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Cat Fight! Coping with Aggression in Multiple Cat Households

catsWatching two formerly friendly felines hiss and howl at one another is a disturbing sight. There is something you can do about it, and the cat experts at Best Friends offer some advice on how to correct – and avoid – this situation.

Roughhousing or fighting?
First, it’s important to determine whether the encounters are actually aggression. Sometimes play can be mistaken for fighting. To distinguish between the two consider the following characteristics:

  • Play should not result in injury.
  • Play is relatively quiet compared to the noises during fighting.
  • Cats who have been fighting will avoid one another, but cats who are playing will interact.
  • Play is more mutual; cats will act both offensively and defensively

Reasons for aggression
Understanding why Kitty is lashing out at her housemates is the first step in controlling her behavior. Aggression in cats can stem from many causes, including medical. If your normally calm kitty suddenly starts acting aggressively, a veterinarian should check her immediately.

Other possible reasons include:

  • Cats are predators and instinctively need to practice their stalking and hunting skills. The other cat in the house may be their "prey."
  • Cats that have not been properly socialized are more likely to be aggressive towards others.
  • The cat is fiercely protecting his territory (many cats do not become territorial until they are 2 to 5 years of age).

Fear and overstimulation can also provoke uncharacteristic aggression.

What to do
If you determine that the encounters are being caused by aggression, you need to take steps to increase the cats’ tolerance of each other and reduce their rivalry.

Make time to play with your cats every day in the room your cats are most comfortable in. First play with one cat for several minutes, then the other. Finally, play with them together. Engaging the cats in play together can help break down barriers. Catnip and other toys are ideal tools for these encounters.

After playing, sit quietly with the cats for a while. Groom them, pet them and speak to them in a calming tone. Be sure to mention each cat by name.

If the aggression continues, the victimized cat should be separated from the rest of the group. Being continually terrorized by her housemates can create litter box problems and other behavioral and physical troubles. Be sure to provide plenty of human affection and attention to her during the separation. Once she has learned to feel more confident in herself, allow her into the household for short periods of time.

When to seek help
If structured play and relaxation techniques do not alleviate the aggression, your vet may need to prescribe medications. There are several drugs that will inhibit aggressive behavior in the dominant cat. Anti-anxiety medications may also be prescribed for the victim, if necessary. Studies have shown that the tormentor may be less likely to attack if his victim is not responding in a typical manner (running away, acting nervously, etc.).

If all else fails, keeping the cats in separate parts of the house, all the time, may be the only way to keep harmony in the house.

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