Updated: Aug 11
If you live in a multi-cat household as I do, you might be concerned with aggression between your cats and whether anything can be done to help them get along with each other. Below are some helpful tips you can try to keep the peace in your home.
Bring Kitty in for a Check-Up
The first step you want to take is to consult with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions like hyperthyroidism, arthritis, or dental issues. These can affect your cats' moods and behaviors. For example, I frequently cat sit for an older kitty with hyperthyroidism. Before he started his medication, he was shy, withdrawn, and a scaredy-cat. Since taking his medication, he has become more social. He will now follow me around the house, get up on the couch to snuggle, and even offer cheerful chirps and meows when I enter. It's a good example of how medication used to treat certain medical conditions can yield positive results for their mood.
Identify the Type of Aggression
If your veterinarian rules out health problems, your next step will be to identify the cause of your cats' aggression. There are a few types to consider.
Territorial Aggression: when your cat feels its' territory, or space, is being invaded, it may respond with aggressive behaviors like hissing, growling, swatting, or even chasing away the invader.
Fear Aggression: if your cat feels scared, trapped, or backed into a corner, it may respond with aggression as a way to defend itself.
Play Aggression: some cats get overstimulated by playtime and may attack others. This frequently happens with my cat, Momo.
Implement Practical Suggestions
Depending on the type of aggression your cats are experiencing, you can try the following suggestions:
Provide enough environmental enrichment for your cats. These include window perches, beds, shelves, hiding spots, towers, and bridges. The more places they have to claim as their own, the less they’ll be forced into each others’ space which may reduce the fighting and aggression.
Make sure you spread out their belongings throughout the house. Each cat should have enough food and water bowls, toys, treats, bedding, and litter boxes. If every space they go to only has limited resources, you’ll be inviting them to fight over it.
If your cats experience play aggression, try playing with each cat individually in separate rooms. Once I implemented this strategy with Momo, his play aggression with CiCi stopped. It allowed him time to release his energy by attacking the toys, not his sister. I would play with him 1:1 for at least ten minutes behind closed doors, give him his favorite treat, and wait another five or ten minutes to calm down before letting him out of the room. By doing this, I found he no longer viewed CiCi as just another toy on which to be pounced.
If your cats go into beast mode around mealtimes, try feeding them separately. Remember cats are territorial by nature, so putting all their food resources in the same space will likely encourage aggression. By having their own space to eat, your cats will feel less threatened and the urge to defend their food will diminish.
Reinforce good behaviors. Did they walk past each other without growling or hissing? Were they able to both lounge on the couch without swatting each other? These are the behaviors you want to see so praise them for it! Offer a favorite treat, give them some chin scratches, or rub their belly (if that’s their thing). They’ll soon catch on that playing nice gets them love and treats while fighting gets them nothing.
Use pheromone products. Pheromones are the chemicals cats naturally secrete from their glands. These chemicals often produce a safe, comforting feeling and may reduce anxiety. Several products on the market mimic these chemicals, such as plug-in diffusers and calming collars. I have tried plug-in diffusers with no success but other pet parents swear by them. I guess it depends on your cat and whether or not they respond to pheromones. Try it for yourself.
What to Avoid
Don’t let cats fight it out. While you never want to stick your hand in the middle of a catfight to break them up, you will want to do something to break their concentration. Try making a loud noise or throwing a toy in their direction. When it is safe to do so, separate them for a while.
Don’t punish your cats. Believe it or not, they will resent you and the other cats which can only escalate the aggression.
Remember, cats will not get along overnight. Some people estimate eight to twelve months before a cat develops a friendship with another cat. Of course, every feline is different. Some may take less time; others may take more. We introduced CiCi to our family two years ago and although Momo was immediately curious about her and sought her out, it took roughly a year and a half to work out most of his kinks with territorial and play aggression. Be patient! Although it’s challenging and stressful, it’s also rewarding when you can finally see your cats living in harmony.
If you’re a working professional seeking to give your cats some mid-day playtime and affection, let Snuggle Bug Pet Sitting, LLC lend a hand! We offer daily cat-sitting visits (aka feline social enrichment) to provide your cats with their daily dose of fun! Visits include interactive playtime, affection, snuggling, brushing, mental stimulation (trick training, puzzles), and a yummy treat. Check out snugglebugpetsitting.com/services to learn more.