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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I have two female indoor cats. They escaped one night, and when they came back the next morning, something had changed. Now one of the cats is hissing at the other. Why is that?

~ Brenda

Snowshoe cat hissing and arching its back

Hissing cat by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez, distributed under a CC-BY-2.0 license

Siouxsie: We actually got two letters on this subject in just the last few days, so it seems like this is a pretty important topic to address.

Thomas: We think something scared both of the cats while they were outside. Perhaps one of them responded to the fright in a way that frightened the other cat and provoked aggression. Now they’re in a pattern of overreaction to each other.

Kissy: Another possibility is that one of the cats got into something that made her smell different. It’s like when you come back from the vet and you smell different from the other cats, and then they hiss at you because you smell strange, and it’s not like you can help it because your person kidnapped you and … *sniffle*

Siouxsie: Stop your sniveling! We’ve got work to do here!

Thomas: Oh, Siouxsie, be nice.

Kissy: As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted … this phenomenon of redirected aggression after a frightening experience is pretty common among cats.

Siouxsie: *hisss* Don’t make me come over there!

Thomas: Stop it, both of you! Anyway, redirected aggression can provoke reactions as dramatic as full-on cat fights that draw blood.

Kissy: The good news is that your cats are clearly on the very low-reaction end of the scale — for now.

Siouxsie: Which means that now is the time to help your kitties get to know each other again and re-learn the joys of hanging out peacefully together.

Thomas: First of all, it’s very important that you understand your cats’ aggression-related body language. This will help you to understand which cat is inciting the aggression and which one is being bullied.

Kissy: The earlier you notice the signs of imminent aggression, the earlier you can step in with a distraction that will help your cats redirect their energy more appropriately. The best distraction tool for cats that aren’t actively fighting or hissing is an interactive toy.

Siouxsie: By using a toy like a feather wand or other type of “thing on a string” in order to take the cats’ attention off each other, you’ll give them a way to work off that aggressive energy without cussing at each other.

Two adolescent ginger kittens wrestling

Two ginger-colored cats wrestling by Wikipedia user Benyon3, distributed under a CC-BY-SA-3.0 license

Thomas: If you don’t have a toy handy, you can distract your cats by clapping your hands together and saying something like “Hey!” in a firm but not screaming tone.

Kissy: Mama does that when we get into hissing matches or when she sees that Thomas is staring at me with that special “I’m about to kick your tail” glare.

Siouxsie: And it usually works, as long as she notices before the confrontation goes beyond hissing to chasing and crying.

Thomas: Well, Kissy, if you wouldn’t freak out every time I get near you, I wouldn’t start chasing you! Jeez!

Kissy: It’s not my fault! I had a hard life on the streets … just a tiny little cat with a bum leg, pregnant with five kittens, barely able to provide for myself …

Siouxsie: What’s that I hear? Is it the world’s tiniest violin playing just for you … or is it the distant warble of a waaaaambulance?

Thomas: Be nice, Siouxsie!

Kissy: Yeah! Be nice!

Siouxsie: I’m telling you — don’t make me come over there! …

Thomas: Oh, hi, Auntie Margot! Do you have some noms for us?

Kissy: Noms! Noms!

Siouxsie: What are you feeding us tonight? Can I test taste it?

Thomas: Anyway, Brenda — the best thing you can do to keep the situation from escalating is to try to stay calm yourself. Your cats will pick up on your emotional energy and if you stress out about their behavior, their aggression may increase. Instead, be alert and be ready to distract the cats with  something more fun than stare-downs and hissing.

Kissy: If you don’t have a toy handy, clap your hands and bark “Hey!” That’ll distract them from staring at each other without harming your relationship with them. Good luck, and please let us know how things turn out!

Siouxsie, Thomas and Kissy: Om nom nom nom! Om nom nom! Nom nom nom …

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