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Two kittens play fighting.

Play fighting is normal. Photo CC-BY-ND Tambako The Jaguar

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

Help! I have 3 cats in the household — a 15-year-old female, a 6-year-old male and an 8-month old male. For the last few years the 6-year-old had been incessantly harassing and biting the 15-year-old, to the point where she was really stressed out and often hiding. He would often attack after she used the litter box, but mostly she would just be walking across the room and he would go over and smack her on the head with his paw and then start a fight. I thought that maybe he was just bored so I got a younger male cat to keep him company. Initially it worked — the 6-year-old was so wrapped up in the frequent play attacks of the kitten he forgot about the older cat. But then as the kitten grew he actually become tougher than the 6-year-old and the two of them together started beating up on the old cat. I have yelled and punished the behavior but it does not stop. The youngest cat and the oldest cat sleep all wrapped up in each other frequently so I don’t know why it keeps happening . However, I will say that the attacks by the youngest cat seem more playful while the 6-year-old actually seems angry at her. Is there anything I could do? I worry about what happens to my oldest cat whenever I am not at home.

~ Michelle

Bella: I’m almost kind of ashamed to say it, but I did a lot of play fighting with Siouxsie even though I knew she didn’t have the energy or desire to chase me back. I was a bad kitty. *sniffle*

Thomas: Oh, Bella, you weren’t being a bad kitty. That’s just normal for young and energetic cats like you.

Bella: *sniffle* Really?

Thomas: Yes, really. Younger cats like you have lots of energy to spare and you need lots of play time to get your ya-yas out, as Mama says. And Michelle, lots of interactive play with your 6-year-old and your 8-month-old will help them get their ya-yas out, too.

Bella: With enough play, they may leave your elder kitty in peace. But you’ve got to tire them out — get them panting and so on.

Thomas: It sounds like the kitten really likes your elder kitty, but the 6-year-old may be jockeying for power. As  cats get older, sometimes the younger ones try to take over the Top Cat position in preparation for the end of the elder kitty’s life. I tried to be nice to Siouxsie, but sometimes I bopped her on the nose, too.

Bella: Michelle, you mentioned “the litter box.” If that means you only have one litter box, we’d recommend adding at least one more, in another room. If the 6-year-old is stalking your elder kitty at the litter box, he can only stalk one box at a time, which means she may be safer when she has to do her business.

Thomas: We’d also recommend that you stop punishing immediately. Punishing doesn’t do anything to solve kitty behavior problems; in fact, it can actually make them worse.

Bella: Instead, do positive reinforcement when the cats have friendly interactions together, and, as we said, do daily interactive play sessions to help the younger cats work off some of their excess energy. We bet you can get your younger cats jumping and flying. Check out some tips from Mama on Catster for more information on how to play with your cat LIKE A BOSS.

Thomas: I’m not as into jumping as I used to be, but I sure do love to play like I’m catching mice! That was my favorite thing to do back when I lived in the country.

Bella: Do mice taste good?

Thomas: Oh, yes! They’re very tasty little morsels. Highly recommended!

Bella: Mama, can you get me a mouse to catch so I can eat it?

Mama: Sorry, sweetheart, I’m not bringing any mice into the house for you to catch. I’ll see if I can find some mouse meat for you, though. You too, Thomas.

Thomas: *purrrrrrr*

Bella: We also suggest a trip to the vet for your elder kitty if she hasn’t had a checkup recently. Sometimes cats start beating on other cats if they sense weakness or sickness that you may not be able to see yet.

Thomas: Your vet can do blood work to detect early signs of age-related diseases like kidney problems, and he or she can also tell you if your elder kitty has some arthritis that might be helped by pain medications and other accommodations.

Bella: How about you all? Do you have any other recommendations on how to help Michelle keep her younger cats from beating on her older one? Share them in the comments if you do.

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