Aggressive cat problems

KFarrelSeptember 21, 2011

Hello! I am a newly wed and trying to blend a fur family and having major problems! My husband has two very sweet, non-aggressive indoor/outdoor cats, ages 5 & 3, both spayed females. We moved into his house after the wedding. Mine is an 11-year old spayed female who has been an only child for about 4 years since her littermate passed away.

Some historical information on my cat: She has always been fairly aggressive towards other people. She has never been very friendly in general (except to me, of course). Over the past several months leading up to the wedding & move my hubby has spent hours trying to cultivate a relationship with her with limited success. She began letting him pet her occasionally and stopped hissing and growling every time he came around.

For the first week, my girl was seperated from the other two via some fortunate features the house has that closes off the back hall & guestrooms so that she had 3 rooms and a hall to herself. This space joins the rest of the house via the master bedroom, so we have traded the MB every other day between mine & his girls.

Things were going ok. Everyone was getting used to the smells and the first face to face meeting was some growling and posturing but that's it. We praised all the girls for being so good and felt very positive. In the time since, my cat has become more and more agressive to the point of attacking the other cats without provocation. We had been deterring this with a water bottle and loud distraction noises, but now that does not even stop her from the fight and my hubby is scratched up and scabbed from breaking up fights and one of 'his' girls has an eye injury. Still, niether of his girls are agressive towards mine. As soon as mine enters a room, sees the other cat (they usually don't even realize she's there) she attacks.

This is turning into a nightmare and I am at a loss of what to do. She has gotten to the point where when she is in her sperate area she sits by the door and growls and scratches every time one of the other cats is nearby, and tries to bolt out after them as soon as the door is cracked open.

We have tried everything, even the pheremone collars and plug-ins with no success. I LOVE my cat, but she is making our house so stressful. Since she has never been friendly I get zero support from family & friends. My hubby knows how much I care for her and has agreed to do whatever we can to ease the situation but I am at my wit's end! Please help!

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I'm sorry that your girl is having such a difficult time adjusting to her new situation. My first suggestion is to take her to your vet for a physical exam including a full blood chemistry, CBC, and Total T4 to check her state of health. Even if she was perfectly healthy when you moved into your new abode, stress can trigger illness, and you want to make sure that her behavioral changes are not being caused or exacerbated by illness. If she checks out healthy and her bloodwork all comes back within normal ranges, then you can assume that her problems are behavioral. I'll base the rest of my recommendations on that assumption.

Keep your girl's litterbox, food, and water in a separate part of the house from the other cats'. If she feels she has her own territory within the house, she may not feel such a strong drive to claim the rest of the house as her own, as well. Buy a kitty harness (NOT a collar) and light leash (kitchen twine works just fine as a cat leash) and put them on your girl any time you bring her out of her own part of the house. That will give you the control you need to prevent her from attacking the younger cats and teach her that behavioral boundaries will be enforced. Whenever she tries to aggressively approach the other cats, try first to distract her (a toy or treat may do the trick). If that doesn't work, correct her sharply with the leash so that she knows that aggression will not be tolerated. When she ignores the others, lavish her with praise, affection, treats, toys, playtime, or anything else she values. She will quickly learn which behaviors elicit which responses from you, and she will set her own priorities and adjust her own behaviors based on your responses. If she decides that getting what she wants from you and/or avoiding what she doesn't want is more important than doling out punishment to the other cats, then you'll be on your way to a feline truce. If she continues to try to go after the other cats despite the consequences, then she'll have to stay on the leash until she reconsiders.

If, after a week or two, the leash doesn't have the desired effect, you might want to talk to your vet about a short course of anti-anxiety meds for your girl to get her over the adjustment hump. I, personally, would use drugs only as a very last resort, but they may be helpful if nothing else resolves the problem.

One more suggestion is to use Rescue Remedy, a flower essence available at health food stores. I've never seen it do much for my animals, but others have reported remarkable results in calming certain animals. It can't hurt, in any case. Just be sure to buy the non-alcohol formula.


    Bookmark   September 21, 2011 at 5:28PM
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I agree with laurief ... I also think that she needs more time to get used to the huge change in her life and might need to spend more time by herself ... unfortunately, these things take time and patience.

How wonderful that your new husband is so understanding!

His poor cats are prbably wondering why the heck they're getting beat up.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2011 at 12:34PM
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Hello, I hate to tell you this story bc it may sound discouraging. But I dont mean it to be! The opposite -we have found a solution that works and works well, although it took some time and adjustment.

Its like a time-share. I keep my old 20 year old cat in the bedroom from 8 am-8 pm, while the younger boy cats have the run of the apartment. Then, from 8 pm-8 am the boys go down to the basement to sleep or catch mice or whatever they do down there while my old girl gets the run of the apartment.

I got the boys 3 years ago and one of them was super aggressive, would literally physically attack my old girl cat to the point where she was hiding in the closet 24/7. Tried the gradual intros but it was not working. My old girl would freak out just seeing them from afar or even seeing their paws under the door. Her freaking out would then incite the aggressive boy cat and get him all excited and in attack mode.

So we started with this very strict schedule. It works I think because it is VERY predictable. Cats LOVE predictable. Every day like clockwork. If Im running late the boys come and start meowing and nagging me right at 8 pm on the dot to get their supper and go downstairs (I link supper with going downstairs so they have good associations with it. Also I put some comfy chairs and stuff down there for them.)

My old cat Kash isn't always thrilled with being locked in the bedroom during the day but mostly she just sleeps anyway and I come in to give her attention now and then. I think maybe she knows that she has the most esteemed position in the house - gets to sleep in the bed. Yes, there is a litterbox in the bedroom which is a royal PITA but you know what? I love my old cat and I know Im not going to have her much longer.

Anyway, just wanted to tell you about this and to let you know - it really isnt the end of the world if you have to do this - assuming you have the physical space to do it. All three of them I think are now feeling more safe and secure and happy. The old cat because she isn't getting attacked anymore, the young boys because Im not getting mad at them anymore.

I could have given away the boys but by the time I realized they werent going to get along with my old cat, it was too late - Id gotten attached and couldnt take them back to the shelter.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2011 at 1:22PM
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I agree with blood tested first because if she has any health problems and is feeling unwell she'll be even worse with stress. It's really hard to spot changes like this in an aggressive cat (I have one who's always been that way) and you'll automatically put it down to her usual crankiness but I'd eliminate health problems first that might be contributing and at her age getting thyroid, kidneys etc tested is a good idea anyway.

I use the rescue remedy for my cat when she has vet appointments and it makes a huge difference in her. If she has it for a few days ahead of time she's well behaved with the vet but if she hasn't been taking it she'll do her best to tear the vet to shreds and she usually succeeds too :) I'd give it a try and see if it settles her down a bit while she's adjusting.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 12:19AM
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After the complete vet exam, go directly to anxiety meds to ease the transition fear. This is not going to be resolved with 'leash corrections.' Continue to keep her isolated for a few months before reintroducing her gradually to the other cats.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 9:16AM
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Thanks for all the advice, we have been keeping her seperated but that is only feasible as long as we don't have any company (the area she is in also houses the restroom for our guests, as well as the only guest bedroom.) The in-laws are coming in a few weeks.

Has anyone had results with Rescue Remedy (or similar)? It does seem to get a lot of good reviews, yet everyone I actually talk to says no. I'm wondering about trying that, as the feliaway plug-in and collar has not seemed to do much.

We have gotten her a harness and leash, and she actually has taken to that much better than I expected, but still wants to go after the other cats the minute she spots them and I have to remove her from the room completely to calm her down. SIgh.... we are being patient and no 'drastict' actions will be taken (so please don't anyone worry about that) but I am hoping and praying that we can teach her to be tolerant to the other cats before they are afraid to come in the house at all.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2011 at 6:17PM
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Just another follow up: After taking her to the Vet (when all else failed so far) we had a complete exam and lab work done. Everything came back 'pretty good' according to the person I called on the phone about the results. When I had taken her in and described the full situation, I was under the impression when I left that barring any medical issues that needed to be addressed the Dr would prescribe some anti-anxiety meds. However, now they want to try blood pressure medication first 'to calm her at night', then have her back in two weeks for another check up, then if she's not improving they will 'look at other options'. Now I am super frustrated at the Dr too! I've spent close to $600 in just over a month between all the otc tries, vet bills, and now they want to run more 'in depth tests' and start unnecessary medication. Her blood pressure was on the high side of normal but not in the 'high range' when we were there. Now I'm wondering if I should continue to spend money on this vet (it totally stresses my girl out even more to be in the car and then at the vet) or get her lab results and try someplace new. More advice needed!! Thanks everyone.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 10:39AM
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First, ALWAYS obtain copies of ALL test results run on any of your animals at any time for any reason. Keeping copies of all of your animals' medical records at home is extremely helpful when researching or soliciting advice online, as well as being able to identify anything that changes over time with your animals. I can't tell you how many times I've been told that my animal's test results were fine, just to see that they were NOT fine when I went over the results myself. Also, few vets have or take the time to go over your pet's medical history and previous test results every time you bring them in for a new concern. It's often up to the owner to identify changes that need to be addressed with the vet, and you can only do this effectively if you maintain your own set of records at home.

Second, I would NEVER allow a vet to prescribe blood pressure medication based on a single, high normal blood pressure reading taken on a stressed cat. If I were you, I would be finding a new vet pronto!


    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 2:11PM
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Agree w/ above poster - blood pressure /blood sugar / other things elevate under stress.

I happened to re-read your original post - what happened between the first face to face when it went OK w/ just some posturing and hissing.... and then you say after that your cat became more aggressive - what happened during that time? Sounds like things may have been rushed after the first intro? If so, it's like you're back at square one, sorry to say. Or she may be like my old girl cat - just having a personality that doesn't tolerate change very well.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2011 at 6:58PM
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Hello all ~ Another update for interested folks. I followed up with a lengthy email and then phone call with the vet outlining my concerns on the suggested treatments and tests. The vet said it was a misunderstanding and that the meds she wanted to try were used for both behavior AND lowering blood pressure. We have been trying the new meds for two weeks, without much change. The vet called today to follow up and we will be possibly changing doseage or brands to see if something else will work. She also went back in to check her BP/thyroid levels which are in the normal range, though still a little on the high side. Again, I think since she spends so much of her day stressed out a high normal BP is to be expected. Shoot, MY BP is up over this! ;) The other cats are still afraid of her and will not even come in the room if they sense she is out and about. Which, if that's how they work it out is ok with me. In-laws are scheduled to land next week, keeping my fingers crossed she doesn't attack them!

    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 3:15PM
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If your older girl's TT4 (thyroid) is high normal, that's worth further testing. As a healthy cat ages, the T4 level will drop toward the lower end of normal range. An older cat with a high normal Total T4 may, indeed, be hyperthyroid. If I were you, I would request a full thyroid panel (TT3, FT3, TT4, FT4) and/or an FT4ED to help clarify her thyroid status.


    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 5:57PM
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To follow up for those (in private emails) that are concerned that I am not taking all suggestions or perhaps not following up with potential health problems....

I have taken ALL suggestions to heart. In addition to trying calming collars, Feliway spray and diffusers, Rescue Remedy, and Composure calming treats, we have also tried having her harnessed whenever she is in 'shared space' (she has her own room with her own things that we do not let the other cats go into), and we have tried using a very large dog crate in the shared space (after she pulled & twisted so much in the harness I was afraid she would hurt herself) but the crate stresses her to the point of being sick. After my initial frustration with the Vet's sugestions of blood pressure meds I wrote a lengthy email addressing all of my concerns as well as the full history of Molly's aggressive behavior, which is not new, but since we used to have only occasional visitors which could be warned to steer clear I have never had to address it before, this was my error I realize now, as I'm sure it would have been MUCH easier to socialize her at a younger age. I spoke IN LENGTH with the vet after my email, without Molly there stressing us both out, and she explained that a at this point more testing might NOT be helpful because we have nothing to compare it to. We are going with the anti-anxiety meds and a SLOW introduction process (starting back at the beginning) and monitoring her blood pressure every two weeks to make sure that it is ok. We will recheck her thyroid in a couple of more weeks (6 weeks since the last check) to compare the levels and see how she is doing. She is not eating or drinking more/less than she always has. She has lost some wieght over the past couple of years but that is due to a diligent effort on my part to make her more active as an indoor only cat and carefully monitoring her portions because she had been very overweight. After my discussions with the Vet I feel very confident that we are on the right track. I am in no way trying to bypass addressing potential health issues. I am a responsible, loving pet owner and my husband and I are both committed to finding a solution that works for our ENTIRE family, fur children and us. I do appreciate all the suggestions and advice that have been given on this site and hope that this more lengthy explination will give any of you with misgivings a reassurance that I am addressing every need Molly has.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2011 at 11:50AM
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We are approaching our 6 month anniversary and I wanted to update interested parties (and those looking for answers to their own issues) on our progress.

Suffice to say, the progress is slow. So slow it's hard to see it. That being said, even teeny tiny steps give me hope that one of these days we will have at least a tolerant, if not friendly, household.

We have tried the following over the counter (non-Rx) fixes: rescue remedy, GNC Calming Treats, Feliway Calming Collar, Composure calming treats, harness/leash, crate introductions, Feliway diffusers. We have also had my girl on the following Rx meds (pardon the spelling): Clomicalm, Armitryptilan, Prozac.

Nothing has been a life saver. We are currently using (and having the best success so far) the following combo: Rescue Remedy applied to the ears off all cats about 15 minutes before allowing in the shared space. Feliway plug--in diffusers in all main living areas (3 for us), GNC Calming treats once per day for all cats, Armitryptilan (5mg, once a day for my aggressive cat).

While we are at work, we keep all the cats seperated. (They are all girls). We have 3 cats, two that get along ok, one (mine) that does not. When we come home from work we open all the doors and allow Molly (mine, the most aggressive one) to come out at her leisure. We keep an eye out, and if the other two are around we start talking to them reassuringly and encouraging Molly to be nice. This may help us more than them, but I also think it helps everyone stay calm. If Molly displays signs of stress (stiffening body, raised tail), we try to intervene before it goes into an attack. If I get up or speak sharply to her she will usually turn and head back into 'her room'. This isn't ideal, but it has helped prevent the full attacks she was waging on the other girls. If she does attack one of the cats, we use a spray bottle to break it up, which generally causes her to run back to her room also. We close the door of her room while she calms down (about 10-15 minutes), and then open the door up again and let her decide when she wants to come back out.

This is a tiring, time consuming project. BUT, there have been some marginal improvements. Bella, the older, larger of the two 'resident' cats and Molly seem to have called somewhat of a truce. They clearly are not friends, but they don't hiss and growl too much any more. I think this is in large part because Bella is not a territorial cat by nature and does not challenge Molly, and also because they are evenly matched in size. Our 3rd and youngest, Sophie, is a tiny cat and also very skittish. My husband found her in the street when she was just a couple of weeks old and nursed her through some scary times. She trusts him implicitly but is very skittish with all other situations and people. Because she has been attacked by Molly so frequently, she runs the minute she sees her. This often triggers Molly to chase her which is not good. This has been our biggest trial. If Sophie does not run (sometimes she does not realize that Molly has come in the room) Molly will stare but not attack. We feel that if we can keep them both calm in the same room they may get used to each other in time but so far that has not been possible.

We have just restarted Molly on the Armitryptalin. After going all the way thru the available meds ending in Prozac without good results we had taken her off everything a while ago. Now that we have made some improvements and Molly is becoming more confortable in the house over all we decided to try it again to see if it will help.

As always, ideas or suggestions are welcome. :)

Molly's health is good, as are the other two cats.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2012 at 10:58AM
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I don't have much to offer but wanted to say you are blessed with a lot of patience! I'm exhausted after reading your last post and do hope the conflict between the cats isn't affecting the honeymoon phase of your marriage!

The only thing you might try is to put a screen door between your living area and an adjoining room, and since Sophie is the more nervous cat, keep her in that room. With the screen door she can see (and kinda be with) the rest of the family yet feel safe and secure.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2012 at 10:57PM
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I've been following this. I appreciate the updates.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2012 at 6:50AM
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Forgot to ask if you think the small improvements you've seen are due to her coming off all meds? If you've found something that helps calm her down I can understand you using it, but if you've used the Armitryptaline before and didn't see any improvement, why give it again? Like any drug, Armitryptaline comes with its own set of side effects.

It's possible your cat just prefers to be an only cat, and there's nothing that's going to change it except, maybe, time.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2012 at 12:31PM
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We are trying it again on the advice of our vet. It may not work, and if it doesn't we will take her off. If it's not helping then it's certainly not worth the trauma of giving it to her every day or the expense. The reasoning in trying it again is that now she is in a little different situation in that she has been able to explore the house in it's entirety, so hopefully she does not feel quite so overwhelmed with all the changes from moving and suddenly having siblings. At this point, she seems to do ok except with Sophie. Hopefully the Armitryptaline will curb her aggression towards her, but we are certainly prepared for the possibility that she will never be able to be happy in a multi-cat household.

We did try keeping her seperated all the time (I would go spend time with her every day), after consulting with an animal behavioralist who suggested that even though we think she might be lonely, she may prefer being on her own since that has been what she is used to for 12+ years. After just a week or so though she started yowling and scratching at the closed doors at all hours, so we know for sure that she doesn't want to be isolated all the time. Since having all the doors open when we are home, we find that she very often does not come out at all, preferring to stay in 'her room', but she does come out occasionally to say hello. This is perfect unless Sophie is around, obviously.

We are still working on it and hoping for the best. :)

    Bookmark   March 8, 2012 at 5:03PM
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