Angry cats!

Angry cats!

You ask – we answer:

Q: We have a 14-year-old spayed female Persian in our house that is strictly an indoor cat. We brought in a stray male kitten last summer and he is also an indoor cat. The younger cat always tries to play with the older cat and picks at her a little bit, but generally, a well-placed paw to the head gets him to back off a little bit.

Last Thursday, in the middle of the night we heard a terrible noise. It was the two cats squared off, hissing at one another. This time the male was not playing, he was being very aggressive and his tail was puffed up like he was ready to fight. Thinking he was possibly reacting to a cat in heat in the neighborhood and since it needed to be done anyway, we took him to be neutered on Friday.

He did very well and came back to the house on Saturday and continues this aggressive behavior towards the female anytime he sees her. He begins to almost groan and hiss at her. We don’t understand why he has started this after being with us for over 6 months and not showing any of this type of behavior. We are now having to keep them apart all the time or they begin fighting. Any ideas on what could have brought this on? We are very concerned.

A: What you are experiencing is actually very normal in this all too common scenario, and one of the many reasons it is not recommended to bring only one youngster into the home when he is going to be paired with a geriatric! It is surprising that the problem did not escalate sooner — you have one very patient 14-year-old!

First things first, it was great that you got him neutered, but it can take up to 2 months (give or take) for the testosterone levels to decrease in his body. So this is not an instant fix, and that is why you have not seen the changes in their interactions that you were hoping for.

Second, when cats live alone they become poorly socialized. More than likely, your Persian does not understand how to interpret his play behaviors and advances. Misinterpreting his body language coupled with the fact that she is significantly older and does not have near the stamina or energy level does not make for an ideal match.

This problem could have been avoided by adopting a pair of kittens and it can be most likely solved now by adopting an appropriate playmate. It is always difficult to convince someone to adopt another cat when they are already having problems with the ones they have, but 9 times out of 10 this fixes the problem. This will give him a friend of similar age and energy level and allow your Persian to interact when she chooses to but not be forced to be anyone kittens’ new best friend.

The behavior has gotten worse because his pent up energy and frustration due to the need for a playmate has increased. Her tolerance for him has also probably started to lessen. It is also important to explore some things to keep him busy, especially if getting a second kitten is out of the question.

Before you adopt, speak to a qualified adoption counselor to be sure you match up an appropriate personality type and energy level. You want a kitten that is very well socialized and a bit gregarious and bold — do not adopt just because he/she is cute. You are adopting a cat for your cat at this point, more than a cat for you. Introducing the new arrival is imperative to success, so don’t rush things.

Q: I’m wondering what the best way is to introduce two male 7-year-old cats. One has been indoor/outdoor (has claws). The other is indoor only and has no claws. They have both been in single pet households. Thanks a ton!

A: The rule of thumb when introducing cats to each other remains the same regardless of sex, declaw status, or age. The key is to introduce them very slowly and use a lot of positive reinforcement. If they have a bad interaction and things get escalated, cats will typically bite.

It is a common misconception that you have to declaw new cats if the existing ones are declawed. I know of many households with clawed and declawed cats living in perfect harmony.

The biggest challenges here are introducing two cats that have never lived with other cats before (potentially poorly socialized “only children” that will not know what to do with each other), and making an indoor/outdoor cat 100 percent indoors (if that is indeed the plan). The newcomer should start off in his own room and they should not even see each other for a week or more.

They can play footsies under the door, eat canned food on either side of the solid door, have a catnip party together and so on. They need to associate each other with positive things they both enjoy, and these motivators will be different for every cat. Another good trick, if they are playful, is to tie a favorite toy to either end of a thick piece of cotton string and run it under the door so they can play tug of war back and forth, but not pull it under the threshold. This should be supervised, of course, as you do not want one to eat the string!

When a group of cats lives together they form a colony scent, so we need to get them smelling the same. After a few days, swap scents. Brush them both with the same brush, flip-flop their bedding, and favorite scratching posts, etc. After about one-two weeks of this, put up a visual barrier like double-stacked baby gates or a screen door and start the process all over again.

This allows them to get a lot of their frustrations out, hissing, spitting and swatting (which are all very normal) without actually touching so it cannot become too escalated. After a few days or weeks of this, it is time to move on to supervised visits and eventually full freedom. Patience on behalf of the human caretakers is often where I see this go wrong most often. Remember to take it slow — it will make for better long-term success.

When you bring a new cat into the home it can take weeks or even months until complete harmony is achieved. Do not get discouraged or decide to give back a new adoptee because it was not working out in a week or two. Time is often the most valuable tool when it comes to new cats getting used to each other. Contact your local feline behaviorist for more ideas and tips if you continue to have problems.

Q: My cat uses his litterbox but he also uses the bathtub. We’ve left water in the bottom of the tub to stop him — that works. But when we drain the water he starts using it again. We clean the litterbox regularly. Please help. Thanks.

A: There may be many reasons why your cat may not be using the litter box consistently, but your first step should be taking him to your vet for a urinalysis and physical exam to be sure there is no medical problem. Cats use urine to communicate and he may be trying to tell you that he is in pain.

If every time he goes to use the box he experiences discomfort, your cat does not realize that the discomfort is coming from inside him. He thinks the litter box equals pain. So often they will try to find a place in the house that does not hurt, which is how many cat owners end up with urine in many locations.

Bathtubs, sinks, tile and air-conditioning vents on the floor are very popular targets when cats experience a burning sensation when they urinate. They are seeking a cool place because it feels better!

If the problem is not medical then you need to evaluate your litter box protocol as well as how all of your cats get along in the home (if there is more than one). There should always be one litter box per cat plus one, and they should be located in as many different areas as possible. If they are all in one room or all on one floor of the home you are not setting him up for success. This also helps if there are multiple cats in the home.

If he feels unsafe using the box, he may choose the bathtub because he does not get picked on in there by any of the other cats. Also, take a look at the type of litter you are using. Is it scented? Cats hate scented litter — it is designed and marketed for humans, not cats. Also, take a look at the texture because your cat may find it uncomfortable.

Many declawed cats have texture issues because of their amputated toes, so if he is declawed he may be seeking out something more comfortable. Most cats prefer to urinate in one place and defecate in another location, and there can even be preferences for different textures for different bowel movements. This may be why he defecates in the box and urinates elsewhere. Most importantly take a look at the box itself.

Is it hooded? Is it an automatic scooper? How big is it? How often do you scoop it? There are many factors that could be contributing here and you may want to work with your vet and a behaviorist at the same time to resolve the issue.

I would not recommend filling the tub with water to deter him until you get some of the other possibilities evaluated. He has chosen quite possibly the easiest area to clean up. If you deter him he may simply find a much more challenging place to go that is not as easy to clean like your bed or carpet.

Remember, every bowel movement is simply communication — we have to listen to what he is trying to tell us!

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