Newly started Cat Aggression problem - They used to be friends!

by Darla
(Tempe, Arizona)

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my dilemma.

We have 3 cats, one 8-year old (Larry) and two 5-year olds (Roy and Tiger). They are all males and are all indoor cats. We have had the 5-year olds since they were just a week old (I rescued them from the animal shelter. I have done a lot of volunteer work for rescue groups). Our 8-year old, Larry, parented the 2 other cats for their whole life.

About 4 months ago, Larry got outside for a bit and when he came in, the other two were very aggressive towards him. There was fighting, urinating and pooping outside the box. We figured it was because Larry must have picked up an unfamiliar scent from outside. We separated them and after a couple of weeks, things got better.

Now, there are still times where something flares up the situation and they start fighting again. It is awful. I have already gotten badly scratched and the screaming and yelling by the cats is unbearable along with the urinating and pooping during their fighting (which, by the way, the urinating and pooping only seems to be by Roy and Tiger).

My husband is ready to get rid of the cats but I need to resolve this situation. We don't leave them together any more when we aren't home because we don't want to take the chance they will fight. During one situation when we weren't home (before we started separating them when we were gone) Roy must have gotten one of his claws caught in the carpet during a fight and tore it so bad down to the quick that he needed anesthesia by my veterinarian to help him cut the nail off.

This is an awful situation and I am such an animal lover that I don't want to have to get rid of the cats. Can you please help? Will Feliway help in this situation? I have tried various techniques to get them back together but they only seem to help for a short time then the fighting starts again. Sometimes I'm not sure who is starting it or why?

They have played and slept together for 5 years, until now. What can I do?! Thank you for your kind advice!


Dear Darla,

I’m very sorry to hear of the troubles you are having in your cat house hold. It certainly sounds as though this problem with cat aggression began with your cat Larry having gotten outside, and you correctly identified that he likely came home smelling very strange to your other cats. Upon Larry’s return to the safety of your home, there may have been a hierarchy shift among the cats that needed to be worked out as well.

What may be another contributing factor to the problem, however, is how you reacted to the situation initially and, to some extent, still do. Often, our body language, behaviors, and responses to our cats, especially when they are fighting, can actually make the situation worse. Negative punishment, even if it is just the slightly raised or stern voice or abruptly removing the offending cats from the room or secluding the cat(s) in a room doesn't work with fighting cats, and can, in fact, actually make them more aggressive.

So the question is, what can you do now to help your cats get along again, if anything? Fortunately, there are many things you can try to do to bring about a more peaceful cat household again. I go into all of the steps to try in much more detail on my page regarding Fighting Cats, but would be happy to outline a few steps here as well.

Your body language and reactions to your cats when they are fighting is very important. You need to stay relaxed and talk in soothing tones, even if a fight seems to be brewing. Cat fights will often start with puffy tails or hissing, spitting, or growling as warning signs, which gives you an opportunity to intervene in a calm manner. When one of your cats appears to be contemplating an attack, begins hissing or growling, or even when an altercation is in progress, it is important to stay relaxed and calm and have treats, toys, or catnip close by for all of the cats. Distract them and provide something enjoyable for all 3 to enjoy at the same time in the same room.

Try to make your cats’ time together a positive one by providing lots of love and attention and affection to each cat while they are peacefully in the room together. Again, providing treats, toys, and catnip can make the experience more enjoyable, and the positive reinforcement can help them learn to associate each other with good things.

Your idea regarding Feliway is one that I would definitely strongly recommend. Feliway diffusers and sprays are critical at this time for your cats, as they can help to significantly reduce stress in the household. Using these products will create familiarity among your cats’ surroundings, can help with fights over territory, and can even help with the litter box problems as well. Similarly, if you can find a sweaty or dirty, worn t-shirt of your own and rub it on each cat, going from cat to cat multiple times, you will transfer your own scent and theirs onto each cat in the house, creating more familiarity again as well.

These are just a few of the important steps to try before giving up hope that your cats will ever get along again, and these steps and many more are all outlined on my page regarding Fighting Cats. There is hope, and with time and patience, your cats can learn to coexist again.

All the best,
Dr. Neely

Return to Comments about Cat Behavior.