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.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Re-integrating Cat Friends at War: Lily and Misha

Dear Greyce,

We are lovely young cats, ages 1 and 2, who have been close friends since the younger (Misha) arrived at age 2 months. For the past few months our relationship has faltered badly.

It all began when Misha spent 2 days at the vet's being spayed. When she returned, I didn't recognize her; she smelled funny and wore a stocking (to prevent her from picking out her stitches). I was scared of her and became aggressive. She was scared by my behaviour. I'll spare you the details, Greyce, but it was awful.

How We Have Been Re-Introduced

1. To calm me down and keep Misha safe, Herself put Misha in a separate room (we live in a one-bedroom apartment) and slowly re-introduced us. First we were kept completely separated by a door for a week. No problem. 

2. Then she fed us at the same time but on opposites sides of the door - no problem.

3. Then the door was opened a little bit when we were eating. All was fine except when I tried to touch Misha's nose with mine, she would run away. And if Misha would try to touch my nose, I would hiss. This went on for several weeks.

4. Then we started to eat together (but stayed separated the rest of the time). Slowly the time we were allowed to be together was increased. If Misha started to smell me, I would hiss.

5. Then Herself stayed home for a week and we were only separated when she was out of the house. She thought things went well, so by the end of the week we were left alone in the house for short periods: 10 minutes, then 30 and then 60.

6. When she went back to work, she assumed that everything was fine between us and so we were left alone in the house but together. And all was well for the first 3 days. After that the tension between the two of us felines started to mount. And that is what it's like in our home today.

Here are some examples.

Our Eating Behaviour Has Changed: We used to eat contentedly, side-by-side, from bowls on the kitchen floor. Now Misha eats really fast and goes over to my bowl; I just stop eating and leave. Herself has tried to distract Misha from doing this by giving her some wet food, but she persists. Sometimes she takes her to another part of the house. But nothing seems to stop Misha! I now refuse to eat beside Misha, so Herself feeds us on each side of the kitchen.

We used to free feed but Misha has started to overeat. Because of her weight gain, we are now fed at specific times: dry food in the morning, at lunch and when Herself comes home from work; and wet food after our last play session of the day. We also have 2 food puzzle balls available at all times, but Misha is the only one who likes them.

Being fed at specific times is probably good for Misha's weight but inconveniences me because I like to nibble throughout the day, rather than have set mealtimes. So I am eating less dry food than I usually do and losing some weight in the process.

 (Just in case you need to know: We also have 3 water bowls, 2 side-by-side and 1 in the corner; and we use all 3.)

We get dry food treats several times a day: after our first play session of the day, when we get together after a short time-out for misbehaviour, and sometimes when we are well-behaved when we are near each other.

Our Behaviour in the Bedroom Has Changed: We all like to sleep in the bedroom with Herself. There are several places to choose from: one on the floor, another at the same level as the bed, and still another on top of a desk. Recently I've been sleeping on the desk and Misha is in bed - though by the morning we are both on the bed!

When I am asleep or just lying down in the bedroom, Misha will come over (as if for a grooming session) and will mount me and bite my neck. Most times she bites me and then I leave (and then Herself does nothing about it). Other times, I try to fight back and if I do, Herself tries to distract us with a toy - and that tends to work. Time-outs don't seem to work for Misha because she just repeats the behaviour as soon as she can. Sometimes this happens more than once in a night.

We still sleep together and at times, we are able to groom each other without biting. Though truth be told, grooming each other often leads to biting each other.

Our Play Fighting Has Become Too Real! Usually fighting begins when we are playing chase. If Misha is not comfortable with this, her back twitches and when I get close to her, she lies down with her ears flattened against her head and will start to growl and hiss. Misha will start play fighting with me and then run and hide, and then hiss and growl. If we are not separated, I pounce on her. Herself does try to distract us with a toy and will put us in different rooms for a few minutes, to cool down. When I'm feeling scared I just hiss at her.

Our Play with Herself Has Changed: I used to just watch Misha play with the fishing pole. I think that was because when she arrived, we would play so much with each other. Then when we were separated (when Misha was spayed) I became interested in this form of play again.

We have two daily play sessions (15 to 20 minutes each). Now as soon as Herself comes home I meow at her for attention so that she will play with me. But now I will only play if I am on top of the dining room table. If Misha is elsewhere in our home, I tend to be more focused on where she is than on playing (especially if she makes noise) . Misha used to play by herself a lot but since the spay she no longer does so.

And Greyce, Herself bought us Da Bird and we both just love it! It is a very new toy for us and really keeps us both entertained.

Misha Has Become a Fraidy Cat (Like Me)! I have always been a shy cat who is afraid of new things and of change. Misha has now become afraid of noises and fast movements (and this is new for her).

The Good News Is That We Both Love Being Petted: I have always enjoyed being petted and spending time on Herself's lap. Since her spay, Misha enjoys being petted, too.

Information You Might Need to Know: We have a balcony (where our litter boxes are - one covered and one open) that has a lovely, large and tall cat tree for bird viewing. Misha is the only cat who uses it.  Sometimes Misha will be on the carpet in front of the couch. but usually Misha is on the sofa or the floor or at the window. I like to sleep on top of the dining table and at the window, though I'll go on the sofa to be on Herself's lap. And we both love going inside boxes. We only sit under the table (on the chairs) (Misha) or behind the couch (Lily) when we are afraid.

Recently Herself put a Feliway diffuser in the living room which is where we spend most of our time.

Greyce, we cannot go on like this. Please help!



Dear Lily,

So much has happened to both of you felines that I hardly know where to begin. But let me start by saying that you obviously have a very devoted purrson (Herself) because she is trying to hard to make this situation work. She must love you both very much. And that makes the both of you cats very lucky. With patience and careful planning, I think you can all make great progress.

Now let's get down to work.

What you have described is a classic situation that happens to far too many cat couples. One goes to the vet (or the groomer) and upon returning home, smells (and maybe even looks) like a stranger. The cat who stayed home feels invaded. The cat who returns can't figure out what went wrong. And then the growling and fighting starts and everyone in the household is upset.

You have correctly assumed that when a cat's smell or appearance changes, it is difficult for his or her cat companion to recognize her. And so she responds with fear or aggression (or a bit of both). Left unchecked, the returning victim either becomes more fearful or may even eventually become aggressive herself.

We cats are not pack animals (like dogs - who love to be in groups and respect hierarchy). We are solitary hunters who may live peaceably together if there are plenty of resources about (food, water, etc.) AND we have gotten to know each other under favourable circumstances. But if something should happen to disrupt our bond, we are not made in a way (like dogs) that makes us want to restore that bond at all costs. And so we revert to every-cat-for-herself!

Foolish people think that cats in such situations should just be left to fight it out, as a way of solving the problem. It only makes matters worse. And the costs for vet treatment of wounds and the likely behavioural problems that would result are very high, indeed.  

The purrson in such a situation becomes as distressed as the cats. But it is often difficult for this purrson to know what to do.

Your purrson had read a lot about cat behaviour and put a plan into place. At the outset, the plan was a very good one because she kept the both of you separated from each other and slowly (and with the use of food) helped you to get used to one another again. There was only one problem with this plan and that is, she moved too quickly between the steps.

When I review what you have written, I can see the problem re-developing. There is the hissing that begins in Step 3 - when you hiss when Misha attempts to touch noses and she runs away if you try to touch noses. There is nothing wrong with either of your behaviours. Your hiss means "back off, because I am afraid and if you come any nearer I may have to fight". Her running away is also an indication of fear. It may have been a good idea to keep you at this Step for even longer (though 3 weeks seems like a long time to a human). But it seemed to go well.

Step 5 worked well because Herself was with you 24/7 and could intervene and keep the both of you safe. It is also obvious that Herself gives both of you a sense of safety - and that is very important in situations like this. But you were headed for trouble, even though everything seemed to go well - because it was too fast (in cat time, not human time) between being together with Herself, then alone together for 10, then 30, then 60 minutes and then suddenly being left alone together when Herself was at work all day.

You may wonder why it took about 3 days after Herself returned to work, before tension started to mount. The answer is quite simple: It can take up to 72 hours before cats who are put into a new situation (and I count being alone together for extended time as a new situation with the two of you) before they become comfortable enough to behave completely naturally. And so after 72 hours, you both stopped being reasonably polite to each other and resumed your war.

And now, the battles are getting worse.


Put A New Plan in Place

I will outline an action plan in detail. But before I do this, let me give you an overview:

First, I want you to go back a few steps in your re-introduction process - to where you are both kept separated when Herself is away. Sometimes the best progress is made by going backwards, before going forwards again. Trust me, it is better for all of you.

Second, I want your to review your distraction and time-out techniques. All of you need to clearly understand when and exactly how they should be used, to benefit this re-introduction process.

Third, I want you to work on lowering your anxiety levels and will provide a variety of ways in which this can be done.

Fourth, I will provide specific details on specific problem areas such as eating, sleeping, grooming and playing.

Re-Doing the Re-Introduction Process

You must go back a few steps in your re-introduction process. Misha and you MUST be separated when Herself is away from home. Each of you needs to feel secure when Herself is not around. And neither of you will feel this way, if you know that the other cat is about and could be ready to pounce or otherwise make your life miserable. Physical separation is essential. Once your confidence in your security is restored, we can work from there.

Ideally it would be great if each of you could have large spaces of a few rooms each. But I don't know enough about the layout of your apartment to know if that is possible.  So if that cannot be done, then each time you are separated, one of you gets the bedroom and the other, the rest of the place. Ask your purrson to figure out what would work best for all of you.

Of course each of you needs access to water and to a litter box regardless of where you are placed. Misha should have her food ball with her (and dry food for you). And each of you should have the toys of your choice (balls, straws, mice - just not string toys like fishing poles) to keep you company. 

Ideally, the door between the two spaces should be left open a 3 to 4 centimeters (2 inches in American) so that you have the chance to see each other. IBut to do so, the door needs to be firmly wedged open so that neither of you can open it further or accidentally shut it. Again I do not know if that is possible; please let me know. If you are able to see one another while both of you are safe, then slowly you can build up the confidence to touch noses. Each of you has the option of approaching the door or of backing away from it if you are uncomfortable.

That said, it would be ideal if each of you time-shared space. This means that each of you would be allowed  access to all parts of the apartment at different times, so that none of you develops an exclusive territory. Both of your scents would be spread about the whole apartment, giving you both the signal that it is okay for both of you to be there.

For example, if Misha stays in the bedroom and you have the rest of the apartment while Herself is at work on Monday, then you get the bedroom on Tuesday while Misha gets the rest of the apartment. That way neither of you builds up an exclusive territory and each of you has exclusive access to prime areas (like the sun in the window or the bed) some of the time.

When Herself comes home, you can be out together as long as you can be supervised and both behave. I realize this is difficult for all of you because you only have one human to share. So here are some possibilities:

a)  Have portions of "together time" especially for specific tasks (like interactive play) that keep the both of you occupied, but keep separated otherwise.

b)  If one of you objects (by loud meowing and scratching at the door, for example), it may be possible to put one of you in your crate and let you stay with your purrson and the other feline in the same room but in that crate - again for short periods of time.

c) If one or both of you is okay with being crated, consider getting a much larger, wire dog crate (suitable to have a small litter box and possible water dish in it, along with room to sit (or a small shelf or hammock or stool on which to perch). Please consult me again before you implement this (if you think you want to).

This is like a small 'apartment' and allows one cat to be in the presence of the other while keeping both cats safe. Some cats I know like to have a towel or blanket over part of it for privacy. And most cats I know like to have the top covered, because the other cat often wishes to perch there! The object of this is to get the both of you used to being in the same place together without either of you having the chance to harm the other - because one of the problems (for both of you) is the fear you each generate when you approach the other.

d) If there are other ways that you can think of to help both of you keep your distance while, at the same time, being able to see each other, then please let me know.

In some cases, putting one or both of you on leash and harness can work. In others, putting both of you in your respective crates and keeping you at a distance from each other can work. If you want to consider one of these, make sure you start with each of you being at the farthest possible distance from each other (like opposites sides of the room). If you are okay with that distance after one session of being together like that, then the next time you can decrease the distance between you by about 12 cm (6 inches). It is important to always go at the pace of the cat who is most easily upset. Please see the entries about two other cats in a similar situation -  Yoshi and Taro (further down) for more information on this process.

Using Distraction to Prevent Fights

I understand that at times Herself is able to distract you successfully with a toy. And this is great. Ask her to practice distraction more often.

I would like her to try distract either of you when you seem intent on approaching the other, to allow some distance to be kept between the two of you. Right now, your approaching each other often leads to problems. So we want to have you keep your distance until you are both comfortable enough that this no longer happens. This may take weeks of practice. Just be patient.

For example, it seems that it is difficult for Herself to know if Misha wants to groom you or mount you, when you are in the bedroom. Though I do understand that most often she has mounting and biting on her mind. So instead of letting this happen, I suggest that Herself distract Misha as soon as she sees her headed in your direction when you are sitting or lying down in the bedroom.

Using Time-Outs When Distraction Doesn't Work

Obviously there are times when distraction doesn't work. You mention that Misha has problems with time-outs because as soon as she is let out again, she mis-behaves. So let's review the time-out process to make sure you are doing everything correctly.

Ideally a time-out is given as soon as Herself notices that one of you is about to mis-behave. The cat who gets the time-out is obviously the one who is the aggressor.

It is very important that the time-out happen as soon as possible, rather than waiting. For example, suppose you are walking over to Misha  and either you have a look that Herself knows will mean trouble or get a response from Misha that lets everyone know she is afraid or ready to fight back. Herself can try distraction. If that doesn't work, she should immediately give you a time-out. (And there may be cases where she knows distraction will never work; in such cases she should go immediately to time-out.)

She needs to take you to another room - without speaking with you, making eye contact, or petting you. Of course she will have to carry you, but I don't want you receiving any attention for this (positive or negative - because for some cats, even negative attention is rewarding).

You stay in your time-out place for a specific time (start with a few minutes). Once the time is up, she comes to open the door. Again she should make no eye contact, no talking, no petting; simply open the door so you can leave when you wish.

And definitely, most definitely, make sure she does NOT give either of you treats after a time-out. Otherwise you will try to get time-outs so you can have treats! (I think this is one of the problem areas with the way you have been receiving time-outs.)

If soon after you have re-entered from a time-out, you mis-behave, she should give you another, longer time-out. (Start with 2 or 3 minutes; if need be increase to 5; then increase to 10; then 15; etc.) I know cats who, at times, stay in time-out for 30 or 45 minutes or longer. Just make sure that if you serve a longer time-out period, you have access to a litter box and water.

Lowering Anxiety

Both of you cats are anxious. I know because Misha is over-eating and you are eating less. Misha has become reactive (to noises, for example). And you get so concerned about where Misha is, that even if she is in a separate room you are reluctant to play with Herself - unless perhaps you are on top of the dining table. All of these are signs of anxiety.

The difficulty with higher anxiety levels is that you become overwhelmed. And when you are stressed in this way it is very difficult (some would say, impossible) to learn new behaviours. And I very much want the both of you to learn (or re-learn) a more positive way of being together.

So we have to lower your anxiety levels. And there are many ways to do this.

Here are the ones you are already doing: interactive play. Herself is very good at providing these sessions for you both and I applaud the introduction of Da Bird, especially since it has been so successful. Herself has installed a Feliway diffuser. Again this is a good idea because it will bring a sense of comfort to the area. Keep up the good work!

Here are the ones I have suggested in your action plan: Keeping you separated when Herself is away, will give each of you a stronger sense of security and thus help reduce anxiety. Helping each of you keep your distance from each other, when you are out and about (through distraction, crates, etc.) will also help reduce anxiety. I think both of these will be very helpful.

Of course you can stick to these and if you follow the program very carefully and have a great deal of patience to move through the steps very s-l-o-w-l-y, then eventually your anxiety levels will lower. This can take months.

If you would prefer not to wait so long, then here are two other things to try: touch and remedies (herbal or pharmaceutical):

A form of touch, as part of your petting sessions.

My description here is taken from a previous blog entry quite a while back. Instead of making you find it, I figured I'd just put it here.

Touch forms the most basic connection from one being to another. And there is significant research evidence to show that intentional touch can heal emotional trauma, including stress and anxiety. Note that I say intentional touch because it means that whoever is doing the touch is doing it mindfully (with the intent to help you heal) rather than mindlessly stroking your fur while being preoccupied with something else.

There are various forms of touch which have been used with success on cats. And your purrson could do this herself without great cost, other than converting some of your cuddle time (which I understand you both enjoy) to this end. So let me tell you about the different kinds there are. They are in no particular order and any one of them will work.

Massage involves manipulation of the body tissue. One source of information is Dr. Michael Fox's Healing Touch for Cats: The Proven Massage Program for Cats (available through or )

Reiki - a gentle form of touch therapy in which the practitioner's hands either rest directly on your body or float above it. And there is a form in which no contact is required at all. For further information consult books such as The Animal Reiki Handbook by Kathleen Prasad. However it is a form of touch that  requires some training (called Initiation) which usually takes about a weekend.

Tellington T Touch involves making small, circular motions with one or two fingers. Consult TTouch for more information, including a video; you can contact them to find out of there is a practitioner in your area or you can learn about it through books and videos.

Therapeutic Touch- hands are kept off the body but in gentle motion. Consult the handout A Very Short Course on Therapeutic Touch for Animal Owners.

Some Further Advice About Touch

Have your purrson pick the technique that most appeals to her and with which you are comfortable.

Make sure she understands that for an animal the size of a cat, using one hand may be more than sufficient.

If she selects Reiki or Therapeutic Touch, then she should be mindful NOT to move her hand at the front or sides of your face or over your head because it is distracting and a hand over the head can be interpreted as aggressive. In other words, it is best for her to start at the back of your neck and work down.

If you move away when she is working with you, this may mean you have had enough. But if she is doing Reiki or Therapeutic Touch, it may mean that whatever was being done was a bit too intense. So she should try going from direct contact to floating her hand above you and see if that makes a difference.

It is sometimes useful to use on hand to gently stroke your head and back of your neck while the other hand is going about its business - to prevent you from becoming too distracted by the healing hand.

Even 5 or 10 minutes a day of intentional touch, done consistently, can lead to positive change.

Whatever option is selected, have her start when you are both relaxed. Tell her to start the session by taking a few, deep breaths herself so that she is calm.

Non-pharmaceutical Remedies or Medication from Your Veterinarian - as I mentioned recently for Queen Nina and Asjas.

 An herbal preparation such as chamomile. Some of my friends find this quite relaxing. A few like it prepared from a tea bag (pure chamomile, not a blend) with the liquid left to cool and then put on a saucer. Most like it instead when 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of the dried herb (from a good quality teabag) is ground between human fingers into a fine powder and added to a wet food treat once a day (morning would be good) - unless, of course, you have allergies to flowers in the daisy family in which case, move on to another option.

A flower remedy such as Bach's Rescue Remedy (2 to 4 drops diluted with a bit of water and either given by mouth using a plastic dropper or combined with wet food) and given up to three time a day. (Dilute if the remedy is only available in an alcohol base as we don't like that taste.)

Wearing of a thundershirt when you are in the same room.

Anti-anxiety medication. Talk with your veterinarian about the possibility of some anti-anxiety medication. There are a range of drugs (other than Valium, which will calm you but interfere with your ability to learn) available. If you decide on this and don't take pills easily (and many humans find this very difficult to do), then ask about medication that comes in a dermal gel that can be applied to the inside of the upper ear and absorbed that way: no pilling, no possibility of tummy upsets. BUT do NOT mix chamomile and Rescue Remedy and anti-anxiety medication - unless you have veterinary approval to do so.

Advice for Specific Problems

Eating Behaviour: For the time being, I think it a good idea that each of you eat most of your meals in your respective, separate areas.  That way Misha will not overeat by heading to your food bowl and you will have a chance to nibble throughout the day. I think (hope) this would be relatively easy to do for at least your lunch and when Herself comes home from work - possibly even for breakfast.

To start with, you may be more comfortable not eating on either side of the door. You can experiment with this - but I want you to find a distance for which both of you are comfortable, that is, one for which Misha won't eat so quickly and for which you won't leave.

If you must eat while Misha is around, then consider being fed on a higher level (like a counter), which may reduce your stress enough that you can focus on your food - with Herself near you to give you a sense of security and keep Misha away from your food.

When you are separated while Herself is at work, Misha can have a food treat ball and you can have access to your dry food - to snack on as you wish.

As for treats: to review - NO treats after your time-outs, no matter what. Otherwise you are rewarded for bad behaviour.

You can continue to have a few treats as you usually do - after your first play session and if you are comfortable being in the same room together. However tell Herself not to give you too many treats. Misha needs to control her weight. And treats won't be effective rewards if you get too many of them. Think of each treat as being the equivalent of one cookie to a human.

Sleeping Behaviour: I've already made a suggestion about intervening when Misha begins to approach you. Hopefully that way, you will both get safe rest. If she persists in the night, maybe she will have to be confined to another room until morning - with some play toys, of course.

Grooming: Since almost all of your grooming sessions end in a fight, ask Herself to use distraction whenever one of you approaches to groom the other. Otherwise it's a time-out or physical separation for both of you. We will think about the joys of mutual grooming much later in the process - definitely not now!

Interactive Play: Congratulations on Da Bird. If you have to play while being on the dining table, then that is fine with me. Sometimes we have to feel safe, before we can relax enough to have fun.

If Misha gets upset by being confined in a separate room when you are playing, Herself might consider the purchase of some new toys (or the rotation of old ones) to keep her occupied. Alternatively a toy like Panic Mouse which runs on batteries could keep her so focused on playing that she might forget about you!

Please review my recent entry about Sir Winnie:Weaning A Kitten From Biting Humans where I offer advice about such toys (and the need NOT to use them when people are not home) and play in general.

Play Fighting: As mentioned, distraction is advised - if at all possible BEFORE you get so excited that what started as play gets out of control.

Petting: As mentioned, it would be wonderful if Herself could incorporate some anxiety-reducing touch into a daily petting session with each of you.

For Inspiration and Information

Lily, your situation reminds me of a previous case I had, of Yoshi and Taro - two male cats who were great friends until they went to get groomed. They were successfully re-introduced. But it took time and patience.

While your situation is a bit different (and in their case there are two humans living at home, which made using harnesses far easier), there may be some ideas or inspiration in their story for you. Their story is told in the following entries:
Friendship Gone Sour (August 26, 2010)
Using Harnesses to Re-introduce Companion Cats: Yoshi and Taro (December 20, 2010)
Cat Companions are Back to Being Friends: Re-integrating Yoshi and Taro (April 27, 2010)

You may find my recent entry about Queen Nina and Asjas, Introducing Kitten to Scared Cat, to be of use because it, too, deals with the introduction process.

Lily, this must be a difficult time for all of you. But I think you can make great progress if you follow my advice carefully and take your time. I have given you a lot to think about and you may have more questions. Please feel free to ask them at any time.

Please also keep me informed of what you decide to do and how it works for you. As things progress, we will need to refine the process and make some changes - but only when I know what works (and does not work) for you and household.

I wish you and your household every success,