Redirected aggression in my cats

Hi,
No idea if anyone will read this, but I found this site, and I need to vent. We have brother/sister cats for 5 years...they hang on our patio,good friends etc... well over a month ago there came another cat for a vist, a fight,spraying, etc...after that our poor sheltered cats don't recognize each other and are complete enemies, scared & well just a wreck. After trying a lot of closed door, reintroducing etc...nothing seems to be working. They could eat together sort of, but if they saw each other at another time, there was i guess territory fights. We have a townhouse style house, so one cat on 2nd floor, one cat downstairs. Each cat is looking for the other from up or downstairs, tail swishing...So friday we started giving them anafronil, 5mg per cat. They are now zombies. I am a sad mom! Miss my babies, no more cuddling they are barely eating,peeing etc won't play...i'm waIting for call,back from vet, but they are busy...when i read a story i saw that someone or you had a similair thing with sisters...just hoping they will somehow get better. Not really sure what i wanted to ask. Soon i think i need some anafronil! :)
Well if you have any other/more advice, its welcome. Thanks.

RESPONSE:

First, let me say that I empathize with your situation because I have gone through a similar situation with two of my cats (sisters together since kittens) that happened a few years ago when they were around 8 years old. However, I am a great believer that slow and sure (with a whole lot of patience)…will overcome most feline problems.

I will try to give you some suggestions to help your sibling cats get back together, but I want to make a comment about the use of Anafranil. This is a tricyclic antidepressant and it is often considered to be the “most powerful antidepressant” ever made. That being said, if they do indeed require an anti-anxiety drug, then a milder drug may be needed so you don’t get the “zombie” effect. The one that I used was Buspirone which is a generalized anxiety disorder drug that simply mellowed the cats, not sedated them heavily. However, you can discuss this with your vet since he has intimate knowledge of your cats.

As I mentioned at the onset, you can’t rush things. It took me around 6 months to get those two fools back together and here we are, 4 years later, and an occasional episode will happen where one swats the other one. It helps to discern which one is the aggressor and which one is the more timid victim that only defends itself. In my case, Revlon was the aggressive culprit while L’Oreal Blaze was the more timid scapegoat. It was strange because Blaze is the larger cat and normally had appeared on equal footing with Revlon until we brought another cat into the house. Then all hell broke loose.

As you already know by the title of your inquiry…the term typically used for this behavior is “redirected aggression” and this term applies when one cat takes out its fear or anger on a cat that is not the original source of the fear or anger. Think of a person at the office that gets into a situation at work, then comes home and takes it out on household members who have nothing to do with the original episode. This is also “redirected aggression”.

You have to be aware that for a long time you may have to keep the cats separated and begin a desensitization program that will involve gradual reintroduction. Don’t rush anything. You may have tried to reunite them too soon. Like you, I have a multilevel house and was I able to separate them. A housemate cat can become the permanent scapegoat after an episode. For instance, every time the aggressing cat gets upset it continues to associate those bad feelings with the mere presence of the scapegoat cat and then attacks it. The poor scapegoat cat begins to act like a fearful victim and that only encourages the aggressor to continue the behavior. Since cats only respond to positive reinforcement and cannot be trained by negative reinforcement (or punishment) everything you do has to be based on positive reinforcement such as being rewarded with food treats as a reward for good behavior towards the other cat.

Felines identify their family group not by looks but by scent. This scent is shared when they groom each other and sleep together. So try feeding the cats at the same time, but on opposite sides of the door so they can associate each other’s smell with the good things like food. You said that they aren’t eating much so switch out the plates temporarily so they can sniff the bowls and become even more familiar with each other’s smell and if there is food left they will associate the smell of the other cat as positive.

Something I use consistently throughout my house because I now have 6 cats is Feliway, a feline pheromone that simulates the scent on a cat’s cheeks and helps calm them. It comes in bottles that you plug into the wall and each bottle last about a month. It also comes in a spray and I spray the carrier with it when a cat is going to the vet to help calm them. It doesn’t work on all cats but is effective with a large percentage of them. It’s not cheap but I have found that the least expensive supply, frequently on sale is at Entirely Pets. You will find the link on my Pet Products page. Simply type Feliway into their search box. Sometimes Amazon has some good prices as well.

Further information is on my other pages that cover this topic: Cat Aggression, Cat Behavior Medications, and Cat Behavior Problems.

Another technique is to rub the cats with towels and switch from one to the other, mixing their scents. Switch their litter boxes periodically. Place a toy under the door and let them both play with it (you may have to tie two toys together so they each have something on their end of the string). When you first attempt to let them be together, place one in an open mesh-type container or a carrier that has lots of viewing area. Let them see each other and smell each other through the mesh or small holes/ bars of the carrier. When they perform well during this scenario, try letting them be in the same room without a barrier but have a pillow handy to throw if there is a confrontation. Some people use a water squirt gun to diffuse a situation between their cats but I tend to use a small jar with pennies in it. A quick shake of that jar and all attention is on me rather than another cat…or they’ve run for cover.

Of course when all else fails, there are behavior medications, but I suggest those only as a last resort. Hopefully, over time you can get your two housemate cats acting like housemate cats rather than enemies.

And, as crazy as it sounds, I frequently talk to my cats when there is an issue with one of them. I talk calmly as if it understands what I’m saying and look it straight in the eyes. I believe that they understand more than we think they do. Whether a cat gets “mind pictures”, picks up hints from your body language or the soothing sound of your voice or you pointing to a broken ornament, I do believe that they understand what you are communicating to them.

I wish you luck with this problem...and remember it is going to take time and patience.

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