When you add a new kitten or young cat to the household, you hope the older, established cat will be happy about the new playmate. In the best-case scenario, the two make friends and playful behaviors develop between them. But, sometimes, the new cat is more exuberant than the established cat can handle. If you do not intervene and manage the situation, the older cat may decide to avoid the younger ones, and a significant rift can develop between them.
It’s impossible to estimate how well any particular pair or group of cats will ultimately tolerate each other. Some cats are unusually territorial, may never adjust to sharing their house, and may do best in a one-cat family.
Common types of aggressive behaviors between cats
Cats are very territorial, much more so than dogs. Territorial aggression occurs when a cat feels that his territory has been invaded by an intruder. Depending on where your cat spends his time, he may view your whole neighborhood as his territory. Female cats can be just as territorial as males.
The behavior patterns in this type of aggression include chasing and ambushing the intruder, as well as hissing and swatting when contact occurs. Territorial problems often occur when a new cat is brought into a household, when a young kitten reaches maturity, or when a cat encounters neighborhood cats outside. It’s not uncommon for a cat to be territorially aggressive toward one cat in a family, and friendly and tolerant to another.
Adult male cats normally tend to threaten, and sometimes fight with, other males. These behaviors can occur as sexual challenges over a female, or to achieve a relatively high position in the cats’ loosely organized social dominance hierarchy.
This type of aggression involves much-ritualized body posturing, stalking, staring, yowling, and howling. Attacks are usually avoided if one cat backs down and walks away. If an attack occurs, the attacker will usually jump forward, directing a bite to the nape of the neck, while the opponent falls to the ground on his back and attempts to bite and scratch the attacker’s belly with his hind legs. The cats may roll around biting and screaming, suddenly stop, resume posturing, fight again, or walk away. Cats don’t usually severely injure one another this way, but you should always check for puncture wounds that are prone to infection. Intact males are much more likely to fight in this way than are neutered males.
Defensive aggression occurs when a cat is attempting to protect himself from an attack he believes he cannot escape. This can occur in response to punishment or the threat of punishment from a person, an attack or attempted attack from another cat, or any time he feels threatened or afraid.
Defensive postures include crouching with the legs pulled in under the body, laying the ears back, tucking the tail, and possibly rolling slightly to the side. This is not the same as the submissive postures dogs show because it’s not intended to turn off an attack from another cat. Continuing to approach a cat who is in this posture is likely to precipitate an attack.
This type of aggression is directed toward another animal who didn’t initially provoke the behavior. For example, a household cat sitting in the window may see an outdoor catwalk across the front yard. Because he can’t attack the outdoor cat, he may instead turn and attack the other family cat who is sitting next to him in the window. Redirected aggression can be either offensive or defensive in nature.
What you can do Encourage Bonding Between Your Cats
At first, it might seem like you are playing referee, but these bonding tips should soon have your two cats living together in peace:
- Once you have put both cats together in a shared environment, don’t force the closeness. Make sure they each have their own bed, and not right next to each other.
- It may not be practical to spread two sets of food dishes, water dishes, and litter boxes out to different areas of the house, but you can still make sure they each have their own set. They may well decide to start sharing on their own, but give them the choice at first.
- This will reduce tension and let each cat feel independent, so that they can befriend the other on their own terms and when they’re really ready. If your cats feel in control of their situation, they are much more likely to be amenable to giving you the positive result you’re looking for.
- Spay or neuter any intact pets in your home. The behavior of one intact animal can affect all of your pets.
- Slowly re-introduce the cats again following this slow introduction process. You may need professional help from an animal behavior specialist to successfully implement these techniques.
- Giving your older cat a chance to play with some of the new kitten toys, as well, will build a bond between the two if the activity of play is fun and enjoyable. If the older cat doesn’t wish to play, perhaps you can provide soft stroking for the older cat while dangling an interesting toy for the younger cat.
- Stop the play from time to time and offer each cat some valuable cat treats. This will also build a good feeling about being in the presence of the other cat.
- Find ways to give the older cat a respite from play attacks. If you can see the older cat is not enjoying the interactions, you can either give her a chance for a nap in another room or put the kitten away in a crate or room with toys to play with alone.
- Cats can be trained to come when called and to sit in a particular place. Use a marker/reward system (usually called “clicker training”) to teach the kitten what you want her to do — and what she will get “paid” to do!
- Don’t forget the potential of a shared experience like a nice catnip party. If both your younger and your older cat like catnip, you might give each a pillowcase or similarly sized pad with a small pile of catnip. If they enjoy the experience while in the presence of each other, the “party” experience may give them an appreciation for time spent together. Supervision is a wise choice until you are sure how each cat reacts to the effects of catnip.
The factors that determine how well cats will get along together are not fully understood. Cats that are well-socialized (they had pleasant experiences with other cats during kittenhood) will likely be more sociable than those that haven’t been around many other cats. On the other hand, street cats that are in the habit of fighting with other cats in order to defend their territory and food resources, may not do well in a multi-cat household. Genetic factors also influence a cat’s temperament. Friendly parents are more likely to produce friendly offspring.