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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Cat Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 24471
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 44 years of experience.
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I have two cats....brother and sister, about 4 years old,

Customer Question

I have two cats....brother and sister, about 4 years old, one male, one female. They can't seem to get along. The male cat is scared to death of the female...she aggressive toward him, glares at him, chases him into hiding, then lays or sits nearby preventing the male to come out from hiding. If and when the male comes out of hiding, he is constantly looking for the female and upon seeing her, runs back to his hiding place. The fighting upsets me and I am at a loss as to what to do short of getting rid of one or both of them.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Cat Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

I'm sorry that your question wasn't answered in a timely manner. I have advanced training in feline behavior and am pleased to discuss your cats' behavior with you. Aggression may occur between two or more cats already present in the household where there had been little or no previous history of aggression. Relationships may change as cats mature and age. In addition, increased conflicts may arise when there has been a change in the social group (people or animals becoming a part of the household or leaving the household), or when there have been major changes to the environment like moving house, or more subtle changes such as where the cats sleep, eat, perch, or eliminate. Medical problems could lead to pain or irritable-induced aggression, or may alter the way the cat interacts with other cats in the household. Any event leading to redirected aggression* could also lead to a change in the way that cats interact with other cats in the home. It's also not unusual for aggression to arise when a cat has been out of the home and then returns (e.g., from a groomer or veterinary hospital stay). This may be due to pheromonal alterations (pheromones are chemicals that cats secrete in order to communicate with other cats), anxiety or discomfort of the returning cat, or the response of one or more cats that remained in the home to some alteration in the way the cat looks, acts, or smells upon its return. There may also be territorial and status issues that need to be re-established, even if the departure has been relatively short. Many of these problems are mild and will resolve themselves over time, particularly if there is enough space, perches, and hiding places for the cat to avoid interactions while they again "recognize" each other and re-establish a compatible relationship. This may take anywhere from a few hours to several weeks for some cats, while on rare occasions the problem may be sufficiently intense to require a formal reintroduction program of desensitization and counterconditioning in much the same way as a new cat is introduced into the household. It may be prudent to sequester one or both of your cats in a dim and quiet area until their level of arousal abates. Many owners will then “test" their cat(s) every day or so and continue sequestering them if necessary.

*Redirected aggression is diagnosed when the target of your female's aggression (her brother) is not the stimulus that triggered the state of aggressive arousal. Territorial, fear-induced and defensive aggression are the types of behaviors that are likely to be redirected by her. Stimuli that can cause an aggressive state of arousal include the sight or sound of another cat (at times quite far away from the home), unusual noises, odors of other animals, unfamiliar people, and unfamiliar environments. A common situation is one in which the pet becomes aroused upon seeing or hearing another cat while sitting in a window. When the owner attempts to pet it, pick it up, or nudge it away from the window, it attacks. It may show aggression toward another pet when approached in similar situations. Redirected aggression is a common cause of the sudden appearance of aggression between cats in the same household that have been living together amicably for quite some time. This type of aggression is probably the most dangerous type of aggression cats exhibit due to the uninhibited nature of the bites. Treatment involves identifying triggers for arousal and then removing the pet's access to the stimuli. You may have to be quite the detective as stimuli can be imperceptible to owners. Medication can be beneficial for reducing her response to environmental stimuli - psychoactive drugs such as Prozac have been used. The most important thing that I can impart to you is to be careful around her when she is aroused. Too many of my owners have ended up in the hospital due to infected bite wounds. One encouraging fact is that many of our cats will habituate to the arousing stimuli and "self-cure" within weeks to months.

It's important to note that her behavior is normal feline behavior and trying to alter an innate behavior is often an exercise in futility. Rather than changing the psychological set of these cats, owners need to alter their expectations and modify their behavior instead. Determined owners will segregate cats into different parts of the house and never the twain shall meet. A cat might be made an outdoor cat or rehomed. Cats are asocial (not antisocial) as a species and we have to accept that in situations such as yours, two cats might never accept each other in spite of our best efforts. Please respond with further questions or concerns if you wish.

Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.
Hi,
I'm just following up on our conversation about your pet. How is everything going?
Dr. Michael Salkin