Territorial Cat Problem

by Dave
(New Jersey)

I have a cat that has been in multiple homes. A friend of my Girlfriend's housemate adopted her as a kitten from a shelter. When the friend could no longer keep the cat because of landlord issues she was given to my girlfriends housemate. As the cat lived in the house I developed a relationship with her and when the housemate wanted to yet again pass her along I took her to give her a permanent home. She is just about the sweetest cat. Never scratches and never bits except nips when she doesn't like something but NEVER hard. I just graduated college so I am staying with my parents and their two dogs. It took some time but the cat is happy in the house now and plays with the dogs. Today, I just finished a "Cat Castle" I built for her and she loved it as soon as she saw it. It is 6 Feet tall with 3 ledges for her to sit/lay, a house with 6 Windows and a large front door used to peer out and the top of the house is also open. It is quite a house and took a lot to build. The only problem is she is VERY TERRITORIAL in the house and will scratch/bite anyone who touches her in it, otherwise she is as sweet as ever. It is only the first day but is that normal and will it wear off or can I do something about it without getting rid of the house?

Hi, Dave,

Wow, it's great to talk to owners like you who do so much for their cats. That sounds like some house.

The house is new and it's natural and ok for her to feel territorial about it. After all, she's shares all the other space, I assume, with the dogs. Maybe she's happy to have her own space.

Also, it's part of something being new and a cat's natural reaction to situations like that. I have an analogy for you. Cats that come into my hospital sometimes have to stay for dental cleanings, medical treatment, diagnostic work-up's, boarding, grooming, all sorts of things. We often have the experience that a cat is the sweetest kitty imaginable in the exam room, even while being poked and prodded or even while having blood drawn from a vein. However, the minute we put the cat in a cage to await its turn in the day's line-up, the cat becomes absolutely wild. Hissing and spitting and growling and lunging out to scratch or bite anyone who opens the cage door. The cat is in a new place and is establishing her territory. It's an essential coping mechanism for them.

Often, within minutes or hours, the cat is sweet and friendly again. The cage has become hers and she feels secure about that and doesn't feel threatened anymore.

Think of the house you built in the same way. It's new and it's hers and she wants everyone to know it. Don't try to touch her when she's in the house. Ignore her, let her do what she wants, give it time (days to weeks), and she will calm down and stop her present behavior. If you overreact, she will get worse. If you stay calm and let her do what she must and be very nonchalant about it, she will lose her need to be territorial.

Again, what a loving owner you are. She is very lucky to have you. Best,
Dr. Neely

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