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While it can be upsetting and frustrating, fighting between cats living in the same household is a problem that in many cases can be prevented and solved with the help of a professional or a veterinarian. Cat behavior is quite complex and there are many reasons why aggression can occur.
Understanding cat aggression or hyperesthesia
Why do cats become aggressive?
Aggression is not a diagnosis. It is part of normal feline behavior and is strongly influenced by early social history and exposure to humans and other animals, gender, social context, manipulation, personality, and many other variables. Aggression between cohabiting cats can occur in several forms with different causes. Fear, anxiety, medical problems, the improper introduction of a new cat, and lack of food resources can contribute to the aggression between cats in a household.
Lack of socialization
Socialization is the process of preparing a cat to enjoy interactions and to feel comfortable with other animals, people, places, and activities. Ideally, socialization should begin in the sensitive period between the age of 2 and 7 weeks for kittens.
Many cats do not get proper socialization and because of this, there are several problems that occur when one or more adults of the same species are involved. Because these cats do not have adequate experiences, they do not understand normal cat communication and etiquette and are likely to have intense and inappropriate responses when seeing another cat. They may run and hide from fear or attack in an attempt to drive the other cat away from their personal space.
During appropriate socialization, the animal should develop appropriate social behavior toward its own species and others with whom it has properly socialized. This will positively influence the social behavior expressed later in life.
Introducing a new cat
Proper introduction of the new cat to existing cats is essential, as introduction often lays the foundation for their relationship. If your current cat has lived with other cats and has always been friendly, it can be very tempting to leave your new cat in the same space as your current one.
You can assume that they will get along well, however, cats have not always used the right path and a negative initial encounter can lay weak foundations for their relationship.
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The introduction should be done slowly and the needs of each cat should be taken into account. It is difficult to resist the desire to get the cats to meet immediately so that they can start a wonderful friendship. However, if you leave the new cat free around the house, a number of things with less positive consequences can happen.
Your existing cat may feel that its territory has been invaded if the newcomer is left free to explore. This could make your cat feel unsafe and in turn, lead to behavioral changes or lay the grounds for being aggressive and offensive toward the new cat. That doesn’t help any of them!
From the perspective of the new cat, she does not know where she is. Every smell and sound are unknown and a possible threat may lurk in every corner. If you adopted your new cat, it probably had a controlled number of sounds and smells. It can also be used to living in a small space, and while you want her to experience freedom, rushing her can make her feel overwhelmed and stressed out.
Competition for resources
In households with many cats, it is not uncommon for one or more cats to prevent access to important resources such as food, water, and sandboxes.
It is important to provide multiple and separate environmental key resources, which include sandboxes, water, food, hidden spaces, places to catch, rest/sleep areas, play areas, scratch areas, and toys. This helps lower social tension and competition, decreases territorial motivations, decreases stress and fear, and provides choices that help prevent aggression between cats.
The last thing a cat wants to do is fight. Instead, cats prefer to run away or avoid each other, as fighting can lead to injury. But if these options are not available, aggression is the last option. In households where there are many cats, they are often not related, but they have to share their resources and have limited opportunities to hide or have to avoid situations of potential conflict.
If you notice that your cat has sudden changes in its behavior toward another cat in the house, it should be examined for basic medical problems. Cats suffering from pain may also have uncharacteristic episodes of aggression.
A cat may start growling or snarling when other household pets approach her or have increased irritability. Other medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism, dental diseases, osteoarthritis, and cognitive dysfunction can also cause increased irritability and aggression in cats.
Lack of hunting
Cats have natural behaviors and needs and must have opportunities to express these behaviors. It is important to give your cat the possibility to hunt which includes a variety of toys, scheduled play hours with cats separately once or two times a day, and food toys.
Tips for dealing with aggression between your cats:
Never let your cats fight. They do not solve their problems in this way, and most of the time disputes become more frequent and serious. You can stop aggression by clapping your hands or splashing them with water using a sprayer.
Sterilize all cats, although males are more likely to behave aggressively.
Separate the places where they eat and drink water. Reducing competition between cats is done by providing multiple identical bowls of food and water, sleeping places, or litter boxes in different areas of the house or living space.
Do not try to calm down or temper the aggressive cat, it is best to leave it alone and give it space. If you approach it immediately there is the possibility to redirect its aggressiveness to you.
Provide windowsills, high-rise spaces, hiding places, and boxes as many as possible so they can stay where they want and give each other space.
Reward the desired behavior; praise or reward your cats when they behave the way you want them to.
Try pheromone products for cats. They mimic the natural smell of cats, which we cannot perceive, and induce a state of comfort, while reducing stress, thus the house becomes a safe place for them, minimizing aggressive behavior and marking of territory. It is necessary to use the pheromone diffuser in the area most frequented by your cats.
In the case of cats that got along up to a certain point, you can also try the following things:
Separate the cats in different rooms for a few days or weeks so that they have separate sleeping places, separate food, and water corners, and separate litter boxes. In this way, they hear and smell each other but cannot interact.
Place their food bowls on either side of the closed door. This will force them to get closer to each other when they do something they enjoy, like eating.
Change the rooms where the cats stay every day so they will experience variations and each will have access to the smell of the other.
After several days, if both cats are relaxed, open the door an inch. If they remain calm open the door a little more, and then more and more. If cats remain calm, they may be ready to stay together again. If they react and show any signs of aggression, like growling, spitting, or clawing, you need to separate them again and return to the approach steps listed above.
There are cases of success when owners rubbed a piece of tuna on the bodies and the heads of cats, so cats became very busy with self-grooming, which is a relaxing behavior, and decreased the risk of feeling annoyed by the other cats. If things go very well, cats will toilet each other because they can’t get to the tuna juice that’s on their heads.
Do not hesitate to contact a specialist in animal behavioral problems for advice.
Some cats just can’t live together in peace, and as you know, stress and tension aren’t healthy for us or our animals. It is not ideal to force them to coexist in stress, but try to keep them separate or find another home for one of them.