Feline Dominance

by Karen
(Utica, NY USA)

Rufus and his neck pillow

Rufus and his neck pillow

My cat problems are with my male cat who was introduced to our household 10 years ago when he was a kitten. At that time I also had two older male cats.

All went well until he grew up and became an Alpha cat. He then terrorized the two older males so much so they all had to be separated. Eventually the two older cats died at 18 and 19 years.

I really wanted more cats so with the advice of my vet I got two female kittens. All was fine, he loved the kittens, would wash them and sincerely care for them UNTIL they started to mature. Then he started his Alpha behavior again. One of the kittens was so afraid she would defecate and urinate when threatened by him. Our vet placed him on anti anxiety medication but it didn't help. I finally had to remove him from the house.

Fortunately friends took him into their home and he has been fine and so have we! (he was even living with two dogs). Now the friends say they are allergic and must return him. Now what do I do?

Reply from Liz (editor): Aggressive cat problems can have all sorts of causes. This is a particularly difficult one to tackle. I have some suggestions for you, I can't guarantee any of them will work unfortunately but hopefully they just may.

  • When he comes back, introduce them all slowly, as if they're meeting for the first time. For details of how to do this, click here - the page talks about introducing a new kitten to a cat, but the principles are exactly the same.

  • Try a Feliway diffuser. This is a pheromone substitute available from pet stores and online which humans can't smell but many cats find soothing. It does help to reduce aggression in some cats and stress in others, so may just have a positive effect on all of your cats. It doesn't work on every cat, so I don't want to give you false hopes, but in your situation I think it's definitely worth a try. I would plug it in a couple of days before the male comes back and keep it plugged in after he returns.

  • As soon as he approaches the females aggressively, say "No" loudly. Direct your voice straight at him so there's no doubt in his or the other cats' minds that he's the one being told off. If he continues to be aggressive, carry on with the next step below...

  • Discipline him. The best way to do this is to "scruff" him. This is the most effective way to discipline a cat, as it's the way a mother cat chastises her kittens. For details of how to do this, click here.

  • Distract him when he shows aggression to the females.
  • Ways to do this include squirting a water pistol at him (from behind, so he doesn't see it's you that's doing it), or throwing something at him which will distract him (a cushion or teddy bear will do, and there's no need to throw it hard).

  • Separate them for periods so the females don't get too stressed. This needn't be all the time, but it may be necessary when they're in the house without you.

  • Speak to the vet again about medication. There are several medications available to treat aggressive cat problems, and there could one that is more effective on your cat than the one that was tried before. You can also get medications for the females if necessary to de-stress them. If there's a vet in your area that specializes in behavior problems, visiting them would be a good idea.

If all the above fails, you may have to keep them separate. However, hopefully you can solve this using one or more of the suggestions above. Another thing in your favor is he's getting older now - as he starts to slow down he'll find it harder to be so aggressive towards younger, quicker cats (and he may just not have the energy).

I wish you the best of luck in solving these cat problems, and thank you for your question and for the gorgeous photo.

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