Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I have two cats, Dusty (6 years old) and Gracie (11 years old). They’ve never particularly gotten along but they’ve always co-existed … until now. Gracie recently had surgery to remove a tumor. When she came home, she had to wear a cone, so we kept her isolated from Dusty. Now her stitches are out and her cone is off but she and Dusty can barely be in the same room without getting into a screaming match. Most recently, I was preparing their food in the kitchen, where Gracie eats. She usually mills around and hisses at Dusty if he gets too close. Unfortunately, this is the routine, but he usually just runs off. He is generally a very easily scared kitty. But now he gets in her face when she hisses at him. I don’t know if they actually scratched at each other but he cornered her in the kitchen and there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it. Finally he stopped and I was able to separate them. It was very scary, though, and I just don’t know what to do. I’m not even sure which cat is the aggressor. Gracie hisses a lot but Dusty seems more aggressive and then gets freaked out. What should I do? I’m so sad that this is happening. I have to separate them when I leave for the day and I feel awful keeping one of them locked up in a bedroom all day. Thanks for your help.
Thomas: This sounds like a classic case of New Smell Strangers to us. In other words, when Gracie came back from the vet clinic, she smelled and probably acted different. Dusty reacted by seeing Gracie as a stranger rather than the cat he’s known for so long.
Bella: It might also be a case of jockeying for the power position. Every cat has a position in the feline hierarchy, and it’s not always obvious to humans. One of the reasons I hiss at Tara sometimes is that I want her to know that I’m still second in command here!
Tara: That, and you’re scared I’m going to usurp your position. But I’m really not! All I want is to be your friend!
Bella: Well, I suppose I’ll try harder not to hiss at you, then.
Thomas: I know you feel bad about leaving one of the kitties locked up in the bedroom while you’re away, but sometimes that’s the best thing to do so the cats don’t end up getting more aggressive and making the problem harder to solve.
Tara: I don’t mind being in the bedroom by myself when Mama’s away. It’s kind of a relief for me, actually. I know I’m safe there, and I have everything I need — including a great view from the window!
Bella: You’re talking out of turn! *hiss*
Tara: I’m sorry, Bella, I was just trying to make a point.
Bella: Well, I suppose that’s all right, then.
Thomas: Bella, you be nice to Tara!
Bella: You should talk! You’re always running and sniffing her. You even wash her head, just like you used to wash mine! I’m so mad!
Thomas: Oh, Bella, come here and I’ll wash your head for you, too.
Thomas: Anyway, Danya, there are a couple of things you can do to help restore peace in your feline household. First of all, get some plug-in pheromone diffusers. They emit calming scents that only cats can smell, and the elimination of stress can really help.
Bella: Then you’re going to have to boost Gracie’s confidence by playing with her. Play is a great way to exercise your cat and to help her release her stress and anxiety in a healthy way.
Tara: Then you’re going to have to proceed with a reintroduction. Mama’s in the process of reintroducing me to Thomas and Bella, and it’s working much better this time than it did when I first came in. Feline behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett has a great description of the reintroduction process at her website.
Thomas: We’d recommend that you ask your veterinarian about other ways that you can assist in the reintroduction process. He or she might even recommend a short course of anti-anxiety medication for Gracie, because she’s the victim and it’s making her anxious and stressed out.
Tara: Anti-anxiety medication has helped me a lot, along with treatment of my urinary tract infection (which made me feel a lot better).
Bella: You spoke out of turn again! Grrrrr.
Tara: Sorry! Jeez! I was just trying to be helpful.
Bella: I suppose I might let you speak out of turn without bothering you. Sometimes.
Thomas: Gracie and Dusty may never love each other, but if you do the reintroduction the way Pam Johnson-Bennett recommends, we’re sure they’ll at least go back to tolerating one another.
Bella: Please let us know how it goes!
Tara: What about you other readers? Have you had cats that got aggressive after one of them came back from the vet? What did you do to help your cats get along again? Do you have any other questions about reintroduction? Please share your suggestions and questions in the comments!