All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Cat Fights Breaking Out in the Family

Dear Marie,
I have three female indoor cats. The oldest is Sydney (5 1/2 years old), Priscilla (4 years old) and Mystique (3 1/2 years old). I have had them for as long as they are old within a few months period and they were all strays at one time. They all have been fixed, have their shots and have gotten clean bills of health. Sydney is the attention hog and Mystique is a runt and very shy. Over the last few months Sydney has become very aggressive towards Mystique, picking fights; but Mystique doesn't fight, she just tries to get away. I have tried squirting water, which she didn't like at first, but now she waits to be squirted. Next I started putting her in the garage, but then she will do her bullying and then run to the garage door to be let out. I don't know how to break the pattern or why she has become aggressive. There haven't been any new situations or changes in the living pattern at my house. Any suggestions of why this is happening and how to stop it would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you for your time.

Dear Corrie,
Without coming to your house and spending a few days, I won’t be able to tell you what has caused this shift in behavior. There are many different environmental stimuli that can trigger this type of squabbling in pets that have previously been buddies. For example, if  there have been stray cats fighting outside of your home, Sydney – who seems to be the dominant cat of the family – may be feeling overly defensive and as a result, poor Mystique is suffering. Or, perhaps Sydney, who in your own words is the attention hog, may have realized that Mystique is no longer a kitten and can potentially take away some of his lap time. Have you possibly been giving Mystique more attention than you have been in the past? How does Priscilla fit into this equation? Is Sydney possessive of her?

Has Mystique been spending more time with Priscilla? Again, there can be any number of reasons for this civil unrest.So let’s get to the solution instead. If the fighting is intense, you’ll want to put an end to it immediately. The longer it goes on, the less chance you will have of successfully resolving the matter. There will be fighting bouts for the duration of Sydney’s life. I would strongly advise putting the two cats at issue into separate rooms for two solid weeks. They should have their own food and water dishes, and their own litter boxes.

Two weeks is about as long as it takes for a habit to be broken and I would definitely categorize this new behavior as a developing bad habit. This time period should not be an unpleasant incarceration. On the contrary – what it will do is establish peacefulness and security in each animal, they will feel no need for confrontation. This long-term tranquility will ultimately remain with each pet once they are again allowed to roam freely together in the house.

It is important that you spend plenty of time with each cat and allow him or her individually to come out of its room (daily) while the other remains behind a closed door. Be sure and give plenty of affection to both kitties. In addition to separation, you should block out plenty of playtime for each cat. A cat that gets adequate daily exercise has little energy left for territorial fighting in the house.

When the big day comes for reintroduction, you’ll want to take it slowly. Let Mystique out first and give her lots of time to get into a comfortable position somewhere in the house. Once she is settled, you can open Sydney’s door. Be sure to put away Priscilla’s food so that no one fights over that.

At the first sign of hostility, position yourself between the two cats and firmly tell the offending kitty, “NO!” Do not let him get by and do not back down if he continues demonstrating any signs of aggressive behavior. Have a pillow in your hand in case you need to act quickly to stop a fight. However, if Sydney demonstrates a peaceful nature, be sure to give him lots of praise.

If necessary, you can reintroduce Sydney in the same manner I have outlined in previous columns for bringing a new cat into a home where there are existing household cats. However, I don’t think you will need to follow those steps in this case.

One last bit of advice – NEVER break up two fighting cats with your hands, arms, feet, or legs - if
necessary use the pillow I mentioned. Too many cat owners assume their pets will never bite or scratch them – but in a fight situation, there are no guarantees. Cat bites and scratches can be very serious so always use common sense when trying to stop a cat-fight.

Good luck!

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