Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I was wondering if you could throw some insight my way as you are such expurrrrts. Alex, who will be 2 in May, keeps annoying Puss, about 13ish, whenever Puss isn’t feeling well (he has liver, heart and thyroid problems as well as arthritis). I’ve noticed that the worse Puss feels, the more Alex tries to play-fight with him, which in turn, stresses Puss out more and makes him sick! Sophie-Mae, Alex’s twin sister, also helps break up the fights and she never plays with Puss because she knows how ill he is. Is Alex trying to be “top cat” because he can see that Puss is poorly and thinks that, as he is younger, stronger and healthier, it’s his turn to be boss? I try to help out as much as I can by stopping them play fighting (Alex would never purposely hurt Puss) , I make sure Puss knows he is still No.1, and I also give Alex lots of cuddles to show him I love him too. Is there anything else I can do?
Siouxsie: Well, Jen, I can tell you from experience that young cats certainly do go out of their way to give us extra-wise kitties a hard time. Bella’s always getting on my case! Look at that picture … see what I mean?
Thomas: Oh, come on, Siouxsie. Bella was just investigating the new fountain Mama got us for Crisp-mouse.
Siouxsie: Sure, but you know as well as I do that the worse I feel, the more she chases me all over the house.
Bella: Oh, come on! I’m still just a kitten.
Siouxsie: No, you’re not! You’re almost two — you should know better by now. … So, Jen, you can see that Puss isn’t alone in having to deal with a foolish kitten.
Bella: And Alex isn’t alone in having to deal with a grumpy old fart who never wants to play!
Thomas: Bella, you stop that! Siouxsie, you too! Anyway, an interesting factor in both our case and your cats’ case is that the young cat is bullying the older cat of the same sex. Like your Sophie-Mae, I don’t bother Siouxsie, so there clearly is some measure of dominance struggle at play here.
Siouxsie: Mama is pretty good about putting a stop to Bella’s antics, though. It gets tiring to run around the house growling and hissing at a kitten with boundless energy who doesn’t take me seriously when I tell her to back off.
Thomas: You want to be very careful not to do anything that might reinforce Alex in the notion that bullying Puss is okay. That means you have to avoid giving him any affection or attention after you’ve caught him giving Puss a hard time.
Bella: When you do give Alex love, make sure it’s at a time that can’t be even remotely connected with the bullying behavior. When he’s sitting quietly in your lap, for example, that’s a great time to dote on him.
Siouxsie: But if Alex starts getting cranky with Puss while he’s in your lap, tell him “no” very firmly and push him off your lap. If you do that consistently, Alex will get the message that if he bullies Puss, the affection will stop.
Thomas: Another thing you’ll need to do is help Alex get his crazy kitten energy out. Give him a couple of good, long, intense interactive play sessions each day. Get him panting, tire him out, and he’ll be more inclined to be calm for the rest of the day and not hassle Puss.
Bella: You could also do some gentle interactive play with Puss to help boost his confidence. Naturally, you’ll have to do this in a place where Alex can’t horn in and steal the play time from Puss.
Siouxsie: I know that when I’m feeling better and less painful, Bella tends to bother me less. Maybe you can work with your vet to get Puss on some cat-safe pain relief for the arthritis.
Thomas: Meanwhile, get Puss a nice, heated cat bed or two and help him get to his favorite places with stairs or ramps.
Bella: And make sure Puss lets Alex sleep in it … a lot
Thomas: Bella! What did I just tell you?
Siouxsie: You’re lucky I let you use my bed sometimes, Bella. Don’t push your luck.
Thomas: And Jen, keep on reassuring Puss that he is the top cat in your house.
Siouxsie: I know I appreciate it when Mama tells me that I’m Top Cat And Queen Of All Western Cats. Of course, I think I should be Top Cat And Queen Of All American Cats, since I’ve traveled across the whole country!
Bella: We all traveled across the country, Siouxsie.
Thomas: So, Jen, that’s pretty much it in a nutshell: Exercise Alex a lot to get his crazies out, don’t reinforce the behavior you don’t want to see, and do some gentle play with Puss to boost his confidence.
Bella: And don’t forget to ask your vet about safe pain management options to help Puss feel better.
Siouxsie: We hope this helps you and Puss, Jen. I know it’s hard for Mama to watch Bella pestering me when she knows I’m not feeling well.
Thomas: Good luck, Jen. Please let us know how things turn out!