Who has encountered new aggression between cats that normally get along? The cats get along OK for years with the occasional chase which results in one cat pinning down the other cat. Then, out of the blue, they chase each other and seriously fight. The cats’ caretaker has to break it up by throwing water over them. Now they are hostile with each other. What happened? That’s the question. And how can the problem be resolved?
My answer (there will be other, possibly better answers. I am aware of that)
A breakdown in the stability of a group of house cats is upsetting for all concerned. The domestic cat has developed into quite a social animal. The domestic cat can live in groups and colonies. Although, research indicates that for 40% of the time, on average, they like to keep some space around themselves (about 3 meters). This is a development from the largely asocial wildcat ancestor, the Near Eastern wildcat. There is, though, the vestiges of the solitary nature of the wildcat within the character of the domestic descendant.
In a study of 60 homes, where, in each, there were two neutered/spayed cats getting along – female/female, male/male and female/male – it was found that there was less aggression and more time spent together than expected by the researchers. Over a 600 hour observational period, there were only 68 instances of aggression. On each occasion it seemed to the researchers that the cause was the sort of relationship that existed between the couple of cats.
The cause was about the individual personalities of the cats. Gender, age the size of the home and any other factor was secondary to the personalities and the actual relationship.
The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC), in the UK, in a review of their service, came to the conclusion that of 66 cases of cat behavioral problems, 13% were to do with cat on cat aggression. This supports our understanding that the domestic cat is sociable but it’s a adaptation, which can, sometimes, be overridden by natural, hardwired ancestral behaviour.
The earlier that the relationship between cats starts in life, the stronger the bond. This is socialisation between kittens. Kittens learn boundaries during socialisation. Neutering cats also makes a big difference in cats getting along. Whereas siblings might share a feeding bowl, unrelated cats in a multicat household tend to eat from well-separated bowls, where there are several bowls, or at different times if there is one bowl.
The reason for new aggression
The most likely cause is that the relationship was always borderline acceptable between the cats concerned. They were probably introduced to each other by chance by the owner. They learned to get along but the relationship was never as good as it might be. Then the antagonism flared up. It is about forcing individual cats to live closely together when normally they would not. People tend to think that cats will always get along in time. Time certainly helps but does not necessarily fix the problem. It has to be stated though, that frequently unrelated cats do get along very well.
One other possibility is that one of the cats has acquired a scent from somewhere – perhaps from the outside or being washed – which has turned him into a total stranger. For cats, scent plays a big role in identifying other cats.
Another possibility is that play behavior has gone wrong and turned into true aggression. Does catnip make your cat aggressive?
- territorial aggression
- fear-induced aggression
- lack of socialisation
- play behavior gone wrong
- redirected aggression (aggression towards a cat or person redirected to another cat)
If the relationship was a bit fragile the solution is probably to treat both cats as newcomers. Separate and reintroduce them to each other. There should be separate food bowls, litter and places to hide. Space should be three-dimensional (climbing places). The cats can then relearn to live in relative harmony. Although, I’d state that these cats will probably never get along as well as the cat’s caretaker desires.
Cats have personalities. If they are raised together they will usually get along well. They will rest close to each other and groom each other. The same thing happens with cats who were strangers but there is a chance that they won’t get along well and occasional the relationship descends into open aggression. This is what has probably happened.
Photo by Iqbal Osman