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Q: About 6 months ago I brought home a 6-year-old stray female cat to give her badly needed medical attention. She is a very fearful cat and lives in the upstairs portion of my house in order to give her sanctuary from my other three indoor-only cats. She is adjusting very slowly to my family and tolerates two of my cats in her sanctuary space occasionally as long as they stay a couple of feet away from her.
My third cat, a neutered 4-year-old male, Gizzy, have never intentionally been allowed in her area because he is so aggressive with her. He bolts when the door is opened to her sanctuary and three times has gotten in and tried to attack her. Once he scratched her nose, but the other two times they had no physical contact before I intercepted him. He runs at her and starts slapping at her, while she backs up and tries to defend herself. (Gizzy is sometimes overly playful/aggressive with my other two cats, even though my other boy is twice Gizzy’s size.)
I have tried Bach’s Rescue Remedy and it does help calm Gizzy, but it wears off quickly, even though I put it in his water bowl. Gizzy has no medical problems that we are aware of. Do you have any suggestions on how to calm Gizzy or how to resolve his issues with the stray?
A: Anytime a new cat is introduced to an existing colony (your three established cats) there is bound to be some upset, and it could be months before harmony is reached. It would be worthwhile for Gizzy to have an “aggression exam,” just to rule out any possible medical causes.
This would be looking for something that is making him uncomfortable in any way, such as a urinary tract problem, painful teeth or itchy skin. If the new cat is sick, Gizzy also may realize this and he may be choosing to pick on her because of her medical condition. When a group of cats lives together they form a “colony scent.”
It is helpful to flip flop bedding from the sanctuary room to the rest of the house and vice versa to help cross scent the cats. Brush all of the cats with the same brush, wipe them down with the same cloth, and make the four of them a group without them having to actually interact. Next switch out the living spaces. Allow Gizzy and the other two cats to explore the new cat’s room. Eat her food; use her litterbox without her in the space. Allow the new cat some access to the rest of the house while the other cats are in the sanctuary room.
This will allow her to explore and get comfortable with her new surroundings without having any confrontation. It will also give your existing cats the chance to hiss and spit and get out their frustrations without being able to attack the newcomer. Positive reinforcement can be very helpful here. To encourage the cats to approach the sanctuary room door and associate your new kitty with positive things, place their favorite canned food, piles of catnip, or two toys tied together with a strong run under the door. They can playback and forth, eat together and associate each other with things that they like. After this has been successful, change from a solid door to a screen door or double-stacked baby gates.
This will allow them to now see each other as well as get hissing and slapping out of the way without being able to hurt each other. What you want to avoid are repeated negative interactions. That will make the whole process harder for her, and he probably thinks that attacking her (especially if she makes some loud noises) is the best game ever. Never leave them unsupervised. If he starts exhibiting aggressive behavior immediately interrupt him and redirect him onto something appropriate like a feather toy, laser pointer, or treats thrown away from the area of conflict.
The newcomers’ socialization as a kitten, Gizzy’s socialization as a kitten and how they interpret each other’s body language can all be contributing factors. Size and sex make little difference in the feline world, and oftentimes a female is the dominant one. When you do finally have them all free roaming in the house remember to have more than enough of their basic needs available in multiple areas. Do not force them to interact around food, water or litterboxes as that will create a multitude of other problems. Behavior medications should not be considered until all other environmental factors have been exhausted.