Monday, March 21, 2016

The secret life of cats: Can you name a top kitty stressor?

Popoki the cat with her toy
Go ahead: Name the top source of stress your cat faces in an average week. Did you think about vacuum cleaners, veterinary visits, empty food bowls or often-gone owners? I would have, about a week ago. But then I stumbled across a pretty fascinating interview that has changed my mind just a little bit.

In the article, the author interviewed a man who has spent his life researching all sorts of animals. For the last few years, he's focused on cats. Much of his work was done in shelter situations, but he has also done some home assessments. Sometimes, he works as a tacit observer of kitty behavior. And sometimes, he changes the equation by manipulating the cats with toys and food and other props.

In his opinion, the top source of stress most cats face comes from living with other cats in the home. This author thinks that cats just aren't as social as their canine counterparts, and that some cats simply never adjust to living with another cat they just don't like. Being forced to live with the cat they don't like causes them so much angst that it could imperil kitty health, the man says.

Popoki the cat with her toy

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least two "celebrity" cat trainers that would disagree. These people might suggest that cats who don't get along just need a better socialization plan. They need to learn to meet one another in controlled environments that have been optimized for cats. If that work is done, the cats should all get along just fine.

But, living with Popoki proves that some cats just don't like other cats. As many times as I have tried to introduce her to Maggie and Lucy, she simply will not learn to love them. We get to a point in the introduction process where the cats are loose together in the house, and Popoki either starts yelling with fear or forcing attacks. Slow and steady just doesn't work with her.

So maybe this guy is on to something. Maybe cats that simply don't get along now will never get along, and maybe forcing them to do so could be bad for their health.

But what's a person in this situation to do?

I am lucky enough to have a few cat-friendly environments. Popoki can stay in my writing studio with me while the girls lounge inside, or she can spend time in the family room while I hang out with Maggie and Lucy upstairs. Everyone gets mom time, and everyone stays separate.

Even without those ideal rooms, though, I could probably make things work. Site swaps where one cat stays in a bedroom and the other has free reign of the house also allow cats to live in the same house without touching one another. That could be a good solution for some cats, too.

But I'd love to hear from some readers out there that have managed to make unfriendly cats love one another. Can it happen? And if so, how did you do it? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

And, if you'd like to see part of the interview I based this article on, click here. Enjoy!


  1. We're pretty lucky because we all get along really well. If we really like a food, we'll even all eat together out of one bowl.

    The Florida Furkids

  2. I do think some cats like people are just more solitary figures. However, in most cases I think cats can learn to live together peacefully as along as their lots of different levels. One thing that is worked for us is to always have an even number of cats 2 or 4. When we have had 3 and one time 5, we had lots of conflict. I have also noticed this at the cageless shelter where I volunteer - even numbers are most peaceful. No idea if there's any truth to my theory, but it definitely plays out in our home

  3. That's very interesting. We think it also depends on the breed. Some breeds are known to be very social and don't do well alone. Most Sphynx, unless they've experienced trauma (ie. some rescue Sphynx) are very social creatures and thrive when another Sphynx is around.

  4. What do you do when your cats who grew up together start having issues?
    My male cat (6yrs old) in the last year or so has started attacking/mounting my female kitty randomly (5yrs old). We have tried natural remedies in their food, natural stuff in their water, kitty calming pheremone wall plugs, kitty calming collar.... i'm about to lose my mind. I think a vet trip might be in order. He's just a total jerk and i've had them both since they were kittens so I don't want to have to rehome him but I might if he keeps this up.
    Any suggestions? They are both fixed.

    1. This is an excellent question. I think you're right to start with a trip to the veterinarian. When my always-friendly cat (Eamon) started attacking the other two, I knew something was off. For him, that something was arthritis. Once his pain was controlled, he did better. But I might also suggest following a reintroduction protocol. I've used these steps from Jackson Galaxy with some success. (Popoki is the exception, as she doesn't seem to think she's a cat.) Anyway, here's the link: