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, July 4, 2013

Cats Starting to Get Along: Update on Buddy, Patches and Max

Dear Greyce,

We have been making progress since I first wrote in (see blog entry Cat Fights in the Family posted 12/30/12). We have been doing a lot of room switching over the last month. Patches and Max have been going to my headquarters (the basement) for an hour or two every day, while I explore the rest of the house. Themselves installed a large crate in the living room which I call 'the apartment'. We all like to nap in it.

On a few occasions when I was in 'the apartment,' Themselves closed its door and then let Max wander around the room. I wasn't too fond of this. I'd hiss when Max got too close or tried to play with my tail.

Last week Themselves reversed the process and closed the door when Max was in 'the apartment'. I went up to the crate and we touched noses. Then I jumped on the loveseat next to the crate and looked out the window. Themselves were so surprised that I took all of this in stride.

To be honest, I have uttered a few hisses when Max suddenly sticks his paw out of 'the apartment' when we are playing with string, but overall things are going well. No fat tails, no big staring eyes. When I'm hunting my new string toy I hardly notice Max until I end up next to 'the apartment' and see him. Then I get a little startled and rush off.

So now I wonder if we are ready for the next step and what that step might be. Should we try putting Patches in the apartment and having me meet her this way? Or should we continue with Max and maybe let us meet without the barrier of the apartment.

What do you advise?


Darling Buddy,

You have made such excellent progress that I feel like feasting on tuna just to celebrate. Congratulations on you excellent strides!

What is the next step? As you know, I tend to opt for the most conservative approach. So here is what I suggest:

I quite agree that getting Max and you to bond even closer is a better tactic than re-introducing Patches at this point.

Continue your current regime to get you more and more used to being right by Max (while he is in 'the apartment'). I'm a bit concerned that you still startle if he moves quickly (since he is still young and will be very active) or if you suddenly get near him. I'd like you to try to get more used to these kinds of situations while you are both protected by a barrier. This may be just a matter of a few weeks or so of more practice.

Encourage Themselves to bring the string toy (or others) near 'the apartment' a bit more often (if they are not already doing so) and to keep both of you involved in the game; or to have two toys available, so that they can take one in another direction if you begin to react to Max. Any distraction that can divert your startle would be fine. Or maybe try rewards: Purrhaps you both can receive a small treat every time you are right up near him and he moves and you don't startle. I think they have to use their judgement on the best way to get you used to being up close and purrsonal with Max - barrier intact.

I know it is tempting to move on, but this is a critical point. You are doing very well. I just want you to truly anchor your behaviour before moving on. So I want you to have mastered getting used to Max sudden paw, etc., before you advance. Then once you have mastered this, try to meet outside 'the apartment'.

To do so, it would be very important to keep a close watch on Max and keep him out of harm's way. If I recall correctly, none of you wear collars and none of you are harnessed trained. If you were, then I'd suggest that you both be on leash and harness so that Themselves could regulate the distances between you (keep you both far from each other at first and slowly decreasing the distance as the two of you adapt). It allows Themselves to maintain control of the situation and prevent either of you from becoming frightened or agitated if the distance between you becomes to close.

Without the leash and harness, it is a bit more difficult but can still be done especially if Max is willing to sit on a lap and, say, be petted.  For example, I'd suggest one of Themselves hold Max on the lap when the two of you meet. Such purrson should be able to get a firm grip if needed, to prevent Max from jumping down or to whisk Max away. That way, the purrson can keep Max calm and keep him out of harm's way should there be any concern.

The purrson watching you should keep you occupied so you just don't focus on Max but have some task to do. The difficulty is that if you are playing with a string toy as a way of being occupied, Max might want to join in before you are ready and then there could be problems. So instead, at this point, I suggest using a few treats - spread out over your session - instead of a toy. Again, start with short sessions and work up.

Then next step can be used if all is going well OR if you don't think the treats will do the trick to keep you both out of mischief with each other:

You will need two purrsons and two string toys. One purrson should be in charge of playing with you and making sure that your toy of interest does NOT go near Max. The other purrson should be in charge of playing with Max and keeping his toy out of your area. At this stage it is often prefurrable to have each of you on different levels. For example, Max could be playing on the sofa (off the floor) and you could be hunting on the floor. (In some instances, one cat has been on a cat tree and the other, on the floor.) Your purrsons should keep the respective hunting games at a distance from each other (depending upon the room and its configuration, at least 10 feet apart - more if possible; farther is better).

As in all other steps, start with a short session (no more that 5 minutes or the first sign that one of you is becoming anxious - whichever comes first). Slowly work up to longer sessions. When you are able to tolerate this interaction for 15 minutes or so, then would the distance can be shortened - by about a foot or so (half a metre).  Work up to another 15 minutes and shorten it again.

Buddy, you are making EXCELLENT progress. I am very proud of you. Keep up the good work!