I can provide assistance with inappropriate toileting, aggression to humans or other household cats, compulsive behaviours, fear or anxiety in your cat.
Many behavioural problems that we see in cats are directly related to, or exacerbated by a lack of understanding of a cat's biology and environmental and social needs. Cats have a biological protective mechanism to hide signs of pain or illness from potential predators so that they don't appear vulnerable. Unfortunately, this can lead to medical and/or emotional problems going unnoticed by their owners.
Cats can be very flexible and adaptable to different environments, however, failing to meet your cats basic needs can lead to chronic fear, anxiety, frustration or conflict. This creates chronic stress that can lead to a general state of ill-health, and also an increase in undesirable behaviours including urinating outside the litter box or aggression.
The 5 pillars of needs for cats to be mentally and behaviourally healthy
1. Safety – safe places for hiding/resting/sleeping – high, private, unable to be cornered
2. Multiple and separate key resources (food, water, litter trays, resting and sleeping places, scratch poles) – distributed so cats can feel safe from other cats when using them
3. Predatory-type play – multiple opportunities for predatory play. Short energetic play sessions that end in a catch and “kill” and eat. Solitary play by batting ping pong balls, scrunched up paper, hiding in tunnels/cardboard boxes/under newspaper, or interactive play with you controlling a fishing rod/wand-type toy or playing fetch or kibble-chase.
4. Human interaction – provide positive, consistent, predictable human interaction. Encourage the cat to approach for interactions on its own terms not yours, and keep checking that the cat wants more or not. Stick to where the cat likes being petted (usually around the head) and avoid the “murder buttons” like the belly or back (unless the cat likes it).
5. Sensory environment – provide an environment that respects the cats use of smell. Cats mark their territory to feel safer, by rubbing, scratching and urine marking. They use facial rubbing to share a group scent with you and other bonded cats. Avoid cleaning their cheek rub spots on the walls and furniture. Avoid using cleaning products with strong scents such as citrus and bleach cleaning products. Think about the strange scents that you bring into the house on your clothes and shoes that cats may be fearful of.
Cats are flexibly social animals that can live alone, or in groups. Free-range cats spend much of their time hunting alone as a sit-and-pounce predator. If there are sufficient resources such as food they may form groups. These groups are often made up of females and their related litter mates.
Cats in a household can be classified into three types of social arrangements. They may be bonded; successfully tolerant of each other; or they may not be successfully tolerating each other and instead are living under chronic stress as they are unable to avoid the other cat.
Bonded cats are seen in close proximity and touching with relaxed body posture. They exhibit mutual rubbing and grooming, which maintains a group social odour.
Each cat (or bonded pair) needs a safe personal core territory with all the necessary resources, and then communal areas can be time-shared. Much like a human share house where everyone has separate bedrooms and daily lives and then come together in the lounge room. These rooms must allow space for cats to move away and avoid each other, and not be required to cross paths. You could probably live with a housemate you didn’t like if you didn’t see him much, but if you had to keep passing him in the hallway, or share the bathroom every morning, then tensions would flare. Unlike humans, the domestic cat has no choice to leave and find a new home.
Physical aggressive behaviours carry the risk of injury, and so cats use various strategies and forms of communication to share the home and prevent the escalation of conflict into physical aggression.
When we see intercat aggression, we may find that the cats have been always working to manage conflict and tension.Sometimes the cats may have been bonded, but in both cases extra stressors have tipped them into aggression.
Space and resources
Many of the issues with fighting cats revolve around space and the number and distribution of resources. Cats may not be able to avoid each other because of the small size of the rooms, narrow hallways and resources placed in dead-ends. They may be living in a state of continual social conflict with no means to resolve it. They may begin urine marking in the home as they try to establish a safer core territory, they may urinate elsewhere in inappropriate places because the other cat is blocking the litter tray, or they may develop passive or active aggressive behaviours to drive the other cat away.
There are many stressors that can tip cats into aggressive behaviours and they can stack onto each other:-
Medical reasons such as ill-health or pain
Recent changes that cause stress in one or both cats. Such as visitors, changes in furniture, a new cat in the house or outside, parties, loud noises, isolation, a cattery visit
Redirected frustration or arousal such as seeing an outside cat
One or both of the cats has reached the age of social maturity (2-3 years old). In nature there would be a change to social relationships with the socially mature cat now leaving the family group.
Loss of the group odour as one cat returns from a vet visit “smelling differently” and the other cat doesn't recognize it
Cats can show aggressive behaviours (growl, hiss, strike, scratch, grab, bite, kick) towards humans for various reasons
Your interactions can prevent the need for the cat to show aggression.
Signs of fear in a cat
Signs of anxiety and stress in a cat
This unpleasant behaviour may be a result of various causes
Photos of my beautiful ginger and white boy Dunlop from Essex, UK, and my Australian country black cat Silver Fern. And Chinkie from Surrey, UK!