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My cats don’t get on. What can I do?

If your cats don't get on, take a look at these top tips from pet behaviourist Jon Bowen to help you recognise the signs of tension between your cats and learn how to prevent it.

Jon Bowen is an Honorary Lecturer in Small Animal Behaviour at the Royal Veterinary College.

If cats had a motto it would be “keep your head down, and stay out of trouble”. This is why the commonest signs of tension between cats are quite subtle. Hissing and spitting, chasing and cornering, ambushing and fighting are very clear signs of conflict, but cats only resort to these behaviours when a situation is already getting out of control.

Just as the shocking family argument that erupts at the dinner table is really the culmination of months, or years, of unresolved disputes, a fight between cats is the end result of many petty arguments.

Once fights break out between cats it is very hard for them to trust each other again. By intervening when signs are subtle, it is possible to head off much more serious problems later on. The more cats have free access to food and water, a choice of resting places and time out from each other the better they will get along.

Obvious signs of tension between cats

Growling, hissing and spitting

These are the feline equivalent of swearing, and are always an indication that the relationship between cats is uneasy, even if at other times they seem to get along.

Chasing and cornering

Chasing is a common part of play between cats, but when one cat ends up cornered, tense and hissing then things are getting out of hand.

Ambushing and fighting

Again, ambushing can be part of a game, but if a fight ensues then the ambushed cat is not playing any more.

Minor injuries

Cats try to avoid physical conflict, so repeated minor scratches and bites should not happen in a household with happy cats.

Subtle signs of tension between cats

Doing nothing

To avoid attracting attention, cats will quietly stay in the same place or hide out of sight.

Shiftiness

When cats creep around, seeming furtive and jumpy, this is a sign of stress and insecurity.

Staring

This is a form of intimidation, challenging the other cat to turn around and walk away.

Eviction

If one cat walks up and pushes another away from where it is eating or resting, this is both a sign and a cause of conflict.

Signs cats are getting on well

Tail up greetings

When cats meet they often approach with their tails help upright. This shows confidence and a willingness to say hello. Cats that stroll around the house with their heads up and tails held high are confident and relaxed.

Trilling and chirruping

When cats pass each other or meet after a few hours they will often make a quiet trilling noise as a greeting.

Mutual grooming

For cats to approach and groom each other takes trust. However, some cats will become defensive if the grooming goes on too long and this can indicate that the relationship is not ideal.

Top tips

Build independence

Cats get on best when they can live independently, so give each cat its own food, water, and litter tray. Provide outdoor access using a cat door, as this gives cats greater freedom to come and go as they please. Cats prefer to eat 10-12 small meals each day, rather than one or two big meals, so food should be available at all times.

Increase mental and physical stimulation

The best way to do this is to allow cats more outdoor access, but the indoor environment can be improved by providing more scratching, resting and climbing places. Specialised cat furniture can be a perfect way to do this.

Provide entertainment

Play is a good way for cats to release stress and tension, so break out the fishing toy several times a day. Consider giving some of your cat’s food using an activity feeder such as a ball that dispenses treats when the cat rolls and chases it.

Feliway

This natural pheromone can help to improve the relationship between cats.

Prevent home invasion

One of the biggest sources of tension between resident cats is home invasion by non-resident cats. This puts resident cats on edge and makes them wary whenever they see a cat, even one that they would normally get along with.  Installing a secure cat door that grants access only to your pet(s) enables him to feel safe in his core territory (the home).

Prevention

Spot the signs early

If you see subtle signs of tension, do something to improve the environment before the situation gets worse.

Periods of separation

A classic time when trouble starts between cats is after a visit to the vet, such as for neutering or a dental check. The returning cat should be kept isolated from other cats for a couple of hours to allow it to groom and get rid of any strange scents it might have picked up.

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