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serious inter-cat aggression--help!

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 
Hi everyone, thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

I fear we really botched introducing these two cats, and now we have a serious problem that I have no idea how to deal with. I'm going to describe their history in some detail below, but the short version is that we have a 4-year old female (Zoe) and a 2-year old male (Oliver) that were introduced just over 6 months ago, and Zoe apparently despises Oli and will attack him at any opportunity. In response Oli has become incredibly timid, anxious, and I dare say depressed. He will not explore and is only comfortable in very high places. He will not come down to eat, and will not venture as far as the litter box--he'd sooner use a wastepaper basket or just the floor than risk being attacked on his way too or from the litter.

So, in somewhat more detail:

We live in a Manhattan apartment, so it's small--roughly 800 square ft., bedroom, office, living room, kitchen, bathroom. This was my girlfriend's place before I moved in, she had two cats at the time, Oliver (2 year old male), and Sakura (1 year old female). I brought my beloved Zoe (4 year old female) with me when I moved in. We kept her separate in the bedroom for a couple weeks before allowing them to meet each other. At first, everything seemed fine. We then gave Zoe free access to the apartment, and started feeding them all together. It was around this time that we noticed that Zoe was showing aggression towards Oliver pretty frequently. Then they both got eye infections (obviously we treated these right away), presumably from fighting. It was around this time that Oliver took to spending all his time on top of the fridge, and would no longer come down to eat. We started feeding him on the shelf next next to the fridge. And then he started using the corner of the kitchen floor in lieu of a litter box, rather than use the box that is literally two feet outside the kitchen door.

For what it's worth, Sakura has never had any issues at all whatsoever with either Oli or Zoe. Except that when Zoe attacks Oli when she's around, she'll usually try to fight Zoe off. And shortly after an attack she'll usually walk up to Zoe and slap her in the face. Zoe doesn't seem to mind--she doesn't fight back, but it also doesn't seem to be any kind of deterrent.

Obviously we weren't willing to let Oli use the kitchen as a toilet, and we're not about to put a litter box in the kitchen (it's small), so we moved him into the bedroom (with litter) and began keeping the door closed. He lived there, with all the behavioral signs of depression, for probably two months. Any attempt to get him to stay in the living room, even if Zoe was locked up somewhere else (e.g. the office), was met with panic and a quick dash back to the bedroom--if we closed that door, he'd hide behind the bathroom door or in the bathtub, or maybe he'd run to the top of the fridge.

Based on advice I'd seen online, we got a couple of (large) scratching posts, and a few cat beds, and put them around the house, with the intent of giving Oli more places to hide and feel comfortable in. While the cats did obviously like their posts (we put one in the living room that Zoe "claimed"--although it's three levels, and Sakura clearly owns the top level, Zoe is relegated to the middle one--and the other one in the bedroom that Oli has taken to), it didn't really do anything to ameliorate the aggression.

At any rate, things weren't really getting better. My girlfriend felt terrible that Oli was so uncomfortable in the living room, so we decided to switch them and confine Zoe to the bedroom and let Oli have free run of the rest of the apartment. It took a couple of days, but eventually he got comfortable, and pretty much went back to being how he was before his tormentor moved in.

Obviously it wasn't ideal to have Zoe confined to the bedroom, but it worked for a while. And for what it's worth, any time she managed to sneak out of the room she would immediately hunt down Oliver and attack him. Pretty much without fail, if she got out of the room and we didn't notice, Oli would end up with a scratch on his face somewhere.

Now, there are two additional factors that mean we can't really have a cat sequestered in the bedroom over the long-term. First, my girlfriend is mildly allergic to cats, and is also mildly asthmatic. If we're not extremely careful about keeping the place clean, she ends up spending a night unable to breath in her own bed. Second, she is now pregnant, so we can't really have litter in the room because of the risk of toxoplasmosis.

We put Soft Paws on Zoe to reduce the risk of injury to Oliver, and tried reintroducing them. But now Oliver just hides on top of the microwave or on top of the hutches on our desks (which are quite high), and will not leave whichever room he is in under any circumstance (not to eat, not to go pee, not even to go from one room to the other). In fact he's so nervous that if you pick him up in one room to take him to the other, he starts frantically clawing at you or anything he can get his hands--even just being carried through the living room is apparently extremely traumatic for him. Again, because of the pregnancy we're reluctant to put a litter box in the office (although I'm trying to convince my girlfriend that this is the best solution for now). But of course, the best solution would be for Zoe to stop trying to kill the poor guy.

Please, any advice you might have, anything at all, would be extremely appreciated.

Thanks in advance.
post #2 of 5
You have three cats. Though you have a smaller apartment (which is probably a small bit of the problem here) you need at least 3 or even 4 litter boxes. As for your girlfriend, tell her to restrain those wild urges to run over and play in the litter Having more boxes and in more rooms will not make her sick, she'd have to handle old feces and not wash her hands for that to happen. You don't need one in the kitchen, of course, as that truly is a bad idea.
Because Oli is afraid of using the current box- holding his pee could put him at risk for urinary problems.

It sounds like you've already attempted some form of reintroduction, maybe try it yet again and focus on making them smell all the same (or at least Zoe and Oli) and try using feliway diffusers.

And as bad as it sounds, some cats just cannot learn to tolerate certain cats. There are members here who have to keep some cats completely separated from each other - though they have homes and not apartments to try to manage this in.
post #3 of 5
I don't have much advice, but I just wanted to add my sympathy for dealing with 3 cats in a small space!

If oli likes the bedroom and wants to chill in there (with the door open), is there anything wrong with that? It doesn't really solve the agression problem, but maybe if you gave him a high perch or a bed on a dresser or something where he could hang out - would Zoe come in the bedroom and attack?

Have you taken Zoe to the vet to see if there might be any sort of meds for her to chill out? Not on a permanent basis, but just temporarily - then perhaps you could separate them, and reintroduce them?

Sometimes if my cats scuffle too agressively, I try to re-direct their behavior with a laser pointer on the wall to chase (which is also entertainment for me!) Not sure if the fighting is to intense to be distracted.

Good luck!
post #4 of 5
Unfortunately, it could be that Zoe just doesn't like Oliver. I feel bad for poor Oli. I have 2 cats that DO NOT get along (Gizmo and Little One), and now Little One basically doesn't like any other cat thanks to him. I never did figure out how to calm them down, but Gizmo will attack, or stalk every time he gets a chance. Luckily I live on a farm on a dirt road with very little traffic, so I do have the option of putting one outside while the other is inside. In the winter, the basement is Little One's domaine, but I know you don't have that option in an apartment.

I agree, try feliway if you haven't already. Making them smell the same with vanilla (base of the tail and on the top of the nose) may help. I also would check with a vet and see if their is an anti-anxiety drug you can get for Zoe that will calm her down at least long enough to accept him. She may never will, but she should be able to live in the same house. And see if there is something for Oli too. I had to over-medicate pets but sometimes they just need it, and it sounds like Oli is a basket case right now, and I don't blame him.

One question, are all of them fixed? I just reread your post, and realized that Zoe is the new one in the apartment (lived at your house before). If Oli isn't fixed she could be picking up on that even if she is. She was also thrown into a new enviornment from a place where she was the queen cat, to a place where she has to share with two resident cats. It could be that it will just take time (the older the cat, the harder the adjustment a lot of the times). If Zoe is not having a problem with Sukura but is with Oli, I'm guessing Oli was the alpha in the house. Normally if there's a problem and everyone is fixed, it's the females that don't get along (in my experience, but every cat is different). She probably has no problem with Sukura since she defers to Zoe (except with the cat tree...gotta make trades sometimes) but she probably felt like she had to assert to Oli that SHE ruled this house. Cats still have a hierarchy and it needs to be figured out when someone new comes in and it can take some time (and a lot of stress). Explain the situation to your vet and see what he thinks.

As for the extra litter boxes, they are needed, and your wife isn't going to get sick unless she actually ingests the litter. A lot of doctors are misinformed about that (old school). You may want to take over cleaning the boxes just to be safe, but just having them around isn't going to cause any harm.
post #5 of 5
Thread Starter 
Thanks so much everyone. For the time being we've moved a box into the office and are keep the door closed, to keep them separated for now and so Oli can use the box and move about the room freely. I'm going to try most of the things suggested here over the next little while. And yes, all the cats are fixed.

Thanks again. I'll report back in a while once we get a chance to try some of these suggestions!
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