By Dr. Becker
Cats are very territorial creatures, which is why adding a new cat to a household with other cats can be downright challenging -- even when the existing kitties get along and are relatively laid back.
Most cats living in harmony under the same roof have hammered out an agreement that establishes who sleeps where, who gets first dibs on mom's lap, and other important matters.
When a new kitty is added to the equation, often the long-established feline house rules go right out the window -- either because the newbie thinks she’s in charge, or an existing cat takes an instant dislike to the new Miss Thing.
Cats have feline acquaintances they approve of (or at least tolerate), and others they actively dislike.
If your kitty lived in the wild, he could easily avoid cats he didn’t like and hang out with those he did. But inside your house, your cat has limited options for steering clear of his nemesis. This can set the stage for feline friction, which often takes the form of one cat stalking, chasing and showing aggression toward another cat.
If you’re lucky, your existing cat(s) will readily accept a newcomer from the start. Next best scenario is there’s a bit of hissing and posturing for a period of time after the new kitty arrives, but within a few weeks or months, everyone grows tolerant and accepting.
Worst case? Introducing a new cat into a family with existing cats turns into a nightmare no one can wake up from.
A Step-by-Step Process to Possible Peace
There are many cat owners and members of the veterinary community who feel the only way to resolve territorial aggression between two felines in the family is to find another home for one of them … or alternatively, permanently separate them in different locations in the house.
According to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, founder of Tufts University’s Animal Behavior Clinic, before such drastic measures are taken, there’s a step-by-step process to try which just might -- if you’re successful -- create peace between feuding kitties in your household.
- The first step is to separate the cats into different parts of the house. Ideally these two areas share a common, solid door. The cats are fed on either side of the door at the same time twice a day, and there is a person available for each cat who plays with them and gives food treats following their meals.
The kitties will be able to hear and smell each other, but they can’t see or get to one another. The goal is to create positive experiences at mealtimes for both cats as they remain in close proximity to each other.
- Once the kitties are comfortable with this routine, they switch places so neither grows territorial about his side of the house. The cats should be switched every day or every other day throughout the program.
- The next step is to crack open the door an inch and secure it so it can’t be opened further. This will allow the cats to sneak glances at each other, but without the option to physically interact.
- Once the one-inch opening has become the norm, the door is opened to four inches (about the width of a cat’s head). What you might want to do at this point is leave the solid door open (or remove it for the time being if you’re industrious) and attach a screen door temporarily to the door frame, leaving a four-inch opening on one side. Cover the screen with paper or cloth.
- After the kitties get used to this arrangement, fix the screen door fully across the opening and remove the covering you placed over it. Now the cats can see each other through the full screen, still eating their meals on either side of it and playing with family members at set times of the day.
- The next step is to have the cats in the same room together, closely supervised and either in individual carriers or wearing harnesses while they eat their meals and have playtime. The length of this first introduction should not exceed 15 minutes.
- Next -- again at meal and playtime -- allow one of the cats to roam free and get physically close to the other cat. Switch which cat gets to roam free at the next session. Gradually allow both cats increasing freedom to approach each other, until they are both roaming loose in the same area (while being supervised and entertained as usual), for short periods. Increase the time they spend together until it is all the time.
According to Dr. Dodman, this process takes time – often many months, and you should anticipate occasional setbacks. Some people, for whatever reason, toward the end of the program decide to just throw the cats together. Sometimes it all ends up okay despite skipping steps in the process, but I don’t recommend it.
While you’re following the step-by-step program to desensitize and counter-condition your cats, you might also consider using natural products like those from Bach, Spirit Essences or OptiBalancePet to help both kitties manage stressful events in their lives.
In my practice, I also use homeopathic remedies that fit each cat’s personality and symptom pattern to help reduce emotional responses.
In more than a few cases of feline territorial aggression, no matter the diligence of the pet owner, the problem is irresolvable. In such cases, it’s healthiest for everyone involved to either rehome one of the kitties, or if you can manage it, permanently separate them under your own roof.