Intercat aggression—the secret life of cats (Proceedings)


Intercat aggression—the secret life of cats (Proceedings)

Aug 01, 2010

Cats were once described as solitary animals. Cats typically hunt alone and they do not wander about in packs. It was reasonable to conclude that cats were not a social species. Yet careful observation of free-running cats has revealed that many cats seek the company of others for rest and relaxation. Those cats that live in social groups form attachments and select preferred associates. Relatives often remain together. Certain cats are more solitary than others.

Free-running cats have the option of selecting a home range that suits their personality. When resources are plentiful, cats may cluster. When resources are scarce, cats spread. With housecats, the rules change. Cats cannot avoid one another, for walls and ceilings get in the way. Housecats may have no choice but to rub whiskers in order to get down the hall for a snack. And although caring owners offer an ample quantity of food, the number of feeding stations may be limited. A single albeit giant food dish may represent a scarce resource.

Nevertheless, cat lovers collect cats. And most times they do so successfully. Why, then, can some people live with a harmonious houseful or even trailer full of cats, while other folks cannot convince 2 cats to share their 5500 foot home?

There appears to be no simple answer. One factor is surely related to personality. Some cats just don't like one another. In other cases, one of the cats may be abnormal, behaviorally or physically. For instance, an individual cat may exhibit fear or aggression that is out of proportion to a given trigger. A minor bump in the night is thus perceived as a major infraction. Underlying medical conditions can support the development of fear or aggression in both aggressor and victim cats.

When presented with a family of feuding felines, be prepared to take the time to understand the personalities of all household cats. Even cats that are not obviously involved in the primary conflict may be affecting the dynamics. Information about both appropriate and inappropriate interactions among the cats is valuable. When possible, all household cats should attend the consult. For some multicat homes, a housecall is ideal. Be prepared to spend the day!

If a home visit is not available, encourage owners to videorecord their cats interacting. Be sure that the client understands that you are not asking them to record a violent fight—no injuries please. Rather, ask them to videorecord some "safe" scenarios such as cats walking past one another, or coming into the kitchen for breakfast. Their efforts to communicate will be evident.