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Street Cat versus Neurotic Cat

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
Hi all, it’s my first post here and I was hoping that I could get a little help with our situation, I’m a writer by trade, so this story will get a little (or a LOT) long winded, but I figure all the details are important.

Originally, my girlfriend and I had one cat, he’s mine, a cat I rescued a little over 2 years ago from the Singapore SPCA named “Zero,†a lovely street/Siamese cross with blue eyes, light coloration and stripes so he looks like a little blue-eyed, silver tiger. He came previously from an abusive home (Or so I was told when I got him) that resulted in a deformed tail and a generally timid attitude. Over the last few years, he’s gradually come to relax and be quite loving with those he sees on a regular basis (IE, the girlfriend and I) though he still tends to hide under the sofa when strangers arrive and might come out eventually if it’s just one visitor, but rarely when there’s more than that. His nature is still essentially timid and frightened, but since we both work at home, he gets lots of love and attention. He’s been neutered. And he hasn’t had much experience socializing with other cats, until lately.

His first encounter with another cat since his SPCA rescue was, unfortunately, a violent one with a stray female that wandered into the kitchen (It was an old Singaporean house, and so the entrance to the kitchen was actually just a gate, bad for thieves, good for cats) because she’d claimed the kitchen bathroom as a kitten nesting area. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen Zero get violent, as for once in his life, he actually defended his territory and sent her running away. But over the last year or so, we’ve been a little more proactive in our rescuing of cats. The girlfriend even at one point decided to get a cat of her own. Having done some reading on cat behavior before, and knowing Zero’s inherent timidity, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy on him, and it wasn’t. He was pretty miserable when the new cat arrived, a female kitten, about four months old, and hissed at her, making low rumbling noises that sounded almost like a dog growling. The only time he ever came near her was in his attempts to smell her tail and bottom, which we found perplexing and which she didn’t seem to like at all. She was utterly confused by this, being a fairly outgoing, extroverted cat, but we figured in time, they would adjust. We never got the chance to find out, as the new cat ran away, something that somewhat traumatized the girlfriend.

The next time a new cat was introduced to him was after we recently moved to an apartment. Zero, being an only cat, had quite comfortably settled in by this time, but had that “only cat†syndrome of picking at his food every few hours, leisurely nibbling whenever the mood took him instead of wolfing his food down. We found a little female kitten (Not more than three weeks old) at a nearby construction site, mewling piteously and rescued it. Zero was immediately terrified of it and cowered in abject fear whenever it came near him, and he watched glumly as she went for his food whenever we weren’t paying attention. He did come ‘round eventually, to a degree; while his timid nature still caused him to run away at the slightest movement or act of play/aggression, he eventually got to the point where he was following her around and even trying to groom her, only to run away and hide when she would playfully bat at his nose or something. Eventually we found her a home and things returned to normal. We also rescued another cat we’d seen in the area that seemed to have gotten in a fight, a street male, but its injuries were fairly serious (bloodied face and all, difficulty breathing and moving) so it only spent a few hours with us before the SPCA came ‘round to pick it up, and the pitiful meowing coming from the laundry room (Now our standard cat quarantine area) piqued his curiosity more than anything else, since he never saw the cat.

Which brings us to the current situation, with our official new cat, Uno.

Uno is a very laid back, friendly street cat we’d been on good terms with for the last 6 months or so. She usually hung out by the benches and tables laid out in this nearby public housing apartment complex (In Singapore 85% of the population lives in these things, so they’re everywhere) where 3-5 older folks made the rounds every few hours to feed the MANY strays in the area, so she was remarkably well fed. Add to that there was a nearby office with a lot of Malays in it (Malays love cats and tend to indulge their appetites) and you have a very laid back, sociable and remarkably fat cat for the streets. We’d pass her by on the way to buy groceries or something and see her sunning on a bench and she always purred when we petted her.

My girlfriend had pretty much fallen in love with Uno and I have to admit, her slightly cranky expression and pudgy frame was pretty endearing to me too. The girlfriend occasionally perused the idea of formally adopting Uno to which I always said, “Maybe…â€

About a month ago, the whole cat culling program began in Singapore. This was a source of concern, but what really made the decision to bring Uno home a final one was when we were passing by one night and saw her getting chased by two black toms. We ran them off and took Uno home that night. Later on it turned out that she’d gotten bitten by the Toms and a trip to the vet revealed that the wound, at the base of her tail, had gotten infected and become an abscess that had to be lanced and drained. We did it, had the silly plastic cone wrapped around her head and took care of her, dutifully ramming a pill down her throat every 12 hours and holding her down to apply disinfectant and antibiotic powder to the now shaved area at the base of her tail.

Zero, unsurprisingly, did not take well to this. For the first week, we kept them completely separate, Zero in the rest of the apartment, Uno quarantined in the laundry room while she recovered from her ordeal. The laundry room has a glass door, so they could see each other through that, and we let Uno run around once in a while with Zero confined to the bedroom. Then after a week, we let her out to see what would happen. At first she seemed friendly and tried to approach him, but once again Zero made that low, growly noise and eventually, she gave up and contented herself with ignoring him.

Over the last few weeks, it seemed like it might work. Zero, as per his usual timid self, stayed far away from her, and we knew that while they would never be friends, this cautious détente where they at least didn’t fight was acceptable. However, over the last few days things have changed. We’re not sure if it’s because Uno may be going into heat or not, (She’s due to get neutered herself shortly) but Zero, while not actually trying to fight her, has been much more aggressively following her around and repeatedly trying to sniff at her tail and behind. It’s gotten to the point where the roles have reversed and now Uno is the one on the defensive, breaking into a hiss and her own low growl while Zero determinedly tries to get behind her to smell her. She’s taken a few swipes at him with her claw, and even chased him once in a while, but always to make him stop, breaking off as soon as he desists in his attempts to smell her.

Other behavior which is also kind of distressing is the fact that Zero doesn’t really seem to respect the fact that the laundry room is her territory. Whereas Uno has already realized the guest bathroom is his and stays away from his food bowl and litter box there, Zero has been going into the laundry room to drink water from her bowl, and to sleep in the box with blankets that we’d originally made out for Uno, but which she immediately abandoned in favor of sleeping on the laundry machine which gets sun beams.

We’ve been to the library and taken out a few books on cat behavior and are reading them now, but there’s a lot of conflicting advice with some people saying punish the cats, others saying don’t do that, some advising separation, and others advising to bring them together at meals and such to associate pleasure with each other’s company. We’re not sure what to do. This is definitely not the most serious case of cats not getting along by a long shot, but I can see the possibility for escalation. Last night we had to separate them and bring Zero into the bedroom when we heard a “cat fight meow†come from outside and when I went out to investigate, Uno was under the coffee table, “growlingâ€, and trying to push herself in more while Zero was first crouching, staring at her, then circling, trying to smell her tail once more. We moved his litter box and food into the bedroom bathroom and let him sleep with us on the bed, something he used to do at one point. Uno had free reign of the apartment last night. This morning as an experiment we let Zero out and Uno ignored him and things seemed back to normal until Uno walked past him, he saw her behind and immediately went into hunter mode, getting ready to pounce, at which point he did just that and Uno turned and hissed, swinging—and missing, just barely—with her claws. Zero has been back in bedroom since then and Uno has free reign in the apartment again.

We’re both pretty concerned at this point because Zero is displaying some fairly noticeable changes in behavior since Uno arrived. He’s stopped purring for one thing, though this also held true for the other cats when they arrived. He’s also very quiet, which is distressing because he used to be quite vocal and have a wide range of almost c conversational meows that are now largely gone. We’ve also noticed that since he got stuck in the bedroom today, he spends most of his time doing nothing but grooming; his fur is damp all the time.

We’re kind of confused by the wealth of information available. On the one hand, we figure that Zero may be the dominant cat just because he’s so used to being the only one, and even though he’s physically more than a match for Uno, his timidity makes pretty non-confrontational. On the other hand, it seems like Uno doesn’t really WANT to be the dominant cat and prefers to simply sit and be left alone, since she makes no moves towards his things or territory and only reacts when Zero tries to smell her. Should we just let Uno be the dominant cat? Should we let Zero? Is this a result of her going into heat and it’ll pass once she gets out of it? She’s not yowling or anything, merely rubbing her face against objects a lot more. Is this simply because this is the first time Zero’s ever had to really deal with having another permanent housemate?

Feliway, by the way, is unavailable in Singapore and while we could order it online, the harsh shipping/quarantine of pharmaceutical restrictions of the island pretty much guarantee a minimum three month wait before we can access it while all the paperwork is being done to clear it.
post #2 of 6
Bravo to you and your girlfriend for rescuing these cats. I've read about the culling in Singapore, and have been horrified by it.

Believe it or not, I think things are going very well for Uno and Zero. Since there have been no attacks with blood and fur flying, I think the introduction of Uno to the family is going amazingly well.

I also strongly believe that once Uno is spayed, the problems will decrease dramatically.

Have you tried Hissy's trick of putting a dab of vanilla under the chin and at the base of the tail of both cats? Everyone finds this amazingly successful when introducing two cats. Cats are very scent-driven, so making the two smell the same can be very helpful.

Also, I strongly suggest moving the food an water out of the bathroom. Cats do not like to eat or drink anywhere near where they potty. I think you will find that Zero will be much happier if his food and water are moved to the kitchen or elsewhere.

Please keep writing in and asking questions. We have a bunch of cat experts here who can give you lots of help.
post #3 of 6
I forgot to suggest that you read an article written by Mary Anne (Hissy) about introducing cats. She cares for feral cats (just like Uno) and has much experience introducing new ferals into her family of cats. Please click here for her article.
post #4 of 6
Bravo to you for saving these cats! I read your story with great interest. If you would like to submit articles here on the catsite to be published at a later date about these cats, send them to me would you please? maryanne@thecatsite.com

Your introductions are going quite well. I know you don't believe this, but they are. Zero's tendencies are not that he is timid, but probably based on his early life experiences of living on the street. Especially such mean streets as I have read they are.

One of the tricks I would try with these two is get a long piece of string and tie a catnip toy to each end. Give one toy to Uno, and on toy to Zero, run the string under the door so there is one toy on each side for the cats to play with. When one cat makes a grab for a toy- the other will grab on her side and a nice game of tug-of-war will ensue with the cats meeting at the crack of the door eventually. It is a great ice-breaker
post #5 of 6
Thread Starter 
Thanks all.

The support and advice have been helpful so far.

I'm just wondering, what about the "dominance" issue? Perhaps this is just paranoia on our part, but after reading about other owners who try to force one cat or another to be dominant when its inappropriate, I worry that we might erroneously step all over the cat who is naturally dominant, or elevate a cat that isn't into a position that he/she is ill equipped to handle.

Also lotsocats said,

I also strongly believe that once Uno is spayed, the problems will decrease dramatically.
Which I'm curious about. I was under the impression that the whole issue of behavior change after spaying/neutering had to do with territoriality issues, such as spraying, aggressiveness and of course, yowling like a banshee when in heat.

So how will this affect the situation? Uno herself doesn't seem particularly territorial, she just wants to be left alone, while Zero, normally a very scared cat, carries on with this bizarre fetish for trying to smell her tail and rear.

Do you mean that Uno may be in some kind of "low key" heat without all the hysterics and yowling and Zero is responding to that because of mass pheromone emission?

I hope we're doing the right thing, as we love both cats and don't want to be treating either of them badly. It distresses us to see Zero upset over his confinement, but it's also distressing to see Uno cringing underneath to coffee table to get away from his non-violent but very persistent attention. It's gotten to the point where we're breaking out the squirt bottle when he goes in her room to try and sniff her.
post #6 of 6
Sniffing her is entirely natural. Cats have scent glands under their tails and this is how they identify with each other, as they are scent driven. I would get her spayed though, as that will help the issue. No one can force a cat to be dominant, it is just in their instincts, you leave them alone unless they are really fighting (locked together clawing and biting) and they figure it out for themselves. First, they need to trust you. Once they trust you everything else works out fine.

Just relax, you really are worried about nothing at this point. From where I sit, this relationship is going well. But I would still get your female spayed.
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