Cats don’t always get along with each other.  Some cats are buddies, some get along at certain times, some never want to interact, and others have an all out war. This can be true whether or not the cats are siblings and were brought up together, or if they were strangers brought together by an owner.  We humans have the luxury of being able to pick our friends, but our cats don’t have that choice.  We expect them to get along with whomever we choose.

When relationships between cats don’t go smoothly, this creates an unhappy environment for the owners and the cats. Several readers have submitted questions asking about how to get their cats to get along. One wrote, “I have two rescued cats. One is about 7 years old and the other is 1.5 years old.  They were not found together. We’ve had the older one since she was a year old. The younger one has been with us 6 months.  They don’t like each other. The older one, Julia, doesn’t give the younger kitty, Kiana, the time of day. Kiana tries to attack the older one nearly every day. They have both started peeing on our couches and carpet and it’s nearly impossible to control. Any idea why or what we can do?”

One of the most important aspects of getting two cats to get along is a proper introduction period.  Often owners don’t have a transition plan for introducing the cats, and put them together hoping that they are going to get along.  This is almost always a mistake.  If you have two cats that are not getting along, then it is a good idea to start over with the introduction.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners has produced a handout for owners called Introducing a New Cat into a Household with Already Existing Cats:

“When introducing a new cat, initially isolate it in a separate room with its own food, water, litter box and toys.  This allows each cat to gradually adjust to the scent and sounds of the other cat.  Once a veterinarian has deemed the cats healthy, limited interaction may occur under the door.

Continue the gradual introduction by exchanging bedding between cats, and rubbing a cloth around one cat’s mouth and leaving that cloth in the other cat’s space, or rubbing a cloth alternatively on each cat.  As cats start to exhibit curiously about each other, reward friendly behavior with treats and praise.

At this point, short, supervised, direct interactions can begin.  For the initial exposure, have one cat in a carrier and allow the other cat to approach.  Feeding both cats at the same time can reduce stress as well.  Following this, allow cats to walk around and sniff each other.  Continue to reward friendly behavior.  Gradually increase the supervised time together.

Do not leave the cats together unsupervised until several supervised interactions without aggression have occurred.  The process of introducing a new cat may take several weeks.  Older cats may need a quiet space away from kittens for an extended period of time.  Friendly, well-socialized cats may adapt to each other rapidly.

Pheromonal products may ease the introduction, but should be used in conjunction with gradual introduction.”

There are situations where owners have reintroduced cats, given them several weeks to adjust, and problems still exist.  When this occurs, you need to consult with your veterinarian to see if there are other behavior modification techniques that might help your situation, and if anti-anxiety medication or herbal calming remedies might help.

Julia and Kiana need to become reacquainted using the above recommendations, and areas where housesoiling has occurred need to be thoroughly cleaned with an enzymatic cleaner such as Urine Off.  Couches might need to be temporarily covered with plastic drop cloths to prevent more damage from urine.  Areas of carpet where they have urinated need to become less attractive by using solid air fresheners or upside down pieces of carpet runner.  Alternatively, these areas can be where extra food or toys are placed.  The goal is to prevent elimination on the carpet and couches—either repel the cats from these areas or make them pleasant for another activity.

Julia needs some vertical escape space where she can go and be left alone by Kiana.  Kiana needs to be engaged in active play for at least 5 minutes twice daily with her owners so she doesn’t feel like she needs to pursue Julia for amusement.

The longer conflict goes on between cats, the harder the problem is to solve.  If you are not making progress with peaceful cohabitation between your cats, seek advice from a veterinarian who is interested in feline behavior or consult with an animal behaviorist.

Written by Dr. Wexler-Mitchell of The Cat Care Clinic in Orange, CA
Copyright © 2011 The Cat Care Clinic