Fighting Cats is near the top of the list of questions about cats behavior I receive every day. Very rarely are unprovoked cats aggressive toward people, but it is the norm for outdoor cats that do not know each other to engage in cat fights. This same behavior of cats can at times extend to indoor kitties that share the same home.
It can be a very difficult, frustrating situation living with fighting cats, and resolving the issue may take quite some time experimenting and learning the different tools that work for the cats in your household. However, there is almost always hope for cats who have altercations with one another within your own home. Only once have I ever encountered a situation where it was so bad, both cats were at risk for serious harm, and no matter what tools were tried, the cats could not learn to live peacefully. This is very, very rare.
While you may feel frustrated and exasperated, you are certainly not alone in your struggles. Take, for instance, the following question and my tips from one of your fellow readers:
QUESTION: My question is about fighting cats. I have a 3 cat household, 2 males and a female. The males are 9-10 yrs old and the female is 5. For 3-4 years, the female would attack one male - she would pounce on him (she's younger and heavier) and I'd separate them. She'd be quite annoyed for a short period, but got over it.
All of a sudden, the tables are turned and the cat fight situation is 10 times worse. If the male spots the female, he'll stare at her until she hisses, and then he'll chase her into the bedroom where she hides in mortal fear. This is all accompanied by hisses, growls, and very loud meowing.
My female cat is afraid to walk around the house,and it is driving me CRAZY. If she sees him, she growls and cowers, and he'll run towards her and chase her until she's hidden somewhere. Even if she's off guard and doesn't notice him, the male cat will make a dash at her with the same results. The third cat just watches.
These cat fights have been happening for about 3weeks now. I am at my wits end and don't know what to do about these cat behavior changes.
This cat fighting happens 3-4 times a day when I'm home so that doesn't include the 7-8 hours I'm at work. I'll usually grab the male cat and move him somewhere with a stern"NO", but I can't catch them fast enough before it starts - I can only get to him after it has all happened and the female cat is in hiding somewhere and afraid to come out.
HELP!!! I don't know what to do about my fighting cats.
My Tips for Dealing with Fighting Cats
In every multi-cat household, there is a hierarchy established by the cats themselves. It can be fairly unpredictable and it can change suddenly without our having any idea why the change occurred. However, we can, at times, unknowingly be a part of the reason. I think this may be what has happened in your cat household.
I find that more often than not, it is female cats that "rule the roost". Also, your female is roughly half the age of the males and certainly was more interested in play and mischief than the other two when she joined the household. I believe that her female cat behavior, the "attacks" on the male cat during the first few years, was largely due to her young age and her desire to play. Cats can play in a very rough manner and it is not uncommon for an owner to misinterpret playing cats as fighting cats.
You didn't know so don't blame yourself, but every time you broke your "fighting cats" up by removing her or saying no to her, you were being "aggressive" with your female cat and doing so in front of your male cat.
Don't get me wrong - I am in no way saying that you were rough with your cats -- it's just that cats only respond positively to positive reinforcement. Negative punishment, even a slightly raised voice, stern voice, abrupt removal from the room or seclusion in a room, doesn't work with fighting cats. It makes them more aggressive. As difficult as it is, one must be gentle with cats always and ignore the bad behavior of cats and praise their good behavior.
Why the sudden cat behavior changes? You may never know the exact answer to that question. Did the male cat behavior result from watching you and learning from your behavior to be annoyed with your female cat and "punish" her? That's giving cats a lot of credit in the learning department, but in my opinion it's a possibility.
Other things that can change the hierarchy of cats in a household are:
Any Stress in the Household from such things as:
- someone moving in
- someone moving out
- new babies
- a change in your routine
- a change in your behavior
- the amount of affection each cat gets
- your being away on vacation
- one or more cats going to the vet or having an illness
- you having an illness
and on and on. The possibilities are endless.
More importantly, what can you do about your fighting felines now? Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to try and help turn fighting cats into friendly cats:
(1) You must practice having no reaction to the cats' altercations with each other. You must keep your body relaxed and your tone of voice relaxed and sort of playful as you say something like "Come on, you silly cats. Be nice to each other". It doesn't matter what the words are. It is your tone of voice and body language that matters. Keep it light.
(2) Distraction can be a great tool. The attention of even fighting cats can be diverted to something else. When the male cat appears to be contemplating an attack or even when an altercation is in progress, stay relaxed, keep your voice relaxed and have treats close by for all the cats or toys or catnip. Distract them and provide something enjoyable for all 3 to enjoy at the same time in the same room.
(3) Right now, you are probably giving the female cat more positive attention than you are the male because you feel sorry for her and want to protect her. You need to do the opposite. Give the male extra attention right now. Of course, show lots of love to the female also, but in general if you can do it when the male cat is not in the room watching, that would be best.
(4) Purchase a few Feliway plug-in's as well as Feliway spray. Feliway® is a synthetic copy of cat facial pheromone. You've seen cats rub their faces against furniture, other cats, you, etc. They are marking their territory as safe and secure by releasing hormone from scent glands. Feliway's feline pheromones imitate this natural hormone and creates familiarity in the cat's surroundings. It can help during stressful times. It can help fighting cats, new cats added to the household, cats that must move to a new home, and many other feline behavior problems.
(5) Praise all cats when they are co-existing in the same room or area both vocally and with treats, affection, catnip, toys ...anything that will provide pleasure to all 3 at the same time in the same room. Do this as often as possible. The more pleasurable times they spend together, the better.
(6) Many times, fighting cats are at odds with each other over territory. Provide a "sanctuary" for each of the cats. An area where each one already spends most of their time, but make it a safe haven with a little cat bed, a food and water dish for that particular cat, and its own litter box. Yes, it is possible that they will to some extent use another cat's area, but most cats really prefer a little place they can call their own. I have multiple cats in my household and I can predict with very high certainty where each one is most of the time.
(7) In extreme cases, if nothing else works, you can talk to your veterinarian about prescription cat behavioral medications. Most often, it doesn't need to come to that if you follow the steps listed above. There is a natural calming product you may want to try called Rescue Remedy which is a Bach Flower remedy that can help fighting cats. The Bach Flower Remedies are "essences" of various plants. (Be certain you only get the alcohol-free version for your cat.)
Patience is the last thing I would list. Cats and their behavior won't change overnight. However, the situation CAN change if you try the steps suggested above.
The most important of the steps is your attitude. If we relax, a cat relaxes. It's very hard to do at first. Fighting cats can look quite scary and make us very concerned about their welfare. However, this relaxation technique works when
- I'm handling a scared, aggressive cat in my practice
- I'm trying to rehabilitate a feral cat
- I'm trying to discourage fighting cats
Most cat behavior training has as its core praising the good and ignoring the bad and keeping yourself calm and relaxed.