wp header logo 225

Aggression between cats – HSUS News

When we think of “aggression,” we may think of a variety of motivations and impulses deriving from our own experience as humans. Fortunately, aggression in cats is easier to make sense of and typically derives from two impulses: fear and mistrust. These are the most likely scenarios to cause fear and mistrust amongst cats:
The good news is that cat owners can reduce their cats’ fear and mistrust of each other and increase positive feelings among the cats in the household.
But before moving to the specifics, let’s address three words that you’ve probably heard before: “Cats are territorial.” But what does this actually mean? Well, let’s start with dogs. Dogs are scavengers by nature—they go where the food is—and while they may guard certain objects or spaces, they are not territorial in the way cats are.
Cats, unlike dogs, are hunters by nature and, also unlike dogs, they don’t wander from their territory. To go outside their territory puts cats at risk of encountering other cats and other animals who they are competing with for food and who may potentially harm them. On the other hand, a new cat entering the resident cat’s territory is likely to be perceived as a potential threat.
Related to being territorial is the need for cats to feel safe and secure in their territory—knowing that they are not in danger and that all resources they need to survive and thrive are readily available. A cat who does not feel safe and secure in their territory will hide or may show aggression in an attempt to keep potential danger (other cats) away from them.  
Sign up to receive our exclusive e-book full of important information about keeping your cat healthy and happy.
With these ideas in mind, here are the steps to resolve—or, better yet—avoid aggression between cats:
Spaying and neutering greatly reduces aggression in cats. More to the point, because of their impulse to be territorial it’s often impossible to resolve aggression among cats if one or more cats is intact.
Slowly means at the pace of the cat who is showing the most fear and mistrust. This may be the new cat or the resident cat(s). This pace may be a matter of days, weeks or months—it’s up to the cat. The role of the cat owner is to provide an environment that increases the likelihood of the cat feeling safe and secure in the new territory and/or with the other cat while moving at the cats’ pace. It’s important to understand that cats do not “work things out.” If cats are not getting along the tensions will only increase unless the proper introduction or reintroduction is taken.
Introducing Your New Cat to Other Pets
A resource is anything the cat needs or wants. For example: litter boxes, scratching posts, food/water bowls, human attention and play time, resting spaces, hiding spaces and toys.
One cat (typically the younger, active cat) chasing the other cat in play is often perceived as aggression when it’s actually a result of the cat not having their daily energy needs met. Cats have much more energy to expend than most of us realize. If we are not proactive in meeting our cats’ energy needs, the more active cat may chase the less active one (fun for the active cat, but not very fun for the less active one who just wants to be left alone). Play is also a great way to reduce stress in cats. When cats are playing, they think they are hunting and play can boost a cat’s confidence while also expending physical and mental energy.
To change the mindset of cats who fear/mistrust each other, give them a reason to like each other. What does this mean for cats? Providing them with something they love when the other cat is around or when they see the other cat. Typically, this involves giving the cats food or a treat! Play time, as well as grooming (assuming your cat likes to be brushed), can also lead to positive associations. It’s important to note that this is a process which may take a long time and requires consistency.
Cats are very sensitive to changes in their territory and if they feel less safe and secure in their home this may indirectly cause tensions among the cats. For example, construction outside or inside the home, change in routine or the introduction of new people/other animals into the home (to name only a few possible stressors). When possible, take action to minimize the impact of these changes. 
Ill or injured cats do not feel safe and secure and this can create tensions in a multi-cat household.
This is particularly important with a specific type of aggression called “redirected aggression.” This involves a single event that frightens one or more cats and, in this moment of fear, one attacks the other. A common example is if two cats are sitting on a windowsill and an outdoor cat appears which suddenly frightens the cats. A sudden loud noise or a sudden injury can also cause this behavior. It’s extremely important that the cats remain entirely separated until both cats are acting like their normal selves and then a slow re-introduction is needed. This process can be a challenge and is best done under the guidance of a professional.
Not all “aggressive” behaviors are the same. In fact, some cat behaviors often assumed to be aggressive are not.
A cat’s way of saying “leave me alone.” A cat who hisses is not feeling safe and secure in that moment. This is a defensive vocalization and a hissing cat will likely only go on the offensive if they continue to feel threatened and feel they have no other choice. When introducing cats, consistent hissing is the signal to the cat owner to slow the introduction process.
Another defensive vocalization and indicates the cat is feeling very unsafe and insecure.
A defensive behavior in which the cat is trying to create distance between themselves and the other animal or person.
This behavior is very much based on the context. While chasing may be a result of territorial issues, sometimes it’s playful behavior (or at least perceived as play by the cat doing the chasing).
This behavior is a last resort for cats and is a result of either significant territorial issues and/or one or more cats feeling very unsafe and experiencing a great deal of stress. Contact a professional cat behaviorist if your cats are physically harming each other.
For every animal saved, countless others are still suffering. Your donation can create a future where animals no longer have to suffer cruelty and abuse.
By providing your mobile number, you agree to receive autodialed, recurring text messages from the HSUS with updates and ways you can help animals. Message and data rates may apply. Text STOP to 77879 to opt out, HELP for info. Privacy policy. Terms and conditions.
© 2024 The Humane Society of the United States Privacy policy and terms.
The Humane Society of the United States is registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Contributions to the HSUS are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. The HSUS’s tax identification number is 53-0225390.
Transparency in coverage.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top