An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Family Feuds

Growing up in a multi-cat household can be hazardous at times. Witness the meows of help from Ziggy, Curly and Persephone:

Dear Greyce, We are three gorgeous, fabulous, one-year old cats who live with our parents (Felicia, a magnificent Maine Coon and Felix, a tiger-striped tabby); we share our household with humans. At night we are sequestered in a large bathroom (with food, water, litterbox and toys), where we sleep soundly. The humans keep us there; otherwise some of us tend to want to wake the humans up to play. At around 6:00 a.m. Herself enters and lets us out. Mom wants to go outside immediately. If she can't (Herself has this 'thing' about not letting Mom outside until it is light out), she gets really snarly and takes it out on one of us. She lashes out and attacks! We have heard that the behaviour of some females can be volatile and moody at certain stages in life. Do you think she is going through meno-paws? Please help us! Ziggy, Curly & Persephone

Children, It is unlikely that meno-paws is the culprit, particularly since I have it on good authority that all of you are spayed (and the males, neutered). So put your mind to rest about that. But the problem remains.

The three of you are entering teenage-hood -- a difficult time during the life cycle of many species. In the wild, the feline custom would be for parents to distance themselves -- young cats would be sent on their way, unless living in a colony in which case the females would remain (it's a matriarchy) and be breeding, and the males (other than the one who was providing stud services) would have to find another place to live. The domestic household does not allow such options. With so many cats in your household it's a testament to all of you (and the space available, perhaps) that you normally operate without incident.

I think I know what the problem is, though. Your Mom may be particularly oriented to the crepuscular cycle -- no, that doesn't mean that she creeps and is muscular; it refers to a preference for hunting at dawn and dusk, when prey are likely about. (To digress for a moment: At times, I will yowl to be let out into the yard at dawn: the birds are singing, the voles are racing through the grass and I have a duty to supervise. And if I don't get my way, I go into the bedroom, land on the bed and briskly massage Herself's full bladder. After she races to relieve herself, she figures that since she is already up I might as well go out. It doesn't matter if it is still dark because my yard is enclosed with a cat fence that keeps me in and all others out. She does, however, keep the patio door closed so I cannot use the cat flap. Somehow she doesn't appreciate the occasionally vole I bring in to keep me company!)

So hearing all those wonderful sounds of prey (many of which are unable to be heard by human ears), your Mom is anxious to join and may get increasingly agitated unless let outdoors. The higher her arousal level, the more likely she is to react to the first thing that moves nearby -- and that is likely one of you. Whatever the reason for the target, the result is redirected aggression -- when you can't get at the thing you want, you take it out on the nearest thing available. In cat society, that 'thing' is always something that moves!

You wrote me in your e-mail that she only takes it out on you three, which suggests she is selective -- she never takes it out on your Dad or your purrsons. At first glance I thought that your Dad may be good about keeping out of her way when she is on the warpath -- which seems to be a strategy that goes with that role. But when you told me that she never takes it out on your purrsons, either, I figure that its you kids, particularly, that get on her nerves at that time -- since in the wild, you'd have left home by now.

There may be good reasons (from a human perspective) why she cannot go outside exactly when she would like, but since humans cannot speak cat it would be a difficult message to communicate.

Don't despair. I have a solution -- environmental management.

Right now, all of you sleep in the bathroom. I assume that at around 6 a.m., Herself needs to use the facilities and in the course of doing so, lets you all out to use the rest of the house. Since I assume the bathroom then becomes fair game for the humans and thus it would be impossible to keep some of you in it any longer, let me suggest an alternative.

Assist your humans in finding one additional place in the house for your night-time rest. Obviously it requires a door. Make sure it is properly outfitted (food, water, toys, litterbox) just like the other one. That door needs to be left open during the day so you can explore the room and get used to it. A sprinkling of catnip (or a spritz of Feliway -- in the spray form --  if you have it handy) might help.

I suggest that your parents take the bathroom at night (they are older and thus get precedence) and that the three of you siblings take the new room. If you have trouble adjusting to the new arrangement, I suggest the purchase of a Feliway diffuser (from your veterinarian or pet supply store, depending upon were you live) which can be plugged into an electrical outlet in that room and left. The synthetic pheromones that will waft through the air will give you a sense of comfort and should thus help you adapt.

In the morning, refuse to come out of your space until the coast is clear. Herself can help by letting your folks out of the bathroom as usual and allowing them the run of the house until your Mom can be let outside. Once Mom is outside, the coast is clear; you can make it known that you need to be let out now. Chances are Herself will get the message and open your door, too.

I have every reason to believe that this should work for all of you. However, I am concerned about your Mom's relationship with you. Everything may be fine at other times of the day -- but it could also be that there are other, subtle signs that all is not well in the household between mother and children. If so, that tension can build up over time. Never fear -- Greyce has suggestions. Keep your eye open for upcoming blogs when I talk about interior decoration for cats -- ways to alter your domestic environment that relieve tension and create a greater sense of freedom in a multi-cat environment. I will get to this subject as soon a I can.

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