Inter-Cat Aggression

Alana Stevenson, Cat Behaviorist, answers questions from Life With Cats readers.

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Q: Our cat Hanky is a big male tabby who is such a scaredy cat. The other male cats beat him up all the time and he just cowers down to them. When he cant take anymore he will then fight back but due to all the stress his hair on his tail and belly are falling out. What can I do to relieve the stress in him? I have six cats. Three male and three females. The females don’t seem to bother him. I feel so sorry for him. Its like telling your children when someone’s picking on you go tell an adult. Well who can a cat tell? Lol – Nancy

A: You have to prevent the other cats from beating up on him, as you phrase it. You can do this in a number of ways and it depends on the severity of the attacks and how many cats are truly involved.  A professional consultation is always beneficial so behavior modification can be tailored to the needs of the kitties and the individual dynamics between cats.

If your cat is so fearful or stressed that he is losing hair or is so fearful that he is always hiding or unhappy, it is best to separate him and the other kitties (or the males who antagonize him), so that he can de-stress and move about freely without worry that he will be attacked. Once everyone has calmed down and he is truly happier and comfortable in all the rooms, you can begin introductions with each of the males separately. You should do this in a way that the antagonistic cats will not stare, stalk, or chase him. This can be done by putting him on vertical or higher surfaces while feeding the kitties delicious food together, or by feeding them on opposite sides of screen doors, or even by sitting in between them. You must feed them food that they love and do not get frequently (tuna, mackerel, salmon, chicken, wet food etc.) and you must feed them at a distance where the victim kitty does not feel fearful, otherwise he won’t eat. You must position the cats in a way that the aggressor kitty is not directly facing or blocking the kitty who is more vulnerable.

You may also want to teach your aggressive kitties to wear a harness. This way you can prevent a chase or an attack. In addition, you should make sure that the victim kitty’s confidence is boosted by allowing or providing him access to important or more desired rooms and areas that have high value to the cats i.e., kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms, and so on.  It is imperative that you both prevent and interrupt staring by the aggressor through redirection and distraction, and/or by repositioning (See One Kitty Picks on Another). It is also important that all litter boxes are open and in locations where cats can see a landscape view of the area or all entries and exits (See Tips to Have a Happy Cat).

You did not mention if the cats were neutered or intact. If they are not neutered, this should be on your top list of priorities, as intact males will continue to fight (and spray). They should be separated until this is done.

Copyright © Alana Stevenson 2013

The following online articles and Q&A’s can also help you:

The Hiss

Hissing Kitties Q&A

Q&A Chasing other Kitties


Alana Stevenson can be reached through her website. She provides behavioral consultations by phone and Skype.

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8 thoughts on “Inter-Cat Aggression

  1. Hi! I would be very grateful for a help with the following issue. Together with my boyfriend and 4 cats we live in Southern Spain. The story of the cats is as follows: first (2005) I got two young (few months) black brothers called Mali and Kenia. For more than a year they lived with me indoor (in an appartment). Than I moved with them to my boyfriend house where they had free access to the great outdoor. This did not make much difference to Mali who is a typical indoor cat, but made the wilder Kenya very happy. One year later we decided to adopt an other kitten, a white female, that we simply called Kitten. Other year went by and we adopted the forth one, a tabby male called Zorro. They have been all four together with us for five years. There was an hierarchy between them (Mali – Kenya – Zorro – Kitten), but never big fights. There was a particularly strong bond between Kenya and Zorro. Last year in February we changed house and we move about 1 km further on the other side of a rather very circulated street. We kept the cat for about two weeks indoor and when we let them out, Kenya and Zorro returned to the other house. We thought at first that since they are good hunters and liked the outdoors, they got scared by being trapped. In short we brought them back 20 times each over a span of about 9 months. They stay for about a week, eat well, sleep with us in bed, get all the strokes and attention that they can get and then….they go back to the old house!!!!! Moreover, when we go to collect them, it is very difficult to persuade them to accept us, although they come running when they hear us. Obviously they are very happy to see us, but they don’t want to come with us. The persons living in the old house doesn’t like cats and chased thm out so they are now living around the garbage area of the residencial complex. After one year of eforts we start wondering what we should do? Shall we consider that this is their wish and give up, or shall we keep trying? Thank you very much for any oppinion!

    1. How about letting out just one of them, keeping the other inside, to see if it only happens when they are together?

    2. Hi Geomina. Given that the new residents do not like cats, and that the old home is across a very busy street, I believe they could get killed by traffic or some neighbor that doesn’t want them around. It happens all the time, even when we think it won’t. It seems to be normal behavior for habit oriented animals, so you would have better success with some more extreme measures. I would suggest building a large enclosure for them outside, so they can enjoy the outdoors, but still be safe. There are enclosures sold on the market, or you can make one yourselves. Here are some ideas:

    3. Hi Geomina,

      I would keep these kitties indoors or build a large enclosure for them, if possible, so they can be outdoors, but still be safe on your property. There is a lot of environmental enrichment you can do for indoor cats. If your kitties aren’t getting along, you can implement behavior modification techniques to get them to like each other, or at least tolerate each other. Adding vertical territory and window perches, along with feline edible plants and greens, and multiple food and water bowls can ease tensions between kitties.

  2. Hello…i have a collie x chowchow dog and she is 16/17yrs olds..just recently she has been wandering out our gates…we have had her for over 12yrs and apart from when we first got her she has never gone outside the gates even when they r open for most of the day…i have heard that some cats wander away when its their time to go to ‘heaven’…do dogs do this as well???
    her behaviour is worrying us.
    we live in New Zealand.

    thankyou for your time and hope that you can help.

    Lesley Johns.

    1. Hi Lesley,

      No, I do not believe that dogs wander away to die. I do believe she may have a lapsed memory, canine dementia or some senility which is quite common in elderly animals. She most likely has canine cognitive dysfunction (a doggy Alzheimer’s). A medication that can help is selegiline (please meet with your veterinarian). This is the same medication that is used to treat Parkinson’s disease and senile dementia in people. Good nutrition and plenty of antioxidants in her diet may also help.

  3. We are desperate for help with our indoor cat. She is a 3 year old calico. Lately, she has been hissing , screaming and chasing her tail. I sense that she is afraid of something. And she is fixating her fears on this tail that is following her. She has a difficult time eating and drinking. Is there a solution for this?
    Thank you

    1. It sounds like she may have hyperesthesia. Please take her to you veterinarian. This is also called “rolling skin syndrome.” Cats can fixate on their tails to the point of self-mutilation. You may also see her skin twitching along her back and at the base of her tail. The symptoms can be controlled to lessen her discomfort, usually with antidepressant/anti-anxiety medications and phenobarbital prescribed by your veterinarian.

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