How to Get Your Cats to Get Along
Cats are very different from dogs, and getting felines to coexist together peacefully is not always easy. Maybe you just adopted a new cat with the expectation that they would be best friends, but now one is hiding behind the sofa and the other is hissing and meowing in warning. Maybe you’ve brought home a kitten and your resident cat is making it clear he or she doesn’t want the little one in the house. Whatever the case, this guide will give you some background information, kitty history, and tips on easing the tension between your pets.
Why Aren’t My Cats Getting Along?
To answer this question, you first need to understand cat behavior. Over the years, the domestication of cats has happened differently than that of dogs. Dogs were bred for specific purposes, gaining traits over generations to help in their jobs. Cats, however, have remained largely unchanged, and their DNA is almost identical to the original cats, Felis sylbestris lybic (icatcare.org). They still possess much of the same predatory behavior they started out with. The gap between humans’ expectations of cats as pets and the cat’s natural instincts can lead to behavioral problems and aggression to other animals or owners.
So, what makes a cat tick?
- Cats are Territorial
Cats like to feel like the one in charge and want to be confident that they own the space around them. In the wild, they claim a specific area to eat and sleep and a specific area to hunt. They recognize ownership because the area is full of their scent. In your home, they will mirror these same behaviors (catsinternational.org).
Whether it’s the whole house or just a specific room, cats will mark their territories in a few ways. One is by rubbing against walls or objects, covering the room in the pheromones they produce in the glands of their cheeks (bestfriends.org). They also scratch items to leave both their scent and visual clues of their ownership.
In some instances, cats will leave urine or feces in the area as a way of giving other cats information like what kind of cat they are and when they were last in that area. This behavior can be viewed as a temperament problem and owners will punish their cat for acting out, but it’s really a means of feline communication.
- Cats Don’t Like Change
After a cat chooses their designated eating and hunting areas, they will follow the same paths between those areas every day, usually at the same times every day (catsinternational.org). They are creatures of habit, and once they get set in a schedule and are used to their environment, any change to that environment—new cats, strangers, an altering of their owner’s schedule, a new home—can cause them stress.
When a cat becomes stressed, they will let their owners know through some change in their behavior. Some become more aggressive and studies show that many cats will pretend to be sick to get their owner’s attention (catster.com).
- Cats are Solo Hunters
Domestic cats still possess the hunter instinct, and it’s not always related to hunger. Most often, they’re looking for a release of endorphins, and need to hunt several times a day to avoid stress (cats.org.uk). They follow a specific pattern for hunting that involves stalking their prey, pouncing, playing with it, and then killing it. In the wild, cats are very solitary creatures, and follow this process alone for just enough food for themselves. The only wild cat who hunts in a group or depends on others for food is the lion (okawvetclinic.com).
In the home, this is still true. Cats need to release their frustration through hunting, whether that’s with outside time or through play, and they want to do this alone without worrying about competition with other cats or a lack of resources.
How does natural behavior translate to aggression between cats?
One possible culprit of the aggressive behavior is a lack of socialization at a young age (aspca.org). Though cats have remained largely the same over hundreds of years, they have grown more social. While they prefer to hunt alone, they can still enjoy company if they have been introduced to other people and cats as a kitten. Socialization is a learned behavior, and it starts with a cat making positive associations.
If you’ve owned only one cat for a long period of time, bringing a new cat into the home can be alarming for your resident cat. Having grown up sheltered, they can become overly territorial and aggressive toward the newcomer. They will no longer be confident in their space, and will probably start marking their territory as well.
- Social Ranking
Not only are cats territorial, but they respond to a particular social order. If they can’t be the only cat, they at least want to be the alpha cat. This translates to aggressive play or even full-on fighting between cats as they compete for who is the most dominant (pethelpful.com). Problems can also arise between a dominant and a submissive cat. If you bring a cat into a new environment that they know is already owned by another cat, they may spend most of their time hugging the wall or hiding because they don’t want to cause conflict with the owner of the space. While this is different from aggressive behavior, it’s still unwanted and can pose problems of its own.
- Not Getting Equal Attention
Sometimes owners become preoccupied with the new member of the house, especially if it’s a kitten, and stop giving their older cat as much attention. This becomes a change to your resident cat’s routine which causes stress and built up frustration (catbehaviorassociates.com).Your cat no longer feels like the alpha cat in the room and can turn to aggressive behavior toward you or the new cat, or may even be destructive to your property.
- Clash of Personalities
Sometimes, like with humans, some cats just don’t get along. They have different personality types. Maybe you have one high-energy cat who demands more play time and another cat who is more relaxed and doesn’t want to be bothered. Or maybe you have a more dominant, aggressive cat and one that is docile and submissive. When these two different personalities come together, they don’t immediately coexist peacefully with each other (pethelpful.com).
How to Fix the Behavior
- Give Each Cat Their Own Space
Cats live together better when they don’t feel like they have to compete for resources (catbehaviorassociates.com). Possibly the best thing you can do for your cats is to give them each their own space to claim. This means, if you have two cats, each one should have their own food and water dishes in their own separate feeding areas. For litter boxes, the general rule is one box plus one per cat (jacksongalaxy.com). You should place the litter boxes in different sections of the house. Pay attention to where each of your cats spend the most time, and designate that area theirs by placing a pet bed there. The key is to make sure that the cats aren’t forced to run into each other while they’re walking to get food or go to the bathroom because this can feel threatening to your cat.
- Create a More Cat-Friendly Environment in the Home
Jackson Galaxy refers to this as “catifying” your house, and it’s extremely important. In the wild, cats love to climb. They want to be up high and able to survey the area around them, and they want to move around rooms without having to touch the floor. In order to make your home more cat-friendly, buying a cat tree could be a great solution. You could also install cat shelves around your walls, or even something as simple as a kitchen stool that is designated as your cat’s space can work. Create a route for your cat to walk using a combination of these items and your own furniture (jacksongalaxy.com).
Cats also want to feel like they can hide if they feel threatened. Hiding does not mean burying themselves beneath the sofa, however. Areas where you can’t reach your cat pose a threat if two cats choose this location to fight in. Places like alcoves in a cat tree, an opaque cat tunnel, or a dome shaped bed make great options. Adding these areas to a room will let your cats space themselves out and find where they feel most comfortable (aspca.org).
Make sure that, when creating these spaces, you allow for more than one way to escape. Cats hate feeling trapped, and blocking a cat into a cat tunnel or up against a wall will cause even more conflict (catbehaviorassociates.com).
- Play with Your Cats Every Day
Like walking your dog every day, playing with your cat is just as important. Play simulates hunting and gives your cat something to channel their frustration into. Younger cats, especially, need extensive play times, up to 10 times a day or more. Older cats don’t need as much, maybe five times a day, but it’s still vital to their happiness (cats.org.uk). The best toys for playtime are those that mimic the act of hunting, like ones on wands and strings or laser pointers. You can also get remote activated toys for times when you can’t be home (Jacksongalaxy.com).
Another way to engage your cat in natural hunting behavior is through meal time. Domestic cats tend to get their meals handed to them and there is no risk like in the wild. To add some challenge for your cats, hide food or treats around your home, or use puzzle feeders (cats.org.uk). Once you fulfill your cat’s needs to stalk, pounce, play, and kill, they will be more willing to socialize with another cat (okawvetclinic.com).
- Use Scent to Your Advantage
Cats use scents to mark their territory, and some of the aggression you may be seeing could be caused by the intermingling of the cats’ scents all at once, instead of over time. You can use a cat’s pheromones as a means to gets cats used to each other without ever letting them see each other. Pet one cat and then (in a separate space) pet your other cat without washing your hands. Let each cat get used to the scent of the other. You can also put an item of bedding or a towel that’s been rubbed against the other cat in the room with another cat (bluecross.org).
- Notice the Signs Before They Reach Aggression
Many times, before there is ever fighting or aggressive behavior between cats, there will be warning signs. Its important to pay attention to what your cat is trying to tell you. If one of your cats frequently leaves the room when the other enters, or one cat is timid to approach the food bowl if another is eating, these can be signs of a brewing conflict. Similarly, if only one cat is contributing the most to play time and the other is hanging back, there is probably more going on (catbehaviorassociate.com).
If you notice changes in the mood or behavior of your cats, change something about their environment. Separate food bowls and litter boxes, or provide more vertical territory for your cats to use to separate themselves.
- Reintroduce the Cats
Most of the aggression likely stems from putting the cats together too soon, and not using an introduction process. Again, throwing cats together in the hopes they will work it out on their own disrupts their routine and invades their territory and will probably result in conflict (humanesociety.org).
How Do I Introduce My Cats?
- Forward Planning
To increase your chance of successfully integrating two cats together, it’s important that, before you even adopt a new cat or kitten, that you consider the personality of your resident cat. You want to get a cat that has a similar personality or one that will mesh well with the cat you already have (icatcare.org).
Consider the age and gender of your cat. If you have an older, lower energy cat, they probably won’t be excited about a new, hyper kitten. In terms of gender, getting one of the opposite sex (that’s been fixed) that’s a little smaller than your current cat will probably yield the best results (animalplanet.com). Two females also tend to coexist easier than two males.
- Prepare Your Home
Before bringing the new cat home, introduce the scent to the house. Place a towel covered in the new cat’s scent somewhere your cat spends time. Let them get used to the idea of there being other smells existing with their own scents (animalplanet.com).
Take this opportunity to really make your home cat-friendly. Provide the cats lots of options to climb and survey or hide and cocoon if they need to. You want both cats to feel safe and the more area you give them to spread out, the more confident they will feel in the home. You should also go ahead and set up food bowls and litter boxes in multiple rooms of the house.
- Start in Separate Rooms
When you finally bring the new cat home, it’s important that you don’t let the cats interact immediately. The new cat is already under stress by being in a new place; adding the additional stress of meeting a new cat will damage the potential positive relationship the two cats could have. Place the new cat in designated safe room that has a door or some sort of enclosing where the cats can’t see each other. This will let the new cat have a chance to get used to its new environment, as well as introduce the new cat’s scent. The only interaction the cats should be able to have is touching paws beneath the door (pethelpful.com).
- Rotate Rooms
Once the new cat seems adjusted to its new space, begin to rotate rooms. The resident cat will get a chance to sniff out where the new cat has been staying and become familiar with seeing the cat’s supplies in the house as well as getting to smell a stronger scent of the cat. Meanwhile, the new cat gets a chance to rotate through different rooms of the house and interact with each, mingling its scent and claiming some space for itself (lasthopeanimalrescue.org).
- Create a Barrier
Once the new cat has interacted with the entire house, it’s time to open the door. You still don’t want the cats to interact yet, however. Many people will place a baby gate in a doorway to allow for visual contact, but not physical. You can also use a cardboard display board and cut a small rectangle in the bottom center, small enough that a cat won’t be able to slip through it, but big enough that they could touch paws or sneak a peek. This allows for more scent mingling than a closed door, but still gives each cat a sense of safety (lasthopeanimalrescue.org).
- Find Your Cat’s Distress Zone
When you’ve created some kind of barrier, place a food bowl on both sides. The food ensures that each cat will approach the barrier and also works as positive reinforcement. While they are smelling each other, they are also getting fed, creating a positive association with the other cat’s scent (bluecross.org).
Don’t sit the food bowls directly against the gate. You want to watch your cat and figure out where his line is. See how close both cats will come to the gate before starting to hiss or exhibiting a negative reaction. Mark this line with a piece of tape on your floor and place the food bowl there.
- Slowly Lesson the Barrier
As the days pass, start to challenge the line of their distress zones. Move the food bowls closer and closer to the barrier. Make sure you do this slowly, however, and only initiate meal times in this way for short periods of time. Don’t force your cats past their comfort zones. Once you’ve gotten the food bowels right next to the barrier and their able to eat together without too much fuss, it’s time for their first meeting (lasthopeanimalrescue.com).
The first face-to-face interaction should be well monitored. The first time you have both cats in the same room, enlist a friend or family member to assist you. The goal is to both be playing with each cat at the same time. This action has a dual purpose. It releases some of the pent-up frustration and helps to calm both cats down. It also lets the cats know that they can interact and have fun in the same room as each other, reinforcing those positive associations.
As they start to feel more comfortable, they may want to check each other out or even engage in play together. Try not to force the cats to interact by picking them up and moving them closer together. Let them explore and figure out their comfort levels on their own (pethelpful.com).
Extra Tips for Introduction
- Don’t Panic
It’s normal for the cats to be somewhat aggressive, so don’t be alarmed at brief moments of hissing or arched backs. In these moments, distraction is key. Try talking loudly to get a cat’s attention and then engage in play to keep their minds off the other cat. (animalplanet.com).
- Pay Attention to Body Language
You will want to monitor their behaviors to prevent conflict from going any further than brief hissing or growling. A cat’s body language can tell you a lot. A crouched position, tucked tail, and tense muscles can be a sign your cat is looking for a place to hide. The arched back, though commonly misconstrued as aggression, is a sign of fear and can mean your cat feels trapped in a situation with no escape. If this happens, try to ease the tension by creating new escape routes. The most communicative parts of a cat’s body are their ears and tail. Watch for their ears to flatten or their tail to move back and forth quickly. All of these are signs of growing stress.
- No Catnip!
Avoid giving either cats catnip while they are first being introduced. This can heighten their energy levels and escalate aggressive behavior. You want both cats to be as relaxed as possible.
How Long Will the Introduction Take?
Unfortunately, there is no set amount of time that the introduction process will take, and depends entirely on the personalities of your cats. Some cats will take to each other quickly and it could be just a few days, while some could take months (lasthopeanimalrescue.org). According to the ASPCA, cats don’t begin to form friendships for at least eight months (pethelpful.com). Patience is key when introducing a new pet to your home.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Should I get another cat?
This is a personal decision, but there are some things you should consider. How long have you had your current cat? If you have an older cat that’s lived alone for most of it’s life, you may want to think hard about whether another cat is a good idea. If you decide to get one, try to get a smaller, opposite sex, fixed cat because they will be less threatening to your resident cat. If you want a kitten, consider adopting two kittens so they can preoccupy each other (VCAhospitals.com).
- Is it safe to leave my cats alone?
If your cats are frequently fighting or exhibiting aggressive behavior, it’s best to avoid leaving the home alone. If you have to leave them, put them in separate rooms or find a friend of family member who can supervise they’re interactions. You can also by motion sensor toys that can help to keep them occupied.
- Are there products or medicines that could help calm my cats?
Some cats react well to artificial pheromones like Feliway. You can get it in an airborne diffuser, a spray, or a collar and it replicates cat pheromones to calm cats during fights or times of distress (pethelpful.com).
- What are the best toys or cat furniture for my cats?
The best toys are those that simulate hunting like cat wands that can be drug across the floor. Laser points also work well for this. Another good piece of furniture to consider buying is a scratching post. Not only will it help to keep your cat’s claws groomed, it gives them something to leave their scent and marks on.
- Should I discipline my cats?
Cats don’t respond to punishment in the same way that dogs or people would. Yelling or hitting your cat doesn’t mean anything to them, but can damage your relationship. Your cats are acting aggressive because something about their environment is making them feel insecure; they aren’t acting out on purpose. The only methods cats respond to are being offered different alternatives. If your cats are behaving in a way you don’t like (sitting on your kitchen counter, for example), offer them another option that is acceptable to you (a cat perch at kitchen counter height). If your cats are fighting, play with them to channel their negative energy into something else (our-happy-cat.com).
Further Reading and Resource