Many people adopt a second cat thinking that the resident cat will be happy. This is a risky move. Just because your cat is sweet and loving with you doesn't mean he's going to be sweet to another cat.
Although you can increase the chances that they will get along or at least tolerate one another by making proper introductions, there's no way to predict whether cats will get along with each other. Unfortunately, there's no training method that can guarantee that they ever will. But we're here to help negotiate a truce.
First, let's understand the different types of aggression and what causes them.
This occurs when a cat feels that an intruder has invaded her territory.
- A cat may be aggressive toward one cat (usually the most passive), yet friendly and tolerant with another.
- Problems often occur when a new cat is brought home, a young kitten reaches maturity, or a cat sees or encounters neighborhood cats outside.
- Typical behavior includes stalking, chasing, ambushing, hissing, loud meowing, swatting, and preventing access to places (such as the litter box, bedroom, etc.)
- Female cats can be just as territorial as males.
Adult male cats may threaten, and sometimes fight with, other males. This is more common among unneutered cats. They may fight over a female, for a higher place in the pecking order, or to defend territory.
Cats stalk, stare, yowl, howl, and puff up their fur (picture the arched back of the Halloween cat) to threaten each other. If one does back down and walk away, the aggressor, having made his point, will usually walk away as well.
If no one backs down, cats may actually fight. They may roll around biting, kicking, swatting, and screaming, suddenly stop, resume posturing, fight again, or walk away. If you see signs that a fight may occur, distract the cats by clapping loudly, tossing a pillow nearby, or squirting them with water. These actions can also be used to break up a fight. Keep your distance, and never put body parts in the middle of a fight; you could be injured.
Defensive aggression occurs when a cat tries to protect himself from an animal or human attacker he believes he can't escape. This can occur in response to the following:
- Punishment or the threat of punishment from a person
- An attack or attempted attack from another cat
- Any incident that makes the animal feel threatened or afraid
- Crouching with the legs and tail pulled in under the body
- Flattening the ears against the head
- Rolling slightly to the side
Approaching a cat in this posture is likely to cause an attack.
Cats direct this type of aggression toward another animal, or even a person, who didn't initially provoke the behavior.
For example, your cat is sitting in the window and sees an outdoor cat walk across the front yard. He gets very agitated because that cat is in his territory. You pet him; he turns and bites you. He doesn't even know who you are at that point—he's so worked up about the cat outside that he attacks the first thing that crosses his path.
Your first step should always be to contact your veterinarian for a thorough health examination. Cats often hide symptoms of illness until they're seriously ill; your aggressive cat may be feeling sick and taking out his misery on others.
If your cat gets a clean bill of health, consult your vet or an animal behavior specialist for help. A behaviorist will advise you on what can be done. You may need to start the introduction process all over again, keep the cats in separate areas of your home, or even find one of the cats a new home if the aggression is extreme and can't be resolved.
Consult with your veterinarian about a short course of anti-anxiety medication for your cats while you're working on changing their behavior/s. Never medicate your cat on your own.
This could mean keeping the cats separated from each other while you work on the problem, or at least preventing contact between them during situations likely to trigger a fight.
The behavior of one intact animal can negatively affect all of your pets.
- Don't count on the cats to "work things out." The more they fight, the worse the problem is likely to become. To stop a fight in progress, make a loud noise (like blowing a whistle), squirt the cats with water, or throw something soft at them.
- Don't touch them, or you might get seriously scratched or bitten. Seek medical attention if you're injured.
- Don't punish the cats involved. Punishment could cause further aggression and fearful responses, which will only make the problem worse. You could even become a target for redirected aggression.
- Don't add more cats. Some cats are willing to share their house and territory with multiple cats, but the more cats who share the same territory, the more likely it is that some of your cats will not get along with each other.
Many factors determine how well cats will get along with one another, but even animal behavior experts don't fully understand them.
We do know that cats who are well-socialized (those who had pleasant experiences with other cats during kittenhood) will likely be more sociable than those who haven't been around many other cats.
On the other hand, "street cats," who are in the habit of fighting with other cats to defend their territory and food, might not do well in a multi-cat household.
The first thing you should know about your new pet is that most cats hate to travel. For the trip home, confine your pet in a sturdy cat carrier. Don't leave him loose in your car, where he might panic and cause an accident, or get out when you open the car door. He may yowl and cry and try mightily to get out of the carrier, but don't give in.
After the ride home, he will, most likely, not be in the mood for fun. To make his transition to your household as comfortable as possible, select a quiet, closed-in area, such as your bedroom or a small room away from the main foot traffic, and provide him with a litter box, food and water, toys, and a scratching post.
Let your new pet become acquainted with that limited area for the first few days. Be sure to spend plenty of time with him in that room, but if he’s hiding under the bed, don't force him to come out. If necessary, sit on the floor to talk to him and offer treats. Let him sniff all your belongings and investigate all the hiding places.
Your new cat may be full of self-confidence and itching to get out and make himself at home. Or he may be more of a shrinking violet who needs more time to adjust.
Over a few days, slowly introduce him to the rest of your house, including the other pets and household members. Make sure he always has access to "his" room so he can retreat to it if he feels nervous. It will take a little while, but he'll eventually start to feel comfortable at home.
Cats vary in terms of how demanding they are as pets, so let yours guide you to the level of attention he wants, whether it's your hand for petting, or your lap for sitting. Provide him with the necessary creature comforts, and give him the companionship he seeks, and he'll be content.
To a cat, play is all about prey. Body postures of play aggression are the behaviors a cat shows when searching for and catching prey. She stalks her target from behind a door or under a chair. She crouches, twitches her tail, flicks her ears back and forth, then pounces, wrapping her front feet around the prey, chewing it and kicking it with her back feet.
We enjoy watching these cat antics, but kittens don't know when to stop. Their rough play can result in scratches and little bites that don't break the skin. You must teach your cat when enough is enough; otherwise, as she gets older, the scratches may get deeper and the bites harder.
- Use a fishing pole type of toy to keep her away from your body when playing with her.
- If she starts chewing or scratching any part of your body, immediately say "uh-uh," and redirect her to a toy. If she continues to chew or scratch after you say, "uh-uh," stop playing immediately. Never hit her or yell, or she'll become afraid of you.
- Don’t resume playing until she has calmed down; then use the toy.
Some cats are easily overstimulated, and their play can escalate into true aggression. Pay close attention to your cat's body language; if she's getting too intense, stop playing immediately and give her time to cool off.
Sometimes when you're petting your purring cat, she might bite you out of the blue. This behavior isn't well understood even by experienced animal behaviorists, but it's thought that some cats just have very sensitive spots or a very limited tolerance for being touched.
Cats vary in how much they'll tolerate letting you pet or hold them. There are usually warning signs that they're reaching their limit, but their signals can be subtle and hard to detect.
- Tail twitching
- Ears turning back or flicking back and forth
- Turning or moving her head toward your hand
- A sharp meow, low growl, or a hiss
- She may even put her teeth on you lightly to tell you to stop.
When you see any of these signals, it's time to stop petting the cat immediately and let her sit on your lap, or go her own way. Never yell or hit; any kind of physical punishment almost always makes the problem worse, as it makes the cat more likely to bite. She might fear you and/or associate petting with punishment.
If you have a cat who doesn't like being petted, you could try to win her over with food rewards.
Before your cat shows any of the behaviors described above, offer her a special tidbit of food. Pet her lightly for a short time while, offering her treats. She'll come to associate being stroked with more pleasant things.
Stop petting before you see the signs of irritation. If you keep petting until the cat reacts badly, you've defeated the purpose. Each time you work with your cat, try to pet him for slightly longer periods using the food.
Redirected aggression occurs when a cat is aroused (in a bad way) by an animal or person, but has no outlet for her naturally aggressive feelings.
The cat gazing out the window may have seen another cat outside, which makes her want to defend her territory. When she can't get to that cat, she attacks the first thing that crosses her path. She's so worked up about that strange cat that she's not aware that she has redirected her aggression to you.
Observe your cat closely before approaching her. Does she:
- Stare so hard out the window that she doesn't know you're there?
- Not respond when you call her?
- Jerk her tail back and forth?
- Growl, hiss, or meow loudly?
Don't mess with her! Clap your hands loudly to break her fixation, or just walk away and let her calm down by herself. You may also be attacked if you try to interfere with two cats fighting. Don't get in the middle of it. Use a squirt bottle or pillow to break up the fight and distract the cats.
Cats are by nature very territorial. Usually, cats only feel the need to defend their territory from other cats.
Once in a while you'll come across an extremely dominant cat who thinks she owns the house. She may prevent you from entering or leaving a room, for example. If you're visiting a friend with a cat like this, study the cat carefully for the signs of aggression listed above and beat a hasty retreat.
If alpha cat live with you, however, you can't let her get away with this. If she tries to face you down, give her a squirt with the water bottle to let her know who's boss.
Cats who are overly aggressive towards people are downright dangerous. To keep yourself and your family safe, confine the cat until you can find a solution to the problem.
If your cat's behavior has started suddenly, there could be a medical issue causing it. Take her to the vet for a check-up; if she gets a clean bill of health, she needs behavior modification.
If her behavior improves when she's confined to one room, her aggression may be due to stress in her environment (loud kids, other cats or pets).
If you've tried everything to resolve your cat's aggression, but she's not responding, consult your vet and the animal behaviorist to see what your options are.
If her aggression is stress-induced (loud noises, young children; other cats or pets, etc.), it may be time to reevaluate her presence in your home. She might be better off in a calm home with no other pets. However, you should be extremely cautious about placing her in a new homer; you don't want to pass your problem on to someone else.
You'll learn a lot from your cat's wide vocabulary of chirps and meows. You'll know when it's time to get up (at least in your cat's opinion), when your cat's feeling affectionate, or when your cat's feeling threatened or is in pain.
Meow is an all-purpose word. This can be a greeting ("Hey, how ya doin'?), a command ("I want up, I want down, More food now"), an objection ("Touch me at your own risk"), an announcement ("Here's your mouse"). Some cats even walk around the house meowing to themselves.
Chirps and trills are how a mother cat tells her kittens to follow her. Kitty wants you to follow him, usually to his food bowl. If you have more than one cat, they will often converse with each other this way.
The purr is a sign of contentment. Cats purr whenever they're happy, even while they’re eating. Sometimes, however, a cat may purr when he's anxious or sick, using the purr as a way to comfort himself, like a child sucking his thumb.
Growling, hissing, and spitting indicates a cat who is annoyed, frightened, angry or aggressive. Leave this cat alone.
The yowl or howl is a loud, drawn-out meow. Your cat is in some kind of distress—stuck in a closet, looking for you, in pain. In unneutered and unspayed cats, it's part of the mating behavior (and very annoying). Elderly cats sometimes suffer from cognitive disorder (dementia) and may howl because they're disoriented. Screaming means your cat is in terrible pain.
Chattering, chittering, twittering is the strange noise your cat makes when he's sitting in the window watching birds or squirrels. Some experts think that this is an exaggeration of the "killing bite," when a cat grabs his prey by the neck and works his teeth through the bones to snap them.
A cat gets her whole body into the act when she's communicating.
Does your cat's back arch up to meet your hand when you pet her? This means she's enjoying this contact with you. Does she shrink away under your slightest touch? Save the petting for later: she's not interested right now.
Pay attention to her eyes, ears, body and tail—they're all part of the story.
- Forward: alert, interested, happy
- Backward, sideways, flat ("airplane ears"): irritable, angry, frightened
- Swiveling: attentive, listening to every little sound
- Pupils constricted: offensively aggressive; content
- Pupils dilated: nervous, submissive (somewhat dilated); defensively aggressive (fully dilated); playful
- Erect, fur flat: alert, inquisitive, happy
- Fur standing on end: angry, frightened
- Held very low or tucked between legs: insecure, anxious
- Thrashing back and forth: agitated. The faster the tail, the madder the cat
- Straight up, quivering: excited, really happy. If your cat is not neutered, he or she could be getting ready to spray something!
- Back arched, fur standing on end: frightened, angry
- Back arched, fur flat: welcoming your touch
- Lying on back, purring: very relaxed, may be asking for a tummy rub
- Lying on back, growling, upset, ready to strike
When your cat rubs her chin and body against you, she's telling you she loves you, right? Well, sort of. What she's really doing is marking her territory. You'll notice that she also rubs the chair, the door, her toys, everything in sight. She's telling everyone that this is her stuff, including you. But she does love you, too.
In the cat world, this is called "making biscuits," because the cat works her paws on a soft surface as if it she's kneading bread dough. This is a holdover from kittenhood, when a nursing kitten massaged her mother's teats to make milk flow. When your cat does this, she is really happy.
You've surely noticed times when your cat, while sniffing your shoe perhaps, lifts his head, opens his mouth slightly, curls back his lips, and squints his eyes. He's not making a statement about how your shoe smells, he's gathering more information.
Your cat's sense of smell is so important to him that he actually has an extra olfactory organ that very few other creatures have—the Jacobson's organ. It's located on the roof of his mouth behind his front teeth and is connected to the nasal cavity.
When your cat gets a whiff of something really fascinating, he opens his mouth and inhales so that the scent molecules flow over the Jacobson's organ. This intensifies the odor and provides more information about the object he's sniffing. What he does with that information, well, we'll never know.
Is your cat playing, meditating, or having a bad day? Here's how you can tell:
Content: Sitting or lying down, eyes half-closed, narrow pupils, tail mostly still, ears forward, purring. A really happy cat will often knead on a soft surface.
Playful: Ears forward, tail up, whiskers forward, pupils somewhat dilated. Playing is hunting behavior; your cat may stalk his prey (a toy, a housemate, you), then crouch down with his rear end slightly raised. A little wiggle of the butt, then … pounce! Kitty grabs his prey, bites it, wrestles it the floor, and kicks it with his hind feet. His toy is now dead.
Irritated, over-stimulated: Pupils dilating, ears turning back, tail twitching or waving. The cat may growl or put her teeth on you as a warning to cease and desist. Intense play can quickly turn to overstimulation in some cats, resulting in biting and scratching.
Nervous, anxious: Ears sideways or back, pupils dilating, tail low or tucked between legs. The cat may slink through the house close to the floor, looking for somewhere to hide. He may turn his face to the wall to shut the world out.
Frightened, startled: Think Halloween cat. Ears back and flat against head, whiskers back, back arched, fur standing on end, tail erect or low. May yowl, growl, hiss, and spit.
Crouched position, ears flattened, whiskers back, tail between legs or wrapped around body, pupils dilated. May meow loudly, growl, hiss, and spit.
Angry, aggressive: Ears back, pupils very constricted, tail up or down with fur standing on end. An aggressive cat will stare down the other cat and growl or yowl until the other cat gives way. Cats don't really want to fight; they prefer standoffs, but this can progress to fighting if one of the cats doesn't back down.