You are here

Today's Cat Behavior Quiz: What Would You Do?

Every day I see MANY pleas concerning cats and dogs in need of rescue. Like most folks who do this, I have to draw the line at where I can be of help. I may not have a shelter or huge home foster network, but I jump at the chance to help with cat behavior problems. Helping others, helps me learn more and knowing that cats can keep their homes, if I gave them the correct advice, is thrilling and deeply rewarding.

Over the past two weeks, I've been in touch with a local rescuer regarding this situation:

If anyone has had this experience, any input in correcting it would be v appreciated.

A friend of a friend has 2 cats. 2 males, neutered, littermates, had since kittenhood, 4 years old now, utd, indoor only, no declaw., etc. They have always been fine with each other - no behavioral problems and now, out of no where, they are hissing and spitting at each other relentlessly.

I asked all the usual ?'s - illness, any family new members, any change in household, change in litter box habits, any cats outside hanging around, etc., and all the answers were no.

I told my friend to get them to a vet and she felt the woman would, but she the owner was looking for a resolution that would not require lots of money or time on her part and seemed very impatient and mentioned that she would not tolerate this and would consider euth. Aren't people just wonderful !!!

Any ideas .... pls send them my way.

How would YOU answer this question? Tomorrow I'll post my suggestions, along with an update on what happened. Did the cats get euthanized? Did my suggestions work? Did the cats need to be put on medications?

I want you to hone your understanding of cat behavior. Please let me know what you'd do by leaving a comment, below. If you're not already signed up to be a Member of CiCH, then know I have to approve your post before it goes live. It may take a few hours before I see it, but don't let that stop you from writing up what you'd do. If you're right, you get bragging rights and the knowledge that you have the chops to help other cats! If I'm really impressed, I may dig out something I have laying around to send you as a prize, but in truth, the prize is knowing you can help others.


Are the cats bored? I swap out toys on a regular basis for my two. Do they need more playtime/snuggle time with their humans? I might try separating them for a few hours or a day or two, and giving each one individual attention.

The two most common reasons I've seen for this happening is a) redirected aggression and b) one of the cats coming back from the vet or groomers and not smelling like himself. If the situation doesn't correct itself in a couple of days, or if the cats are really dangerous to each other, they need to be separated and reintroduced like new cats - no matter how long they've been together, related, etc. They need to be in different rooms, smells traded via towels and toys, etc., given treats when behaving in the presence of one another, everything you would do when introducing a new feline family member. Medication would be a last resort. And all of this on the condition that both cats got a clean bill of health from the vet.

But this owner! I have no idea if she would be willing to go through all this, although honestly the reintroduction process does not sound like that much work to me. (And just because she says there have been no cats wandering outside the house or strange creatures freaking out the cats, it does not mean they weren't there. Cats see lots of things humans don't.) Frankly, I feel kind of bad for these cats that they're stuck with this person. Or are they? I'll be interested in finding out the resolution!

Unless she's home all day and night, I'm not sure how she'd know there are no new animals hanging around outdoors. But that being said, I would suspect that something scared the cats and one of them, in an act of redirected aggression, took his fear out in the form of anger, and the nearest victim was his kitty sibling.

My first thought is to start with Rescue Remedy. Why? They've clearly been traumatized somehow, and I've had good luck with Rescue Remedy when my cats have had moments of physical or emotional trauma. Just rub a drop into the fur on the top of each cat's head.

Next step: get a Feliway plug-in and use it in the common area of the house. If she has a large house, she might want to have at least one per floor.

She should move their feeding stations to opposite sides of the room until they start being more friendly to each other. Give each cat his own dish of water, and make sure there are at least two litterboxes, far enough apart so the cats don't feel threatened or overly vulnerable when doing their business.

Make sure each cat has plenty of vertical territory. Because cats view their territory in three dimensions, having some nice, tall cat trees or high shelves to nap on, can make a huge difference when stressed cats need enough space to cool down.

She should have (at least) twice-daily play sessions with the two of them "separately together"--that is, one thing-on-a-string toy for each cat--so they re-learn positive associations with being together. Give them treats at the same time--but don't make them eat the treats right next to each other. Basically, the idea here is that good things happen when they're in the same room and they're friendly to each other.

She should be ready with a string toy so that she can distract the cats as soon as she sees the first sign of aggression (look for tense body language, staring, ears held back--try not to wait until the growling and hissing starts). Play will diffuse the adrenaline running through their systems and release it in a way that doesn't intimidate the other cat.

All of this WILL take some time. Hopefully the combination of Rescue Remedy, Feliway, territory addition, play, and stress reduction will help. But it will take time--there's no two ways about it.

My hunch is redirected aggression/frustration and they are mirroring stress from their owner.
On how to help them, I would suggest what Dances with Cats suggested.

Hi Robin

It is amazing what people do not tell you about as regards changes in the home, despite asking all the questions. I once found out (eventually) that a client had not been able to take her dog for their regular long walks - but despite lots of questioning it did not occur to her to mention it!

Builders? decorators? (human) domestic stress? new job? lost job? new carpets/furniture? boredom? My bet is that unless it is physical, *something* has changed and it is a question of tracking it down, because it will be the cats' logical reaction to something that the people have instigated but not though would affect the cats.

If all else fails, try separating them into different part of the house for a week with all facilities, lavish love, time, treats and affection on both of them separately and then try reintroducing gently, having let things simmer down.

As for killing cats because of a bit of hissing and spitting - well, if I lived with someone who threatened to kill me every time I lost my temper fur would fly!

Now I am agog waiting for the real answer.

It sounds as if this woman is just looking for a reason to get rid of her cats. She obvioulsy wants a quick fix rather than work at a real solution, and I'm wondering at her meaning of "relentlessly".
Has the hissing and spitting problem been going on for just the past few weeks or has it been a few months.
It may be as simple as a game of dominance, and as soon as the cats figure out who "Top Cat" is they'll settle down.
I would advise the woman to just be patient and wait it out. If she's not willing to do so, then yes, she needs to re-home them, but certainly not euthanize them.

I agree with the previous posters. Something must have changed that the owner doesn't think is relevant. Once my mom's cat attacked my cat out of no where. I separated them and then saw that there was another cat outside. My mom's cat was so upset that she lashed out at my kitty.

Since this behavior isn't stopping on it's own, I'd say the stressor is still in the house.

Ok, I'm gonna get kicked off the site for this one...
In the best of all possible worlds I'd tell this woman to rehome the cats.
She doesn't want to take them to the vet when she observes a change in behavior. She wants a resolution that 'doesn't require lots of money or time on her part'. She is willing to consider euthanizing as a response to fighting.
Clearly this woman should not have cats. She should rehome those she has and then never again, and I mean NEVER, bring another cat into her household.
I think my biggest tip off is that she doesn't want to invest lots of time. Time is free. You should be investing some time with your pets anyway.
And if you balk at spending money with the vet for well or sick care, again, pets are just not for you.
Of course I recognize that we don't live in the best of all possible worlds, finding an alternative home or healthy living situtation for these cats may not be possible. In that case off of the suggestions below seem excellent to me.
I will add that I had a pair of little boys who got along fine until I introduced one particular toy into the house. It was like a papertowel roll, with a few holes punched in and catnip inside. They could not agree to share that toy. Peace returned to the household when that toy was removed. So there is another possible source of discord. But the lady has to be willing to invest some time observing the animal before she can identify any cause even so simple as that.

acninee ... we may end up together in the CiCH naughty corner! In the best of all possible worlds I would agree. BUT would never suggest this for fear of the cats ending up in a stainless steel box in some ghastly travesty of a 'shelter' for a few days before being killed and thrown away.

I know you are right about the 'shelter'. Would be nice if she could have the patience to list them somewhere and wait until someone looking for a cat found her. Maybe find a rescue organization to partner with to help her screen homes.. not just dump them on the first applicant that showed up and wasn't really much a home either.

I was going to suggest simply spending more time with them together and individually, give them attention and get to know them. And then I read acninee input and thought - she is right it is obvious this person does not want to devote time to these boys at all. I hope her friend convinces her to take the time and rehome them where they will have someone willing to spend the time.

Just ran that by my husband while I was thinking it through. He said the cats are possibly fighting over who should put the woman down and who should get the privilege. He also said that if this were done, mostly everybody would be happy, including the cats and even the woman, because she wouldn't have to put up with it anymore.

My two cents worth: Vicki Halls had a case like this and it turned out to be what Janiss said: redirected aggression. This could be the sighting of other cats through the window or something else. We have a cat who often gets belted by two room mates because she is prone to urninary tract infections and wees on the bedding. I can well understand this! One of these cats may have a health issue and 'smell different' or be sore somewhere, or sensitive and is acting defensively.
Obviously it could be any number of reasons, a sore tooth, a strange smell, furniture been moved around, strange noises, ad infinitum. It doesn't sound like the owner has much sensitivity and her powers of observation may be nil as well.
Hopefully you will solve this mystery for us all!

If she's looking for "cheap and easy" (grrrrrr)

I'd say go with the Feliway, it worked WONDERS for my Cougie bear, z"l... WONDERS.

We had the plug in thing, and the spray.

I have a neutered boy and a spayed girl of at least 8 yrs each who share quarters with me. She arrived most recently about 7 months ago. He stalks and runs up on her to play, which she reacts to with spitting & hissing. Since he has never tried to really attack her (it always occurs in my presence because he's possessive of me: his ears are always up and forward; he never growls or vocalizes at her), I put a bell on his collar which has nullified his ability to pull "sneak attacks." I am willing to bet that in the case above 1) one cat or the other has not seen a vet in a while and may have some uncomfortable condition: although arthritis would be unusual in a 4-yr-old cat, it can happen, along urinary issues, hidden abscesses, dental issues, etc., 2) owner has not spent enough time daily playing with either or both indoor cats, 3) area shared may be too small and needs improvement, possibly vertical enhancement with a cat tree or equivalent, and each cat should have their own litter box and feeding area. Unless owner is willing to take the most obvious first steps to determine if there is a physical cause in the cat or the environment, these cats are doomed.

SOMETHING has changed. It's probably she doesn't even think is important, or others are right and it's redirected aggression from a new animal hanging around outside. Could be a feral momma w/ kittens nearby. :/

Regardless, I hope that the situation gets resolved favorably for the kitties. Keep us posted.

Perhaps one of the cats hurt the other one when they were playing. I would make sure they each had somewhere where they could go to be alone. I would also encourage the owner to take them both in for a vet visit just to make sure that no one was injured or ill.

Other then that time will probably resolve the issue.

I agree with Alasandra that one or both may be hurt. I would strongly agree to separate them or at least give each of them time alone and a quiet space. Slow interaction on a daily basis is key. Time normally resolves all issues. In my experience, cats cannot be rushed. When they are ready to socialize they will.

I bet that there's another cat- outside- in their area, and that the tension of having a new "rival" they can't get at is bothering them. Also, the owner may have done something minor like, I don't know, moving a dressing-table or something, that is A BIG DEAL! to the cats ("OUR LANDMARKS ARE MOVING WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!") My cats always get a bit annoyed when I moved furniture, and investigate the changes with what I call "the Sherlock Holmes expression" on their little faces- TEH mysTERY mUsT be SoLVD!

Honestly, though, someone who would nuke the cats just for hissing needs to get help- and doesn't need to be a cat owner. Maybe she has some friends who would take them? I make friends not just with the people I know, but with their pets, and would be upset if something happened to one of the animals- perhaps she has a friend like that, who would be wiling to take them?

I mean, really... FOR HISSING? Eh, if I killed people for being loud and annoying, I wouldn't have any HUMAN family left, much less cats... :S What a lame reason.

I forgot to mention: it could also be that one of them is sick. It's horrible to think of, but when two of ours started getting (at different times) aged-related breakdowns, the others turned on them and the sick ones had to be isolated for their safety. It''s awful to think that cats would be so mean and so, well... human, but I've observed it in our feline community on two separate occasions, so I can't just ignore it. If a cat gets sick or otherwise weakened, the balance of power is shifted. If the two boys were twins, they've probably always been equals in strength, etc.- but that might have changed, causing this stress. When our brown mackerel got sick (she didn't have claws- I know, I know, but it wasn't my decision!) she started hissing at the others CONSTANTLY because she was afraid, and scaring them first was her only defense. At the time, it annoyed the daylights out of me- but I never would have considered killing her for it, even though she's my mom's SUPER-ANNOYING cat who's never liked me... Both boys probably need a vet checkup, but I suppose an owner willing to toss them out to save money wouldn't do that... :( This is just so sad...

I've had more than one vet that was very good about putting me on a payment plan. I've also gotten a loan very easily through a company called Medicard when I had a bigger ($1500) bet bill. I agree that the hissing "out of nowhere" could be because one of them is sick. This lady needs to take them to the vet.

Add new comment