Nobody likes a cat fight -- the hissing, the yowling, the potential for real harm to one or both cats. Yet tiffs among felines are more common than you might think. Nancy Peterson, cat programs manager with The Humane Society of the United States, says a recent survey by the American Pet Products Association shows American cat owners had 2.45 cats per household as of 2008, up from 2.3 just a few years prior. When there are two or more cats in a home, fighting is always a possibility.
There are numerous reasons your cat might pick a fight with another furry feline, even if it's his normally beloved littermate. But if you learn to read the signals your cat is sending, you'll be able to minimize the chance of a squabble occurring, or stop a fight that's brewing.
Here are some ways to do just that.
5: Gradually Introduce New Cats
You think you're doing your cat a favor by bringing home a companion and playmate. But your cat might see the newcomer as a rival and a threat, especially if you immediately thrust them together. Keep the new cat segregated from the other one (or ones) at first, says Jane Brunt, a feline-only veterinarian and member of the CATalyst Council, Inc. And make sure the new cat has its own stuff: a separate litter box, food and water, perch, scratching post and toys. "Then, gradually introduce the new cat to the resident cat, letting your resident cat first just see the new cat, then eventually letting them be around each other a little. Sometimes this takes a couple weeks," Brunt explains.
Be aware that cats are also territorial. Your resident kitty probably has a favorite spot or two for snoozing or watching the goings-on in the neighborhood. Discourage the new cat from honing in on these spots. Even better, encourage the newbie to adopt his own special place by finding a separate spot, then setting a towel there with his scent on it, and perhaps some catnip.
4: Mix Your Cats' Scents
Scent is very important to cats. They like how they smell and are comfortable with familiar odors. It's not uncommon for a cat owner with two companionable cats to take one cat to the vet, only to return home and have him greeted by a now-hostile friend. What gives? The cat that went to the vet likely picked up a lot of new scents that are confusing the cat who stayed home, leading him to think his buddy is a scary stranger. But according to Peterson, it's easy to prevent this situation. Before you leave the vet's office for home, rub the cat with a towel containing the home cat's scent. When you walk in the door, the cat that stayed home will be greeted by a reassuring smell.
Swapping or mingling scents also helps when you bring home a new cat. When your new cat is initially isolated from the resident cat, start getting them used to each other's scents by rubbing each one's towel or favorite toy over the other cat, Brunt recommends.
3: Watch Out for Illness
When you're not feeling well, you might retreat to another room to be alone. And you'd probably reprimand a child who jumped on your back for a piggyback ride shortly after you returned from a trip to the chiropractor. Similarly, a cat who isn't feeling so hot might take a swipe at a buddy who's trying to play, or at a normally beloved littermate who accidentally slides into its sore hip. "Cats hide illness pretty well," says Peterson, noting one indication your cat might be under the weather is sudden aggression toward a furry pal.
Brunt agrees, noting pain in cats is much more common than veterinarians and other experts once believed. If you suspect your cat isn't feeling well because of the way it's acting toward other cats, a trip to the vet may be in order.
2: Beware of Redirected Aggression
You're stressed out about work, and take it out on loved ones by yelling at them for something minor. Cats also sometimes take out their anger or fear on whoever is the closest, whether it's you or their feline housemate. In fact, this practice is actually quite common among indoor cats, which are, in a sense, trapped. For example, let's say your cat is looking out the window and sees another cat or dog in the yard. Your cat, which is territorial by nature, gets agitated. But he can't do anything about the animal outside because he's stuck inside the house. So he turns around, sees his buddy and picks a fight. Although such behavior certainly isn't desirable, it's good to know it's considered typical in cats. Still, you can help prevent such situations by observing what agitates your cat. If he loves sitting on the couch by the window, for example, but is often distressed by what's going on outside, close the shade during the day or put up a large screen.
1: When in Doubt, Distract
It's too late -- the fighting has begun. What do you do? Don't step in and try to break it up by hitting the cats or chasing them with a broom. You'll merely end up with a wealth of scratches and possibly with cats that never trust you again. Your interference may even escalate their aggression. Instead, make a sudden, loud noise from a hidden spot by clapping your hands or banging a pan. The noise will startle the cats, and they'll likely both run away. (Or at least the one who is losing the fight will.) Another tactic, says Peterson, is to distract them by tossing something -- a pillow, for example -- to a spot a little bit away from the fight. Again, the distraction will likely end the squabble. Just make sure you lob the object from a hidden spot so they don't associate you with the fight in any way.