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.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cat Fights in the Family: For Buddy the Pressure is TOO Much

Dear Greyce,

I'm afraid our holiday season is not a happy one and we are asking for your help. Simply put, our family has fallen apart!

Let me start at the beginning.

About four years ago we settled into a household as a family, that family being Patches (a charming female) who was already an adult and moi, Buddy, just nine weeks old; we live with Herself. Patches is the relaxed and friendly one and I am the more nervous (but friendly) one. And we bonded well.

Three months ago things changed, with the arrival of a new kitten called Max. He started off in a spare room and then was gradually introduced to us. We put up with him.

And then . . . all hell broke loose.

Patches went to the vet to get her teeth cleaned. Upon her return she smelled different. Herself kept Patches in a separate room to adjust to being home. We had a little scuffle. I should mention that on two other occasions many years ago, when Patches came home smelling different I had the same reaction. But after we were separated for a day or so, things got back to normal. Not so this time.

I was sent to the basement (my favourite hang out).  About 10 days after the scuffle, I howled to be let up
but as soon as I saw Patches I attacked her. Back to the basement for me. Another two weeks, another incident (even worse, but I'll spare you the details).

We have been eating on either side of a door that is open a tiny bit. We are fine until we finish our meals. Then I get an angry look on my face and Herself has to close the door.

So all in all, I see my former best friend as my enemy. I think the pressure of the new guy, Max, plus Patches dentistry-at-the-vet smell has been too much for me to bear.

I have been examined by the vet and pronounced healthy. I'm on a food supplement to relax me; it is called Zylcene and is made from a milk protein. And there are four Feliway diffusers at different locations in the house. We have three cats trees and lots of toys. Herself believes she has everything dealt with, in terms of anxiety-reduction measures.

So here is the current situation: Patches and Max are now a tight twosome. They get one area and I get another and then we swap daily  on a time-share basis. I'm okay with Max as well although he makes me a little nervous (being an energetic kitten).

Herself thinks she has broken up our happy family and is beside herself with guilt.

How to we get to be a real family again?

Anxious and anxiously awaiting your reply,

Dear Buddy,

There-there poor dear, I wish to say, by sending purrs of comfort to you and yours.

Yours is an all-too-common situation. And if I had a gram of catnip for every cat in a situation like yours, my house would be filled and I'd have to move out!

The scenario is always the same. An interloper arrives (albeit with the best of intentions on the part of the resident human(s) who think we should all get along). They may take what they think are gradual steps at introducing us to each other. But . . . and this is a very BIG but, what is gradual for them is too fast for at least one of us AND they just don't understand the subtle signals we give that suggest that all is not well.

So what happens? All seems tolerable for the first several weeks and then all hell breaks loose and the feline social structure is shaken. And when that happens, it is difficult to repair. Have faith Buddy dear, I didn't say it was impossible.

Why does this happen? Because we are not pack animals. We have no need for a leader and followers and so when misunderstandings occur, we have no need to repair them (by submission, for example) for the benefit of the group - being solitary creatures in the wild. In feral cat colonies and in domestic situations, we can get along if there are sufficient resources (food, water, etc.) for the most part. But should something unfortunate happen, it can completely break the tenuous bonds we have formed.

In your case, there are several factors in operation:

1. You are a somewhat nervous cat. This means that strange and new circumstances will be more of a challenge for you than they would be, say, for Patches. And that means that change has to occur at a pace with which you are comfortable.

2. You are right: the introduction of Max plus the dentistry visit for Patches was just too much for you. There tend to be natural inhibitions in cats that prevent them from taking their anxieties out on kittens. But your anxiety was definitely escalating. And the minute that a different-smelling Patches came on the scene, you did what most cats in your situation would do: You took it out on her! And having done so and having remained anxious and having learned no other way of dealing with the situation, you will continue to do so. Your bond is forfeit.

3. Herself is well-meaning and loves you all. However she is in desperate need of an education. I can bet a mountain of catnip that she is remiss in at least two departments.

a) She probably doesn't truly understand cat signalling behaviour.
b) She has little idea of the way in which to relieve your anxiety (of all three of you) through proper play. And I mean 'proper' play, rather than just the availability of toys and trees. Sorry but it's just not good enough!

4. The idea of boarding you elsewhere for a while MAY have some merit but it would depend on a host of factors of which I'm ignorant: a) your previous experience with boarding at the chosen facility, b) the layout of your current house, for example. But even if you were boarded out, what makes anyone think that the problem will go away when you return? You and Patches need to learn how to be in the same area without you feeling threatened and her being frightened. And that cannot take place when you are being boarded.

5. The use of Feliway and relaxants, while very useful, is far from sufficient in restoring order. So far they haven't worked, have they? That is because they are supports to the process NOT a treatment for the problem.

Lest Herself continue to heap piles of guilt over her head into the new year, tell her to stop. She has done some things right -  like having you examined by the vet (just in case there was a medical reason for your behaviour); this is an excellent first step. And having you separated and time-sharing space is a safe way to keep peace in the household. Also enabling both Patches and you to build rapport with Max (albeit separately) is a wise move. So make sure Herself takes off the mantle of guilt and gets ready for a feline education.


Keep up the time-sharing. I assume each space has a litter box, access to water, and food (if you are free fed) as well as toys and at least one cat tree with a view to something interesting. I also assume that Herself is spending some time on a daily basis with each and every one of you (and by some time I mean more than the time it takes to clean out the litter box and refill the water bowl).

Keep up the meals on either side of the door as it may prove to be a good indicator of when behaviours have shifted enough to start the next step. And do NOT take any further steps at re-introduction until you report back that you can finish a meal on the other side of the door from Patches and not become angry. Then contact me and we will work out the next part of the plan.

Patches and you both should keep on building up a relationship with Max. Since you are nervous I assume (hope) that your times with Max are well-supervised and include play sessions; and that the total time you are together in any one session is limited to below the threshold you can stand. Details please.

Herself will now have several New Year's resolutions to undertake immediately:

Learn about cat signalling so she can tell well in advance when things are about to go awry.
Some books - 
Know Your Cat: An Owner’s Guide to Cat Behavior (by Bruce Fogel).
Understanding Cat Behavior (by Roger Tabor).
100 Ways to Better Understand Your Cat (by Roger Tabor).

Entries from Amy Shojai's blog -

Learn how to and implement creative, interesting and predatory-like interactive play with each of you, every day. If she is short for time then she should err by giving you, Buddy, two sessions and everyone else, one. To teach her about proper play, I refurr to two blog entries - the one about those three black cats (mentioned above) and Cat Stalks Human: Tux's Trials (December 11, 2011). Both contain detailed descriptions of the rationale behind and method of implementing the necessary play sessions.

Learn how to appropriately intervene before any situation gets out of hand (or paw).
The prefurred method is distraction - best delivered immediately because the quicker the time between the first signals of things going awry and the delivery of distraction, the more easily you will learn how to cope. 

Possible distractors:
"No Buddy" delivered in a firm voice.
Waving a wand or throwing a toy in a direction AWAY from the victim (i.e., from Patches)
The use of a cat separator (refurr to my entry, Three Black Cats Who Don't Get Along of August 14, 2012).
And if these don't work, then a time out: taking you unceremoniously away (into another room with a closed door ) to cool off; 5 minutes should do it; repeat and lengthen the period if necessary.
No yelling or physical punishment under ANY circumstances.

She will not be using distraction yet - because you are time-sharing at all times and so it likely is not necessary. But I want her to be well-versed and prepared for when we will be moving forward.

This should keep all of you out of mischief for a while. I will be sending requests for further information by e-mail. And I look forward to hearing of your progress.

Buddy, this situation can be improved. It takes persistence and consistency and know-how. Let's work on that!