You Big Bully! Fighting Among Cats

Cats tend to be solitary animals who don’t often form large social groups like dogs do. They are territorial by nature but will tolerate and sometimes even like sharing their home and territory with another cat. However, some cats do not like to share. If your space is small and you have multiple cats living there, expect a few outbursts of aggression, hissing, and tail twitching from one or more of your cats.

Many times there is an assertive cat (bully) and a threatened cat (being bullied). If you’re unsure which cat is falling into which role, there are a few signs to help you figure this out:

The Assertive cat:

1: Rarely backs away from other cats

2: Stares at other cats

3: May block and deny the other cat access to something such as the water bowl

4: Spends more time “marking” items and people. Rubbing cheeks, chin, and head on people, doorways, corners, and furniture

5: May growl, crouch, and raise its hair when seeing the other cats

6: May spray urine to mark territory

The Threatened cat:

1: Might spend more time hiding, in one room, or away from common areas

2: Avoids eye contact with the other cat

3: Will not fight to get to something like the food bowl or water if the bully is blocking

4: If it comes into contact with the bully cat, may run

5: Does not often growl or hiss, but may crouch and look for an escape route

6: May spray to try and establish territory and communicate stress

Cats may fight openly and you’ll know by the hissing, stalking, and rampaging that will occur as one is chased and the other is chasing. Sometimes they will also silently fight. This can be harder to detect. There will be more staring, stalking, and slow movements. Territory will be silently established with the bully cat standing guard over items of worth such as food, water, and the litter box.

Conflict among cats is often broken down into three types and can change depending on the flow of the fight – offensive, defensive, and re-directed. Offensive conflict involves the more confident cat or bully cat controlling the interaction and environment. During a defensive interaction, a cat will try to increase the distance between itself and the threat. A re-directed conflict may involve a threatened cat taking out its stress and irritation on a less confident cat, like a chain of bullying.

What Can You Do?

1: If the cats are fighting, do not allow the fight to continue.

2: Do not punish the cats. Cats do not respond as well as dogs to negative reinforcement. It may increase the aggression and fear rather than stop it. And you may get hurt.

3: Teach desensitization. Find a way to expose the cats to each other in a way that does not provoke a fight. Pair the exposure with something pleasant like a treat. Reinforce the
idea that being in the same room means they get something good. It can decrease the aggression over time.

4: When you are unable to supervise, keep the cats separated. This may mean one cat spends time in the bedroom and other gets the office.

5: Keep separate litter boxes and food bowls for the cats.

6: Keep a water gun handy or squirt bottle to break up fights as you’re working to create a peaceful house.

7: Be patient. It will take time.

It is possible for cats to get along in a house who may have never met each other before. It just takes time. They may never be best friends or share places like a warm spot on the couch or sleep on the bed together. However, if you have cat perches, cat beds, and other items that each cat can hang out on, sit in, and claim as their own it can help minimize conflict. Cats also need space. Living in a studio with two or more cats will not work out well for them or you. Make sure each cat their own “safe space” and that there is enough room for them to tolerate each other’s scents without always being in the same room. Space, time, and patience are key factors. Keep some band aids handy too.

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