Question from Diane:
I have a 7-year-old neutered male cat who sometimes fights with his brother and only one of his sisters (he has two). He will jump on them and bunny-kick them very aggressively and they are obviously in pain when he does this - as the screaming and flying fur attests. It's like he's temporarily in a trance. He acts quite normally before and after, I think, and I'm really not sure how to explain this behaviour to the vet. It's been going on for about two months now but there's been no major changes in the house in that time. The "queen" of the house died in January (no blood relation to this cat) but I can't link it to that since it was so long ago. Any ideas? Have you heard of that behaviour before? Thanks for your insight!
Answer from Amy:
My cats fight each other tooth and nails sometimes even though most of the time they seem to be best friends forever. In a multi-cat household, cats, especially male cats want to develop their social status by duking it out with other cats. The interesting thing is female cats do not usually engage themselves in a fight. Some of them naturally arise as the leader because of their calm and confident temperament.
Is it Medical?
If this is a sudden change of his behavior, it is highly recommended to consult a vet about your cat's behavior. In cats, sudden change of behavior can be an indication of an underlying illness. Stress is one of the symptoms commonly displayed in many medical sicknesses. Stress can cause aggression. You can consider having your cat seen by a vet to rule out any medical causes.
If the aggression is not due to illness, below will give you an idea of why cats fight and how to resolve this problem.
Why do Cats Fight?
In your case, the male cat is probably trying to display dominance to his brother and sisters. Also, the fights can be partly playful and partly territorial. Cats demand a spot in the house to be their own domain. If other cats encroach their territory, they may become aggressive in a way to show their dominance.
Often you see your cat in a prone position, ready to attack the other cat. The offender usually hops on the defender and then proceeds to bite into the other cat's neck. Don't worry. Their biting is not usually dangerous. Cats rarely injure themselves in a fight albeit the fight may seem to be very violent to us. Cats are ultra sensitive about protecting their safety and concealing their vulnerability. The most common injury from cat fights is an eye injury due to being scratched.
When you see a cat walking towards another cat with his hind quarters lifted, ears turned back, eyes constricted, you know that is the offender. The defender may be found lying down, belly up to engage all his weapons in order to defend himself.
How to Stop Them from Fighting?
Since cats need to have a spot to their own, having a big enough living area for them will reduce chances of them being territorial. Adding ramps and perches will help resolve some of the territorial conflicts.
Also, if some of your cats are still new to the household, it is possible that the male cat is not used to certain scents in the house. Cats rely strongly on their sense of smell to identify friend or foe. If they are in a place that they do not recognize, they become alert automatically. By rubbing down the other cat's body with a towel and giving it to the male cat to sniff and sleep on, it will help familiarize the cat with the new scent. [See How to Stop a Cat Fight]
If they have lived together for a long time, and suddenly he becomes aggressive, you will need to identify where the aggression stems from. There is a post I wrote before that addresses this issue: Cat Aggression Problem
One simple way to stop an ongoing fight is to clap your hands, blow an air-horn, or shake a canister filled with coins to startle the cats and break up their heated fight. Usually this is not a permanent fix because your cats may run off and find another room to continue their combat. If one cat seems to be bullying the other cat constantly, the best way is to separate them temporarily between one loosely closed door. This way, it blocks the offender from challenging the other cat while allowing them to smell each other and get used to their scent. You can also apply the towel technique to help accelerate the process.
Soothing music has the ability to calm and compose a cat and even put the cat to sleep. Harp music is the most effective out of all musical instruments. The plucked string produces an overtone that is audible to cats, but not to us. It somehow lowers the cat's heart rate, blood pressure levels, slows breathing, elevates endorphin levels and reduces stress. [See "Music Tames the Beast inside Your Cat]
Finally there are products in the market that are designed to reduce cat stress and aggression. One good product is called Feliway and Comfort Zone that diffuses a scent which is similar to cats' facial pheromone. This helps modify cats' behavior and reduce episodes of aggressive outbursts.