't you ever wake up on the wrong side of the bed?

If the cranky persists for a notable period of time when you could look into Feliway or some of the aromatherapy suggested above, but for the moment I'd suggest you just shrug and let them work it out amongst themselves.

After all, you're presumably not around all the time - they may have brief cranky episodes with each other on a regular basis and you just aren't aware of it. Even if they don't, they have a relationship with each other that you, as an english-speaking opposable-thumb-owner, are not privy to and incapable of mediating.
posted by phearlez at 6:35 AM on September 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

@Lylo: Bach Flower Remedies are extremely effective ...

From QuackWatch:
Bach Remedies

These are homeopathically prepared (highly dilute) products said to have been developed during the 1930s by Edward Bach, a British bacteriologist and homeopath [11,12]. Ellon USA, Inc., of Lynbrook, New York, states that Bach "believed that the only way to cure illness was to address the underlying emotional causes of disease." This company markets an "emergency rescue formula" for "calming and stabilizing emotions" and a line of 38 "flower remedies" said to alleviate negative emotions. The Rescue Remdy is also said to be "of great benefit to all animals, no matter how large or small" and "useful in easing the trauma of transplanted plants, falling flowers, or injured trees." [11] The various remedies can be selected using Ellon's 116-item "self-help questionnaire." Someone who feels overwhelmed with work, for example, is advised to take the product called Elm, whereas someone who has strong opinions and is easily incensed by injustices is advised to use Vervain. An Ellon competitor describes its Rescue Remedy as "the one product you need to take care of all kinds of emergency emotional stress." This company's catalog states that this product "helps center the emotions until the crisis is past" and depicts it as useful for: (a) a woman under stress because her computer "froze," (b) a mother coping with a cranky toddler, (c) the partner of a doubles tennis player who missed a few shots, (d) participants in a minor auto accident, and (e) a man racing to board a plane who suddenly realizes he forgot to pack his suit and left his keys and ticket at home. A few companies market additional products they say are based on Bach's principles.

Flower remedies are also promoted through books, seminars, private practitioners, and telephone consultations. Some proponents state that the remedies can "balance out the body's subtle energy fields" and "prevent disease before physical symptoms develop." Of course, neither the theories nor the products make any sense.
posted by WCityMike at 9:14 AM on September 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

They will likely sort it out between them, but if you want to intervene, you can try the Feliway System. (Widely available in the US, online and in stores). I used it when we got a new kitten after numerous recommendations from MeFi cat owners. And I do think that it worked!
posted by picklebird at 11:32 AM on September 25, 2007

It sounds like the instigator of the aggression is usually the girl, so I'd guess that it's possible that there's a whole cat (male or female) in a nearby apartment, or that a previous owner had one that marked some area that your cats can smell, even if you can't.

The reason I suggest this is that even though neutered males are typically "apolitical", spayed females are often big participants in the "dominance game", even if they were spayed before maturity -- particularly if they can detect other cats who are marking territory.

It seems likely to me that your female is trying to prove that she's in charge of her territory, which also means knocking all of the males into line (even if he's the only other cat available).

I wouldn't worry about it too much -- they'll probably sort it out shortly, when the male figures out (as so many of us do :-) that it's easier to agree with her than argue.

In the meantime, I'd just keep a bit of an eye on them to make sure nobody does any permanent damage -- maybe even consign them to separate rooms for a short time if necessary -- watch out for scratches or bites that can get infected, and put away any easily toppled breakables...
posted by nonliteral at 11:37 AM on September 25, 2007

Just another opinion in support of the female cat being a territorial monster theory. I have two, brother and sister, nine years now. They get along perfectly, but if there is ever any single sense of imbalance, the female goes nuts and goes after the male. This can be anything -- if one of them has gone to the vet, if we let the male cat on the bed but not the female, or if i have to give the male one medicine and he meows loudly in disapproval...the female views it as an open opportunity to start the dominance game.

so my guess is you, someone, or even something random caused some shift in the balance, even inadvertently, and now the female has to have a fit to re-establish it.

the moral of the story is cats are absolutely insane (my last mefi question on the topic). good luck.
posted by SeƱor Pantalones at 12:17 AM on September 26, 2007

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