New aggression between cats who normally get along

New aggression between cats who normally get along
New aggression between cats who normally get along
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

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?

Intercat aggression is:

  1. territorial aggression
  2. fear-induced aggression
  3. lack of socialisation
  4. play behavior gone wrong
  5. redirected aggression (aggression towards a cat or person redirected to another cat)

The solution

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

12 thoughts on “New aggression between cats who normally get along”

  1. We have a few cats who just can’t get along. My feral Renny lives in my bedroom because he never quite got over some of the feral. Lucky lives in there with him. The two get along well, but often chase each other all over ME at 4am. Lucky and Renny can only come out into the living room if Jasper and Sammy, our large neutered Maine Coon mix males, are placed in Laura’s bedroom. Especially Sammy, who terrorizes either of them when given a chance. Last week Lucky slipped out and neither of the boys bothered him. But Lucky got it into his head to go chase Midnight, our smallest female. To make matters stranger, our new stray we’ve brought inside due to coyotes taking over the neighborhood at night, has become Sammy’s best buddy now. We can’t explain it. Henry was neutered after being inside a week, so now he’s allowed to come in the living room since his health confinement is up. He’s very gentle. But it’s a shock that Sammy is getting along so well with him. They sleep right next to each other at night in Laura’s room, and also share a pouch of the good food at bedtime.

    • I sense from your comment, and you above all people should know, that the attachments cats have for each other is simply down to personality. Obviously socialisation is very important but when one cat gets along with another it seems to be to be down to an individual cat’s choice, in the same way some humans like other humans.

      You have taken a very nice photograph of Henry who is a very handsome cat. He looks like a gentle cat. I missed you comment on that but could tell from his face that he is gentle. That is quite an important observation.

      Could you do an article on the personalities of your cats and how you assess cat personality?

  2. Well, goodness.
    I have had my fair share of fur flying fights here.
    It usual begins with play that turns rough.
    Most always males; but, a few spitfire girls can get into it once in a while.

  3. I have 6 cats ranging in age from 5 > 19. (all neutered/spayed) 4 were strays, 2 adopted from a shelter. The only agression I ever see is some roughousing (very brief)– actually like rough play… or an also very brief cat spat between the dominant cat, Mouse, and Missy…the loner. They eat from one bowl and use one very very frequently cleaned litter box. Pirate, the 19+ year old, does eat alone, when, on demand, he wishes to do so. The other cats are frequently seen grooming Pirate and on occasion each other…almost always male > female or female > male. I guess there are exceptions to every rule

    • Hi Donna, I am not sure that your gang is necessarily an exception. They get along which is great and I think most cats do in multicat households. But it can go wrong. The point is that people should not assume that they can simply bring in a new cat and guarantee permanent harmony. I also think that what you do has an influence. If the caretaker creates a good environment it helps to create calm and harmony.

  4. One might think that our two boys, Sir Hubble Pinkerton, and Dr. Hush Puppy- Oriental Shorthair brothers- are joined at the hip. They spend 99% of their time in each other’s company, curling up together as tightly as possible, and when they must be separated for a visit to the vet, the one left at home roams the hallways, calling for his companion who is “missing”.

    But all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, they can start fighting tooth and nail- chasing one another throughout the house, definitely not in play mode. I can definitely relate to what Ruth said- after doing some intensive detective work- we arrived at the conclusion if one of the cats is sitting on my hip while I am reading, curled up as close to me as he can, this is totally unacceptable behavior as far as the other one is concerned. Since I am definitely part of HIS territory (whichever one this applies to at the time) the other one gets angry and spiteful- immediately driving the rival off what HE considers he possession- and when the dust settles after the intruder has been driven away- that cat will take his “rightful place” on my hip- the loser is forced to sit some distance away unless he is up for another battle royal.

    Ruth’s suggestion is on the money- and we try to provide separate spots for privacy- but as of yet our two kitties would rather do battle over anything at times.

    • This seems to be a battle over you as well as, or instead of, territory. There are comments from some visitors years ago in which they describe their cats as being jealous of the other as they fight for affection from the human!

      I think the indoor domestic cat has learned to accept a miniscule amount of territory compared to what he/she as used to thousands of years ago but it is still territory and a cat still has his/her own place as Ruth writes.

      Your cats are beautiful by the way and so is the photo.

  5. I think there’s always a reason for aggression between cats who live together. Walter gets a bit annoyed with Jozef if he settles on Barbara’s bed because Walter never stays on my bed, they ‘own’ the beds they sleep on at night. So he gives him a bat or bites his bum as he goes by lol or rolls him over but it’s never a serious fight. Walt is a bit of a bully but he knows if he picks on Jo he will get his comeuppance later, Jo will bide his time and get his revenge lol
    I think with more than one cat it’s important each has his own space and places to go for privacy, like a box each on top of two wardrobes.
    Like us, most cats need a bit of peaceful time on their own.


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