by Barbara George – Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
The most common causes of conflict between cats in a multi-cat household are competition for resources, including attention from people, and a threat to safety from inside the house.
Adding a new cat to the home means the existing cats have to divide the territory further to allow each cat to have their own space. This is a major cause of conflict, especially when either one, or both, cats were not successfully socialised or lost those skills when living as a solo cat. These cats will use their instinctive behaviour, which is to frighten away the other cat, or fight.
When one or more cats leave the home, there is available territory to be annexed by other cats. This can change the dynamics of relationships between the remaining cats, especially when the one to leave owned the most valuable territory.
Another cause of conflict is when cats become socially mature. An older cat may allow a kitten a certain amount of leeway, but as the kitten becomes mature and tries to establish ownership of resources, conflict can arise. The kitten has become a competitor for resources.
Similarly, as cats age or become ill, younger cats with stronger personalities can encroach on the resources owned by the older cat.
Pregnant cats, or mothers with nursing kittens, will defend their kittens. This can cause conflict between the queen and any other cat, or even re-directed conflict between two other cats, one of whom has been challenged by the queen.
A less confident cat can defend specific areas of the house, or resources, which are important to him.
Cats are designed to use their minds and bodies each day in the search for food. This is not required when they live with us, making boredom a problem for many cats. Bored cats can use conflict as a means of entertainment, something interesting to do to fill the hours.
A cat that is concerned, fearful, or behaving unnaturally, can retaliate in a way that causes more conflict. This can be seen when the cat carrier comes out for one to go to the vet, and again and opportunity for conflict when he returns, smelling different and not recognisable as one of the family.
A single traumatic event, not directly related to the cats, can cause conflict. This could be two cats sleeping close to each other when fireworks are set off, frightening both of them. Each one thinks the other created the noise, so there is conflict between them, and possibly any others who were around at the time of the event.
We also create conflict among our cats; they pick up on our emotions and change their behaviour to remain safe. If we are angry, stressed, or frustrated, that will affect the cats. If we shout or throw items around, or act unpredictably, maybe while watching TV, we can cause conflict between cats.
Any cat that feels he cannot stand up to the aggressor can re-direct their frustration and tension towards another cat, or even a person or other pet.
Conflict is a form of stress; stress leads to behaviour changes, while high levels of stress, or continued stress, can cause illness.
To contact Barbara, please email firstname.lastname@example.org