Cat Behavior E-mail

Fighting Turf Wars

All cats are territorial to a degree, but for some cats (either male or female), territory is everything and they'll do whatever it takes to be king of the castle. Naturally, other cats in the household may not agree, leading to constant battles for territorial dominance and sometimes outright fighting and bloodshed. It’s best to remember that in the wild cats are solitary hunters, each with his own separate territory. Cats are not great at sharing as a rule, but the ones who live harmoniously together in confined areas have learned to live with smaller territories – such as a favorite room or piece of furniture – or through sharing limited space at different times of day. This cease-fire arrangement is a very delicate balance, so anything that disturbs the situation can potentially lead to aggression and fights; a new apartment or a piece of new furniture can easily disturb the peace and lead to turf arguments. And adding a new cat to the household is guaranteed to causes stress and battles over turf and authority for a long time to come; it takes time, but cats usually find a way to work out these new-cat arrangements over a period of months or years.

A turf war builds as the dominant cat in the household starts to guard favorite objects and places, and begins to threaten or attack lesser-ranked cats in the house. Depending on the temperaments of the lesser cats, they may make concessions and give up using the object/area, or only use it when the dominant cat is away. When territory-based aggression occurs inside the home, a kitty will hiss, spit and growl at his housemates as a preliminary warning. In an attack, the aggressor (probably the dominant cat) will be the one that jumps at another cat’s rear. Telltale wounds would show up on the tail and rear legs of the more submissive cats, and on the face of the one who picked the fight. Submissive cats in this stressful situation often begin to spray around the house to remark their territory.

Punishment never works in curbing kitty aggression- It only makes the problem worse. Your cat will become fearful or resentful toward you, and will likely take out his added frustration on the other cats. Instead of getting mad, just immediately withdraw all affection and approval as soon as an incident of aggression occurs. Feed him at mealtime, give him clean water as you did before, but stop playing with him, praising him, stroking or otherwise validating him for an hour or so after any display of aggression. Kitty will learn fast that aggressive behavior means the loss of his most important treasure: your snuggly love and approval.

These suggestions should help reduce the likelihood of turf wars, and alleviate the stress associated with them:

• First and foremost: make sure all of your cats are spayed or neutered

• Provide your cats with plenty of scratching posts and stuffed toys to attack, instead of each other

• Create feline hidey-holes: special darkened places where more submissive cats can go to be alone. (for example, an open box with a soft blanket in it, tucked in the back of your clothes closet)

• Add floor-to-ceiling cat trees, window perches or kitty condos to your house; cats who live in groups tend to be more comfortable if they can "layer" themselves

• Provide one litterbox per cat plus one extra, and place them in widely separated areas; some cats will not use a litterbox if more dominant cats are nearby

• Reduce competition at mealtimes by providing several feeding stations - a more dominant cat can keep a timid kitty from the food bowl if there’s only one feeding location

• Remember that you’re the most important part of your cats' turf, so make sure to give each and every kitty some quality one-on-one snuggle time, every day

Facial pheromones also have a calming effect on cats and seem to encourage a more friendly and less aggressive attitude in these situations; Feliway is a synthetic facial pheromone that’s marketed to discourage territorial spraying, but it’s also been found to be effective in curbing aggression. Rescue Remedy is another all-natural calming remedy that can help alleviate tensions in a multi-cat household. Read more on Feliway and Rescue Remedy here. (link to Urine Behavior Problems)