Negotiating the Peace When Cats are Warring

Our friend Sandy has problems with her two younger cats, Sam and James stalking and attacking her 10 year old cat, Fluffy, who has now become afraid of the younger cats.  This is creating stress for the whole family.  How do you deal with a cat war that has erupted in your home?  

There is no one best solution, but instead depends on the specifics of the fighting behavior and on the family’s willingness and abilities to work with the problem.

In Sandy’s case, Sam and James initially got along with Fluffy until Sam began to attack her.  At first, it the behavior seemed playful, but soon escalated to Fluffy running away and Sam and James chasing and attacking her.  Although no injuries have resulted, Fluffy won’t come out of the basement most of the time and is very afraid of the other cats.  

The first step for Sandy is to prevent the opportunities for Sam and James to chase Fluffy.  This prevents injuries, as well as stopping the cats from practicing the antagonistic behavior.  It’s hard to get the cats to learn different ways to relate to each other if they still have the opportunities to threaten each other.  

Many times the cats will have to be physically separated, as often just the sight of the other cat is enough to produce threats or fear.  In order to improve the cats’ relationship, Sandy must find a way to have the cats together so that all three can be calmed, relaxed and friendly.  This will require taking ‘baby steps’, perhaps with the cats a distance away from one another, and staging  “kitty parties” where Fluffy associates food or gentle massage with Sam and James’ presence, a technique called counter conditioning.  

The goal is to change the cats’ attitudes about each other.  This will require many small steps, which are executed slowly, carefully in what is known as a desensitization program.  Sandy required our help to guide her efforts in a systematic way. Sandy’s ‘kitten parties’ involve having Fluffy sit on her lap, receiving tuna treats, while Sam is across the room getting the same treatment from Sandy’s husband.

 It may take months for Sandy’s cats to learn to be together without fear or threats.  Sometimes, veterinarians may prescribe anti-anxiety medications for one or both cats in order to reduce fearfulness and anxiety.   

Unfortunately, not all cat fighting problems can be resolved, and in some cases it’s best to find another home for one of the cats so that the quality of life for all cats can be maximized.  

It’s better to prevent these problems from developing, if possible.  Our DVD “Helping Cats Co-exist: Creating Feline Friendships” (also available in audio format) gives you a detailed introduction protocol and steps you can take to negotiate the peace if your cats are warring.  You'll find it on our Products Page


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