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Kitty MMA: Addressing Inter-Cat Conflict

One of the most common feline behavior cases that I see is inter-cat conflict, which is fighting or conflict between cats living in the same home. There are SO many things that can cause this, from health issues with one or more cats to a rogue neighborhood cat coming onto the property and stressing everyone out. While there are some minor variations in how I approach addressing this problem, there is a general road map that is laid out:

  • Management. The purpose of management is twofold: The first is to prevent the cats from continuing to get into altercations. The second is to prevent the cats from continuing to build a negative association with one another. For example, if one cat subtly prevents another cat from accessing the litter box by laying in the threshold to the room with the litter boxes, then that creates stress for the cat that is the victim. The “bully” cat is the predictor of stress/fear.

  • Management can include changing things in the environment to decrease stress (including separating the cats that have conflict), incorporating some sort of stress relief product, and increasing mental enrichment (which burns four times the amount of energy that physical exercise does and is a natural stress relief).

  • Once we have a solid management plan in place, then we are ready to train. Yes, cats have the ability to learn! A saying that Jolene and I use frequently is that, “Behavior science applies to all species,” which just means that any sentient being has the ability to learn and how they learn is similar across the board.

  • We start with teaching all cats involved a marker word or sound, then go into teaching foundational cues and healthy coping mechanisms. These are tools in both the cats’ toolbox as well as the human’s that help them navigate stressful/tense social situations in order to avoid an altercation.

  • Foundational cues can include hand targeting, a flight cue, mat training, and relaxation protocols.

  • Once foundational cues are mastered, then we are able to get into the meat and potatoes of the plan, which is to change the cats’ association with one another in order to create long-lasting behavior change. This is the portion of the plan that takes the most time. A realistic timeline for most inter-cat conflict cases is progress measured in months, not weeks.

  • Changing emotional associations are accomplished through a process called desensitization and counterconditioning, playing pattern games, and shaping good social decisions.

Working with an experienced feline behavior consultant is crucial to success because there are many factors that go into deciding when the cats are ready for the next difficulty level in the game plan, like being in the same room as one another. The big takeaway from this is that it IS possible to create peace in your household with management, consistency, and commitment.

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