|From Foes To Friends, More
How We Convinced Three Cats To Pretty Much Get Along
This is a short article about how we had success in getting three cats to peacefully coexist. We hear about this challenge often from our friends and customers, so we hope this is educational and that it helps lift your spirits and gives you hope if you're dealing with such a challenge in your own population.
In addition to this article, you should also read the article How To Introduce A New Kitty To Your Household.
We rescued an ear-tipped female cat from the woods in front of our home. In fact, we believe that someone in the local animal-welfare community deemed her friendly enough to be a housecat, and knew that we'd likely find a place for her in our home, so they dropped her off at our wooded property. That's just conjecture, but we feel it's probably true.
Well, she wasn't exactly all that friendly at first. It took a l-o-t of work to get her to trust us, and there was a significant bite involved that required some medical attention (for me, not her), but we finally got to be good buddies. It took hours of my sitting on the ground and on our brick steps outside in the cold, as well as many hours of throwing scraps of food on the driveway in an attempt to lure her into our garage. I was finally successful, though, and once we had coaxed her into a hallway, she proved to be quite the lover.
She and I had become so bonded that I really wanted to make her a housecat (versus living in our private rescue facility with our other cats, virtually all of whom are special-needs.) Having had three decades of experience at introducing new cats, we set to work and expected the usual success.
At first, we kept her secluded in a guest bedroom, then a bathroom, then another bedroom, then my wife's office, which has glass French doors. The latter allowed our other two housecats (both special-needs rescues) to see the new kitty, whom we'd named Tipper (due to her ear-tip). This went pretty well, as all along, we had been swapping towels and pet beds so they could all get used to each other's scents.
But when the time came to finally open the office doors and let the meet each other in person, well, it was instantly World War III. Both our housecats, Gracie (the short-haired gray female, who is our alpha cat and has a bit of a personality) and Wendy (the long-haired Tortie, who has a lover's personality) went ballistic. They were very violent with Tipper, and even displayed displaced aggression toward each other. It was horrible — for all of us.
We pulled out all the tricks we'd learned over the years, including feeding "calming treats" in an effort to mellow out the girls. We even upped Gracie's dose of Paxil a bit (she's been on an exceptionally small dose for years), but to no avail. Never ones to give up, though, we kept at it, doling out kindness in a communal way whenever the opportunity presented itself. One thing that really seemed to help these three was "brushing parties," in which we'd brush or comb them all in a group. (We recommend rotating-tooth combs for long-haired cats, by the way, as they don't pull the fur as much.) We also slowly began to feed them little individual plates of wet food in the same room, moving the plates closer over time 'til they were practically eating off the same plate.
Slowly, there was a tiny bit of softening on the part of Wendy and Gracie, but not enough to consider the job finished.
But then we discussed the matter some more with our vet and she said there had been some good success reported lately with using Buspar (a human drug) to help timid cats get over their fear and become more confident. We agreed to give it a try at the lowest dose possible.
Tipper tolerated Buspar well, but the lowest dose didn't seem to be cutting it, so we upped it a bit, sometimes even only on alternating days. This seemed to help Tipper become more adventurous and self-assured, but at the higher dose she was also sometimes a bit manic, so we backed it down.
Now Tipper ventures out of the kitchen & sunroom area where she used to stay full-time, even going upstairs and downstairs to different rooms. Sometimes, she'll even sleep or just lie, relaxed, on one of the beds upstairs, which is a real joy for us to see. She still considers the sunroom and kitchen area to be her home-base, which is fine with us as long as she feels as if the rest of the house is hers, too.
These days, it's very rare for Gracie to ever lash out at Tipper, though she still does it once in awhile. When Tipper is full of confidence and doesn't cower for Gracie, things stay pretty even-keeled. But when Tipper acts afraid, Gracie capitalizes on the fear, and decides to go after Tipper like prey. We keep encouraging Tipper to stand up for herself. In fact, I'd love to see her womp on Gracie one time, just to let Gracie know that her sporadic aggressive behavior is not going to be tolerated.
Tipper and Wendy get along pretty well now, even licking each other's heads once in awhile. They're not buddy-buddy to the degree we'd like them to be, but now they more than tolerate each other. That's a big change, as Gracie's lousy attitude had really rubbed off on Wendy; she was to the point of horribly terrorizing Tipper.
The crowning achievements were when we got the girls to all lie on our guest bed together, then, months later, when we saw them all spontaneously lying together on a pet bed in the morning sun in the sunroom off our kitchen.
The house is much more harmonious now, both for the humans and the animals. Life is good.
We are hopeful that by hearing this case study, you'll gain confidence and hope with regard to introducing new cats to your own household of existing cats. Stick with it, never let 'em see you sweat, keep the brush & comb handy (and perhaps a Zoom Groom, which they also love)...and one day you, too, will be taking pictures like these and saying to yourself, "Boy, I remember when those two hated each other..."
These photos are © Copyright
2009, 2010 Eric Smith and may not be reproduced
Here are photos we shot back when Tipper was living in our yard and woods, then once we coaxed her inside. Early-on, during the feed-her-in-the-driveway period, we made the mistake of trying to nab her and get her into a pet carrier to take her to the vet. That didn't go well, as I didn't wear the special gloves we normally use for handling feral cats (which she turned out not to be, but was THAT day!). I got very badly bitten and had to be on Augmentin for 10 days. My hand swelled up something fierce and there was a time when it got a little scary, even for an old pro like me, who's been bitten many times over the years. I ultimately healed, though, and forgave her for biting me. It was our fault, as we shouldn't have tried the brute force approach.
UPDATE: Sadly, Gracie
passed away, so we were left with just Wendy and Tipper. Instead of
this drawing them closer together, though, it seemed to drive them apart, at
least for a number of months. Some of this could have been due to the
apple cart having been upended by Gracie's passing, which totally changed
the dynamic in the house. It took quite a long time for sweet old
Wendy to quit beating up on Tipper, but it finally subsided and Wendy began
to lick Tipper's head again, illustrating to us once more that you should
never give up hope that two cats will begin to get along.
Sadly, Wendy passed away, so we were left with only Tipper. BUT...before Wendy passed away, another kitty began hanging around by our front door and camping out in our woods. We spent many weeks feeding her, attempting to get her to let us pet her, etc., but she really played hard to get.
Tipper would watch us through the windows on the front of our house, and would exhibit a mixture of curiosity and disdain. She got to the point, though, where we both commented that Tipper seemed to be looking forward to seeing her "buddy" through the windows.
She seemed to somewhat enjoy being the only housecat, but then we both began to notice that she seemed needy and lonely, so it was our hope that we'd be able to get the new stray into our home. This took a lot of doing, but we finally managed to accomplish it.
The first issue we ran into, though, was that the kitty (who we kept sequestered, away from Tipper and Rocky, our rescued little dog) wouldn't use our litter boxes. It's not that she'd pee and poop everywhere else; she just wouldn't go. So Julie went outside and collected grass, twigs, some clean dirt, etc., and we mixed them in with a number of types of litter that are purported to attract cats. Here's a photo of the litter boxes all lined up. At first, she wouldn't take to this arrangement, but then the kitty, who we'd named Ashley (due to our cancelling a trip to Blue Ash, OH, to stay home and catch her), began to use the litter. Slowly, she developed a favorite box, but we began to bit by bit remove the twigs and leaves, then blend the litter with our usual DooDoo Voodoo cat litter. She ended up fully litter box compliant.
Except for when we finally introduced her and Tipper. WWIII again. Tipper seemed not to be able to make a connection between Ashley in the house and Ashley when she was hanging around outside. This caused a great deal of distress for Ashley, who definitely wanted to be Tipper's friend, so Ashley expressed her displeasure by jumping up on Tipper's favorite couch and peeing on it more than once. Thankfully, DooDoo Voodoo totally handled the situation.
Ashley did her part in fitting into the household pecking order, though: she played the submissive kitten role very nicely, always deferring to Tipper. But Tipper got extremely depressed and withdrawn, even though we were showering her with kindness and making sure she knew she was the alpha cat. She spent many months sleeping on a particular couch. It was quite sad to see, as we had had high hopes that Ashley would become Tipper's new buddy. This behavior lasted months and months, but slowly, as we kept working very hard to get them to trust/like each other, we began to see Tipper soften. They'd still get into disagreements from time to time, but then we noticed that Tipper would sort of follow Ashley around and vice versa. It was really cute to see.
Then Ashley started licking Tipper's head...and Tipper let her. She never reciprocated, though. This continued a couple months, then we began to see them lying closer and closer together, so we got the idea to put down a double-wide pet bed in one of their favorite spots to see if they'd both get in it. Within a couple hours, here's what we found:
[Sidebar: Ashley, shown on the left, with Tipper being on the right, exhibits many of the late Wendy's particular habits, as well as the late Gracie's particular habits. It's uncanny! We're convinced that Ashley is a combination of Wendy's and Gracie's spirits.]
This situation with Ashley and Tipper once again illustrates that you can ABSOLUTELY help two sparring cats to learn to get along...and that you absolutely expect them to get to the point where they not only tolerate each other, but actually like each other.
Don't give up the ship. Shower them both with kindness. Don't scold. Reinforce one of the cats' alpha status, but help him/her realize that when the secondary kitty is around, it means even more attention for the alpha. Soon, the alpha will begin to associate the secondary kitty with good feelings, not bad ones.