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Sometimes, it may seem like your cats absolutely hate each other.
More often than not, one of them may seem to always treat the others like a generic school bully – eating the others’ food, shoving the others away, or hissing at them with contempt. Well, I can definitely say that you’re not alone in observing such behavior in multi-cat households.
It is pretty common to observe aggressive behavior in cats towards each other. As we all know, cats are independent and possessive animals that make up their own rules in their way of living. Unless two cats have grown up together and have gotten used to each other over a lengthy period, it may be difficult for them to get along at first and this initial hostile relationship may persist over time.
This is why introducing cats successfully is crucial for them to establish a healthy relationship with each other. However, I am aware that if you’re reading this article, chances are you are well past the point of introduction. Don’t worry because in that case, there are still measures you can take to establish relative future peace between your cats.
The most effective tool to deal with cat aggression is behavioral conditioning of the aggressive cat. This can be a process that takes a bit of time, but once you stick with it, you will be able to replace aggression with toleration and peaceful co-existence. Of course, each context and each cat is very different. So you may want to read below for ways to cope with aggression stemming from a variety of issues.
Why Is My Cat Bullying My Other Cat?
The secret of knowing how to prevent anything is to know what causes it. By cutting the problem at the root, you solve it simply, effectively, and permanently. The same is true with aggression between cats – if we know why cats act in this aggressive way, we can counteract this cause to stop it.
In the majority of cases, feline aggression is a result of territorial disputes between your furry friends. However, changes in the environment, being in heat, medical conditions, and redirected aggression can cause tension. This can be the case even if your cats have previously got along just fine. Here is a look at all of these reasons in more depth.
1. They’re in Heat
Only non-spayed female cats go into heat, so if you have a male cat or a neutered female cat you can skip right over this one. However, if you have an active female that seems to be intermittently aggressive towards your other cats, heat is a likely reason why. In fact, being in heat is one of the most common reasons for physical aggression between cats.
Active female cats go through the heat cycle, during which they are insistent on finding a mate. A female cat in estrus will relentlessly try to go outside to seek a partner, will yowl and cry to alert their attention, and will mark their territory by rubbing and urinating.
But besides spraying urine, restlessness, and increased vocalization, being in heat also causes aggression in cats. They will hiss and growl more than usual and may even become physically aggressive. This behavior might not just be directed towards other cats but could also be directed towards you! Your kitty is so set on finding a mate she won’t let anything get in her way.
Male cats do not go into heat, even if they haven’t been neutered. Active males are active all the time! However, they can sense when a female nearby is in heat which can get them excited. This often leads to an increase in physically aggressive behavior. During this period, the male cat will chase another cat corner them from behind and bite their neck to be able to mate.
2. Environmental Changes
Cats are creatures of habit get stressed easily. However, most stressors are temporary and are unlikely to cause big behavioral changes in your cat. For example, loud noises from nearby construction work might startle your cat but they’ll be unlikely to cause aggression. Likewise, an unknown guest visiting your home might make your kitty feel uncomfortable, but their mood will soon return to normal once the guest leaves.
However, severe stress or long-term stress can trigger an onset of feline aggression. This usually happens when there are big changes in your cat’s environment. Some common examples of environmental changes include:
- Moving to a new house
- The addition of another pet or human to the household
- Permanent changes in the daily routine
- Rearrangement of furniture in the home, etc.
It is basically any type of change that causes confusion and calls for a reestablishment of social and territorial dynamics around the house. Cats are very dependent on the stability of their territory and routine. Any new factor introduced to your home will challenge this stability and affect your cats.
Try to keep these changes to a minimum. If the change can’t be avoided, facilitate a controlled and subtle transition as much as you can. For instance, if you’re getting a new pet, arrange a proper introduction. If you’re rearranging furniture, spread out the process over a couple of days. If you’ve moved to a new apartment, make sure your cats know where everything is (litter boxes, food dishes) and provide each of them with plenty of separate space.
3. Presence of an “Easy Target”
Cats are not typically thought of as having dominance hierarchies like dogs do. Instead, they are considered a solitary and independent species. However, this isn’t true! Studies on groups of cats in the wild have proven that cats can and do live together. For lack of a better example, think of the popular movie The Lion King. The lion pack has a leader and all other members of the pride respect and follow their choices, wants, and needs.
Although we might not realize it, a similar territorial hierarchy is also happening right under our noses in multi-cat households. And the dominant cat has the best life. They’ll eat before the others and know that they’re boss. They can pretty much do what they want when they want it. Sounds good, huh?
When two cats live together for the first time, they’ll quickly establish which one of them will take this leading role. We might assume that an older resident cat would more likely be a bully to a newcomer kitten. However, this is not always the case. A kitten may very well end up bullying an older cat, or a newcomer may terrorize the resident cat. There is no rule that one age group, sex, or physical trait will determine becoming a target.
Even once the hierarchy is initially established, things can quickly change. When there is a “vulnerable” cat in your household, she may become an “easy target” for your other cat(s) in their quest to establish a hierarchy. Depending on the circumstances, the vulnerable cat can be a kitten, an older cat, an injured cat, a stray cat, a newcomer cat, or the resident cat.
We often see this when the leading cat becomes old or gets sick. The other cats might be aggressive towards the leader to try and steal their crown. Being aggressive or vulnerable is dependent on many factors including a cat’s psychological state, their inherent inclination for introversion or extroversion, and the life they have experienced so far.
4. Territorial Disputes
Not to be forgotten is territorial disputes. Cats are extremely territorial creatures and like to mark their territory and feel ownership and familiarity with spaces, objects, and humans. They do this through scent marking. Every time you see your cat rubbing against furniture in your home or rolling around on the floor, they are spreading the scent onto this object and claiming it as theirs.
When several cats live together, your cats will be able to smell each other on “their” objects and spaces. They feel like their territory is being invaded by an intruder. This can trigger territorial aggression in cats, which typically involves hissing, swatting, and chasing the intruder. This is more common if the shared space is cramped and when most items are shared.
The best way to avoid these issues (as you’ll see below in more detail) is to provide each cat with her own set of items and space. Get multiple litter boxes, food bowls, toys, perches, etc. This will diminish their chances of fighting over ownership of these items. If you can, allocate each cat an individual safe space with the aid of smart cat doors. Place their litter boxes and food dishes far apart or in separate rooms.
5. Redirected Aggression
Another possible reason why your cat is bullying your other cat is due to redirected aggression. This is where your bullying cat is annoyed and frustrated about something else completely unrelated. However, rather than taking it out on the target, your cat takes its anger out on your other cat.
A common example of this situation is a bird out the window that your kitty can’t reach. Their hunting instincts will tell them to pounce, but as the window is blocking their way, they get extremely frustrated and angry. If your other cat happens to be in the room at the time, they can be the outlet for your cat’s anger. More often than not, it is usually the cat that is lower in the social hierarchy that takes the hit.
If your cat’s behavior is down to redirected aggression, their aggressive outbursts will be in episodes. However, the behavior of the target cat (the one used as an outlet) will change long-term. This can cause prolonged conflict between your cats. The target cat will often fear the other cat, running away from it whenever they’re in the same room and being avoidant.
6. Medical Conditions
Finally, there is a chance your cat is bullying your other cat due to illness. If your cat does have a medical condition, you will likely notice other clinical signs. Also, underlying medical conditions cause an overall increase in aggression. Your cat will be angrier in general, rather than being angry and bullying one specific cat. Still, it is worth mentioning so you can get these medical conditions ruled out.
Most commonly, aggressive behavior stems from pain-causing diseases such as arthritis. Your cat will be frustrated and angry about permanently being uncomfortable and so become more aggressive. Diseases that cause hormonal imbalances and brain disorders can also change how the mind reacts to certain situations. Loss of sight and/or hearing is another possibility.
If you think your cat is aggressive due to an underlying medical condition, take them to the vet. The sooner you do this, the better! Your cat might be 100% healthy, but it’s best to rule out any illnesses sooner rather than later. If your cat is sick, you can then provide them with the treatment that they need.
What Are the Signs of Bullying in Cats?
Sometimes it is easy to confuse harmless, fun play with bullying. Many owners forget that cats were once non-domesticated animals. The genes of their wild ancestors are still hardwired in their DNA. It is normal for cats to play a little rough, both with each other and with their toys.
It may also be difficult to suspect bullying altogether if it doesn’t appear in the form of a physical fight. Although most cats will get physically aggressive towards the other, aggression does come in all shapes and sizes. This type of bullying often gets overlooked and ignored by owners.
So, how can we know for sure whether our cat is being bullied?
Here are the unmistakable signs that will help you recognize aggression between cats.
1. Vocal Signs
When we think about what noise cats make, most of us will say “meow”. However, meows are what cats use to communicate with humans only. If you pay attention to two cats, they tend to be pretty silent. The only noises you hear between cats that get along are murmuring and purring.
However, if you hear your cats hissing or growling, they’re being aggressive. Indeed, hissing and growling are trademark signs of hostility between cats. You can hear occasional hissing during harmless play too. However, if you observe your cats facing each other and constantly hissing, that is a clear sign of hostility between your furry friends.
These vocal signs may not always escalate to a full-blown fight, but you should still keep an eye on the situation. If one cat is constantly hissing at the other, she may be blocking her access to certain places or items.
2. Confrontational Gestures
The vocal signs of aggression mentioned above are usually accompanied by certain gestures and body language. Remember, cats can show contempt without getting physical with each other.
Cats that are happy and content will usually have their ears upright. Their body language appears relaxed, rather than tense. This is true even when your two cats play together – they’ll be alert and active yet relaxed. Moreover, the playtime is usually preluded or concluded by sessions of cuddling and/or grooming. You can be sure that a serious fight doesn’t start or end with such bonding sessions.
When cats are about to fight, their body language and gestures switch. Their ears are pulled back flat behind their heads, their tails are puffed up, and their backs are arched. They intently stare at their opponent, evaluating her slightest move. If you see either of your cats displaying this body language to each other, a fight could be about to break out. Now is the perfect time to distract them before things get taken to the next level.
3. Blocking Access
Blocking access is one of the most dangerous forms of bullying in cats. The bully cat will often block the victim cat’s access to her food, litter box, certain areas of the house, toys, and even affection from you. It may be hard to notice this type of subtle bullying, but it can be psychologically and physically very disruptive for the victim cat if this type of bullying persists.
Make sure to be attentive and look for signs of this subtle bullying. You may suspect shady business going on if you discover one of your cats is using places other than her litter box to urinate or defecate. This may be an indicator that she doesn’t have easy access to her litter box. You might also notice that one cat is losing weight whereas the other is piling on the pounds. The bully cat could be blocking access to your other cat’s food and eating it themselves.
You may also catch your bully cat hissing and growling frequently at your other cat whenever she comes close. The bully cat can be guarding certain areas and not letting your other cat near those places. Pay attention to where these hisses and growls take place: is it in front of the threatened cat’s water or food bowl? Is it in front of the litter box? Is it when your bully cat is in your lap and doesn’t let your other cat come close to you?
4. Physical Aggression
Actual physical aggression is a not-so-subtle sign of bullying. While it may be possible to overlook the aforementioned signs, this one should be pretty hard to miss. Catfights can get very intense and even result in serious injuries if not handled properly. If your try to intervene mid-fight, you could also end up getting injured.
As I’ve said before, harmless playtime and fighting can be hard to distinguish at times. However, once you take into consideration everything leading up to it, you can be pretty sure which applies. If your cats are grooming and cuddling and appear relaxed in each other’s company, they’re likely just playing. On the other hand, if they appear vocally and physically tense and rarely spend time before or after getting physical, then it is probably a fight.
How Can I Prevent Aggression Between Cats?
Now onto the most important part – how can I stop my cat from bulling my other cat? The best way to do this is to figure out the cause of aggression and go from there. By cutting the problem at the source, the bullying should stop.
As medical conditions can cause aggression and behavior changes, your first point of call should always be the vet. They’ll be able to treat or rule out any underlying diseases so that you don’t have to worry. Once this is done, try the methods detailed below and see if they help.
1. Reintroduce Your Cats
We’ve established that a good first meeting is the most useful preventative tool for inter-cat aggression. Getting both cats used to each other slowly means that they won’t see each other as a threat or an intruder of their territory. It will also give them a chance to establish a social hierarchy without resorting to aggression. The process can take a few weeks, but it is worth putting in the time and effort.
However, if you’ve missed that chance, you can still re-create an introduction by facilitating the right conditions:
- Choose a Location: First of all, choose a neutral location that the bullied cat feels relatively comfortable in. Make sure that this room is spacious so that there can be a safe distance when cats need to get away from each other.
- Provide All Essentials: Within the chosen room, you need to put all your cats’ essentials such as litter trays, food, and water. You don’t want to handle sessions where one cat needs to pee, or another feels hungry. Don’t forget to place separate water and food bowls and litter boxes for each cat in separate corners of the room.
- Set Up Control Arrangements: You then need to make all the necessary arrangements to keep the aggressive cat under control. These arrangements can include a leash, a carrier box, a wireless fence collar, as well as harmless deterrent stimuli such as sprays or noise. Use these tools to gain immediate control over the aggressive cat if she tries anything physically hostile. Limiting tools such as a leash or a carrier box will also help the threatened cat feel relatively safe in the room.
- Keep Your Treats Handy: When the time comes to reintroduce your cats, have your treats at the ready. Treats are your best friend when it comes to training your cat in and out of certain behavior. Offering tasty treats during the re-introduction sessions will build positive associations about the sessions. For the treats to work effectively, use ones that you know your cats love.
- Encourage Play: Keep your toys handy and try to get the cats to play together with you. Having playtime will also build positive associations with each other and be useful as a distraction in tense moments. In order to enjoy playing, your cats need to be comfortable: they shouldn’t be hungry, thirsty, or sleep-deprived. Arranging your sessions according to these will also help.
- Consider Pheromone Products: Pheromone cat collars have the strongest calming effect. These will provide a little extra push to facilitate a calm, stress-free meeting. As you know, cats are very sensitive to smell. They can recognize each other and places through their smell. They often rub their noses on things to mark them as familiar. Synthetic pheromones mimic this familiarity and ease anxiety. Natural calming extracts like catnip are also handy to relieve stress.
Keep in mind that a re-introduction of your cats will probably take more than one session. You may need to keep them separate for the duration of this process, arranging controlled meetings daily for a few hours at a time. Be patient and keep at it. You can increase the duration of these meetings as your cats seem to grow more and more comfortable with each other.
2. Spaying or Neutering
As I’ve mentioned above, an un-spayed female cat in heat can be extremely hostile and aggressive towards other cats in your home. Active males also become more aggressive when they sense a female in heat nearby. Additionally, active males are also more territorial in general and tend to show more territorial hostility to other cats as well.
Spaying (for female cats) or neutering (for male cats) is the most effective method to prevent heat-related aggression. These operations should ideally be done before a cat turns one year old but can be done at any age. The operation is the most common surgical procedure in cats and is very safe. The whole procedure only takes around 20 minutes. Speak to your cat for more information on the operation and what you can expect.
Alongside a reduction in bullying and aggression, neutering has many other benefits. Firstly, spaying and neutering will eliminate other heat-related behavior such as urine spraying, extreme vocal expressions, and restlessness. These behaviors can be difficult to live with and removing them will make your life easier. Moreover, it prevents unwanted pregnancy, ovarian and uterine cancer, and reduces the likelihood of mammary cancer.
3. Reduce the Need to Share
As discussed, territorial aggression is extremely common in multi-cat households. This can be improved dramatically by reducing the need to share things. When there is one of each thing, a more dominant cat will likely take control of that object. Yet having more than one of these will decrease the chances of your aggressor cat going overboard with her territorial claims.
Out of everything, the litter box is perhaps the most important item that you should duplicate. If one cat doesn’t let the other use the litter box, then you have a serious problem in your hands. The consequences can range from psychological issues to urinary tract problems for the victim cat. You know the golden rule: the ideal number of litter boxes equals the number of cats plus one. Place the litter boxes in different areas of the house if you have space.
Other essential items shouldn’t be forgotten either. Make sure each of your cats has its own toys, food bowl, water bowl. Multiple cat trees and perches are also a must so that each cat feels like they have somewhere that is “theirs”. Heavy-duty cat trees are a good option if you’re short of space. These are large enough and strong enough for two cats to share.
4. Change Feeding Methods
One of the most common scenarios where cats are bullied is at mealtimes. Even with their own bowls, the dominant cat might block access to the other cat’s food. Not only does this cause tension and conflict but can also lead to weight problems. One cat will be malnourished while the other could become overweight or obese.
I recommended placing the food bowls in separate places to help combat this. For many owners, putting food on opposite sides of the room will work. But for more serious cat conflict you could consider feeding your cats in different rooms. You may close the doors of these rooms too. This way, the threatened cat can eat in peace in one room while the bully cat is eating in another.
Another option is to rely on technology to make your life easier and your cats happier. An automatic cat feeder for two cats is a good option, but you still might want to consider getting two separate ones rather than one with a divider. Smart cat feeders are an even better alternative. I actually use a cat feeder with collar sensor. Only the cat with the correct collar can gain access to the food, so you know no stealing or bullying is going on.
5. Break up the Catfight as Soon as You Can
Despite your best efforts at reintroducing your cats and creating a better home environment, fights can still break out. When this does happen, it is your job to break up the fight. You want to do this as soon as possible so that it doesn’t escalate and cause severe injury to either of your feline friends.
This is why it is so vital to notice the early signs of aggression. Are your cats’ ears flat against their head? Are their tails puffed up and backs arched? Now is the ideal time to diffuse the situation. Even if your cats have physically started fighting, break them up immediately. Do not wait for them to fight it out!
The most important thing to remember is that you should never beak up a fight physically. Even if a physical fight hasn’t broken out yet, your cats will be on high alert and could end up lashing out. This will likely result in you getting scratched and it makes you a part of the fight. Your cats may lose their trust in you too. Below are alternative options to physical intervention that you can use to break up a catfight:
- Distraction Sprays: Instead of physically separating your cats, try using tools to distract your cat. Good examples include a water spray, a hissing spray, or a harmless cat deterrent spray. These will distract and confuse your cat, so they’ll forget they’re mad.
- Loud Noises: If you don’t have any of these items, loud noise can do the trick. You can clap your hands, bang two objects together, or whistle loudly using your hands. In addition, use your voice as a verbal cue to express disapproval. Whenever your bully cat is being hostile, use the same disapproving tone of saying “no!” or “don’t!”. This will condition your cat to associate this tone with unwanted behavior.
- Throw a Soft Item: You may also consider throwing something soft but distracting in between your cats, like a pillow or one of their soft toys. Just make sure the object doesn’t have sharp edges or isn’t heavy – you don’t want to injure your cats. Try to aim it right next to them instead of directly on them.
- Use a Towel: In dire cases, you can try to remove one of the cats with a towel. This will disorient and distract her while sparing you the blood-drawing scratches. Take the cat into a separate room to calm down.
6. Behavioral Conditioning for the Bully Cat
Breaking up the fight with a harmless but annoying stimulation is an important part of behavioral conditioning. However, you should also focus on correcting the aggressor cat’s behavior that leads up to the actual fight. This includes dealing with all the “subtle” bullying I’ve mentioned above.
Behavioral conditioning is best facilitated by giving rewards at the appropriate time. For cats, the best reward is often a tasty treat. Treats can be accompanied by approving and praising words from you. Don’t give the reward as a distraction during her bullying – instead, make sure that she stops first and then offer her the reward. This will associate the reward with stopping the action rather than doing it.
Also, never dismiss or unintentionally reward aggressive behavior. Whenever you catch your aggressor cat in an act of bullying, condition her to drop the behavior by intervening with an annoying stimulus. Once she stops displaying the unwanted behavior, then offer her the reward. You can also try to distract her with a toy or a laser beam. This will likely redirect your cat’s attention and might even transform that tense moment into a satisfying playtime for her.
If you don’t feel confident in handling this process, you may also consider getting help from veterinary behavioral professionals. Consult your vet for recommendations and suggestions.
7. Establish a Safe Space for the Victim Cat
While you are dealing to correct your aggressor cat’s bullying behavior, don’t forget about your victim cat. Behavioral conditioning can be a lengthy process and it will help your bullied cat greatly if she can have a safe space while the aggressor cat learns to get her act together.
Besides getting an extra litter box, toys, or food dishes, you may also consider some arrangements in your house with the aid of indoor wireless fences and smart cat doors. The threatened cat needs a space for herself that her bully doesn’t have access to. There are two options for creating a safe space for the victim cat to use when feeling stressed:
- Smart Cat Doors: The first method is to use a smart cat door. The victim cat wears a collar that allows access through a cat door to the safe room. The cat door will only recognize that collar and open up for it. The aggressor cat can’t go through because she isn’t wearing the collar.
- Indoor Wireless Fence: The second method is to set up an indoor wireless fence. This means that the aggressor cat wears a collar which triggers a harmless but annoying “correction” (like a high-pitched sound or shock) when she trespasses a certain boundary. You can set the diameter of this fence to cover the safe room of your victim cat.
Of these two options, I would recommend the former. This gives the victim cat exclusive access to a room without negatively impacting your other cat. On the contrary, wire fences can make the bully cat more frustrated and aggressive as they are being punished with shocks and sounds. Moreover, some cats will grow a tolerance to these “corrections” and the fence will lose its effectiveness over time.
As you have seen, there are many reasons for and many ways to deal with aggression between cats. In most cases, you can work towards some sort of armistice. Don’t expect your cats to suddenly fall in love with each other or become best friends that snuggle together. Keep your initial expectations low and aim for basic toleration and avoidance on their part.
Who knows, they may grow not only to tolerate but maybe even enjoy each other’s company in time. Just remember that this is a process that takes time and patience.
Keep in mind that if the situation between your cats doesn’t get better and poses an ongoing threat to your cats’ safety, you can always consider resituating one of them. I know this sounds grim, but it is better than risking your cats’ safety and psychological well-being.