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BEHAVIOR: AGGRESSION AND CONFLICT BETWEEN CATS IN THE HOME

YVCipedia BEHAVIOR
CONFLICT AND AGGRESSION BETWEEN CATS IN THE HOME

CONSIDERATIONS
Feral and wild cats readily form groups. These groups are somewhat loose but comfortable associations. Two primary factors that allow them to form these groups are:

- The innate dispositions of the individual cats. Every cat has an individual personality, with traits that could reasonably be described in human terms - shy, out-going, anxious, friendly, bold, a loner,  etc. A cat's personality is determined by its genetic make-up and the level to which it is socialized with other cats during the critical period of 2 to 7 weeks of age. Only cats with a sociable personality will join a group.

- Access to essential resources. Food, water, resting places and latrines need to be at least adequate in amount and condition, if not abundant.

These same two basic conditions must be met for the domestic cats in a multicat home to form a peaceful group or groups. Where resources are good and the individual dispositions of the cats is amenable, the possibility of a comfortable relationship between the cats is high. 

MANAGEMENT OPTIONS
Your YVC veterinarian can consult with you regarding conflict between cats in your home; we will help you evaluate the situation and set up a management plan. The following are some of the strategies that might be employed:

- Evaluate the individual personalities of the cats in the household, and remember that these personalities are an innate part of each cat, and are not likely to change. If, for example, a cat is shy and anxious it is likely to attract the attention of the aggressor, and a prey/predator relationship will develop. A shy and anxious cat that is living alone or with other non-aggressive cats can be helped with medication and behavior modification, but is very unlikely to ever do well in a home with a playful or aggressive cat. In cases with such extreme mismatches in personality nothing short of re-homing one of the cats will help.

- Very carefully evaluate the essential resources. With regard to litter boxes, for example, there should be an equal number of boxes and cats, plus one box. But the number of boxes is not all that matters. The placement, the size, the design (covered vs. non-covered), and the type of litter are all important. In general, cats prefer large, uncovered boxes with clumping litter. They should be located where the cats are comfortable going, and not tucked away in a corner of the basement that the cats are disinclined to visit. They should also be in a location that does not allow a predator housemate to ambush it's prey on the way to or from the box.

The same considerations apply to the food and water supplies. 

Resting places also require careful planning. Feral and wild cats obviously live outdoors, and can easily maintain their desired distance from each other. Cats that live entirely indoors are forced to live in each other's "personal space". Making as much of the home as cat-friendly as possible by strategically placing comfortable bedding, window seats, hiding places, and cat trees can significantly ease tensions between cats.  

Sometimes these essential resources can be arranged into distinct core territories, one territory for each individual cat or social group of cats. In some homes it might be possible to separate these territories into different parts of the home. Even when this is not possible, and the territories must be set up adjacent to one another, this can still be an effective strategy.  

- Put a collar with a bell on the predator. This sometimes helps by alerting the prey cat(s) to the predator's presence. 

- If a cat or cats are typically being chased by a playful or predator cat, arrange multiple hiding places around the house. This helps to prevent the victim from being cornered. Multiple cardboard boxes are the simplest and very effective hiding places. It may best to open some boxes on both ends to create a tunnel.

- The flip side of providing hiding places and escape routes for the prey is removing vantage points that the predator uses for launching attacks. Aggressors will commonly hide behind regular doors or cat doors, and at the entry way to a hall, to ambush or trap their victims, so disallowing access to such locations can make the home safer.

- Let one cat, the predator or aggressor, go outdoors. Many owners are determined to keep their cats as indoor-only pets, based on the very reasonable assumption that they are safer. It is our experience, though, that the single most effective strategy for relieving intercat conflict in a home with indoor-only cats is to make one or more of the cats indoor-outdoor cats. As unappealling as this idea might seem, it is so highly effective, and the negative effects of the stress of intercat conflict can be so severe, it should never be completely dismissed as an option.

- Provide plenty of appealing play opportunities for active cats. A rotating selection of different types of toys is best. 

- Some cats are very responsive to "trick" training, such as fetching. Playing and training will give a vigorous cat a safe outlet for energy it might otherwise use for negative purposes.

- Cats rely largely on their sense of smell when they are forming and maintaining relationships. By rubbing on things and rubbing and grooming each other they are transferring scents that provide the cats that subsequently smell them with a lot of information. In particular, the facial pheromones (scent molecules) are thought to convey a friendly, welcoming message. 

A very important strategy used when introducing a new cat to a home with other cats involves transferring scents between the confined new cat and the established cats (please see our article "Adding a Cat to a Home with Established Cats"). This strategy is valuable and can be used anytime, even when the aggressor is not new to the household. The predator is simply treated as though it is new to the home.

Feliway is a synthetic version of the facial pheromones that signal friendliness. It is available as a spray, wet-wipes, and multiroom diffuser. Whenever there is a persistent problem with intercat aggression in a home we recommend blanketing the home with Feliway by using the appropriate number of diffusers.

- The interaction between the owner and the household cats is very important. Many cats come to view their pet parent as an essential resource. their feeding place, the doorway where the cats are let in and out, the owner's bed and lap are often favorite locations, and can bring antagonist cats together in close proximity. 

Restricting the cats from the bedroom while providing plenty of comfortable resting areas elsewhere in the house, freeing up access to food by leaving some food out all the time (assuming this is medically appropriate) or by using an automatic feeder set to random times, and providing free access to the outdoors with cat doors are sometimes effective strategies.

- A nutraceutical (nutritional supplement that has pharmaceutical effects), l-theanine, can have a calming effect, and can be given orally to one or more cats. The brand name Solliquin is the best version of this product. 

- Medication can help ease tensions. When we pursue this option, it typically is to use an antianxiety medication, commonly fluoxetine (Prozac), for the most anxious and/or most aggressive cat. 

PROGNOSIS
A successfull resolution of conflict between cats in a home depends on a number of factors:

- The pet parents must be patient. Days or weeks are not usually enough time to resolve intercat conflict in a home; months to years are usually necessary.

- The pet parents must be willing to employ multiple strategies, and to change strategies if what is being tried is not working.

- The pet parents must have a realistic perspective of what success might be. In most cases, conflict resolution will be mutual tolerance, and not close friendship between the cats.

- The innate personality of each cat must be taken into consideration. If a cat is genetically fearful or predatory, or was not socialized to other cats as a kitten between 2 and 7 weeks of age, then it may never get along well with other cats. 

- As the size of the cat-available space in the home decreases and the number of cats increases, the possibility of conflict increases, and the chance for a successful resolution of conflict decreases. 

- If the cats did not know each other when problems started (that is, one or more are new to the home), then the chance of successful conflict resolution decreases. Two important considerations related to this point are:
    a) If the problem is a newly added, lively kitten or young adult, the situation is somewhat more                   likely to improve as this cat becomes less energetic as it matures.
    b) Adding another cat to the home to give an older cat some company or a younger cat a                           playmate is at least as likely, if not more likely, to create additional conflict as it is to help the               situation. 

Yarmouth Veterinary Center
2015

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