Our New Cats Are Beating Up Our Old Cat. Help!

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

We had two cats currently in our home, one is almost 5 and the other is 3. We then brought in two newborns who were left near our doorstep when they were about 3 weeks old. We raised them by hand, and they’re now about 14 months old. The problem we are now running into is that the two younger kittens — who are actually now bigger than the 5-year-old cat — are picking on her. Now we’ve come to the point where my fiance is considering finding another home for the 5-year-old cat. I would really rather not do that, but I am not sure where to go from here. We’ve tried having the cat in a room alone during the day to separate her, but then at night when we keep the door open, the younger cats still try to attack her. She is always quite frightened and defenseless. What can we do without removing her from our house permanently?

~ Kevin

Kittens are adorable, but they can be a handful for an older cat. Two kittens, (CC-BY) by Flickr user Pietro Jr.

Kittens are adorable, but they can be a handful for an older cat. Two kittens, (CC-BY) by Flickr user Pietro Jr.

Siouxsie: Okay, Kevin. First of all, the older cat was in your home first. If it comes down to having to rehome cats, the best and fairest thing to do is keep your 5-year-old and rehome the kittens.

Thomas: Young cats have a much better chance of being adopted than older cats. Also, you and your fiance made a lifetime commitment to your older cat long before the kittens came along.

Bella: But the good news is that you may not have to rehome anybody. We think we can help you get things sorted out so that your older cat feels better and your kittens have better boundaries.

Siouxsie: Essentially, you’re going to have to do a re-introduction. But this time, you’re going to leave the kittens in the room and let your older cat have the run of the house.

Thomas: This will boost her confidence and allow her to explore her territory without fear of being jumped by the kittens.

Bella: We’d recommend that you get a couple of Feliway diffusers and place them in the common rooms of your home, particularly in rooms where your older cat has been ambushed by the kittens.

Siouxsie: Leave the kittens in their room for several days, but don’t forget to go in and visit and play with them. The point is that you want to get your 5-year-old used to moving safely and confidently around the house.

Thomas: After a day or so, do “scent swaps.” Take a sock and rub it along the sides of your 5-year-old cat’s face, where her scent glands are. Bring two socks into the kittens’ room and do the same thing with them. Then leave the adult-scent sock in the kittens’ room and the kitten-scented socks in the living room. This will allow your older cat to smell the kittens without the accompanying harassment.

Bella: Here’s some more detailed information about setting up the kittens’ room and introducing cats.

Siouxsie: Another factor that might be at play here is that kittens — even 14-month-old kittens — are just naturally rambunctious. Every once in a while, Bella gets it in her head to ambush me. Of course, since I’m the Top Cat and Queen of All Eastern Cats, I don’t tolerate such foolishness.

Bella: Surprise! I’ve got your head!

Siouxsie: Grrrrr…. stick a sock in it, fuzz-face!

Thomas: Bella, be nice. We’re trying to write a column here.

Bella: You’re no fun.

Siouxsie: Anyhow, Kevin … since kittens have lots of energy, they need to play. This whole situation may have started out of the kittens’ desire to play with your older cat. But when your older cat reacted to their silliness with fear, it started a negative feedback loop, which has gotten your kitty family to this point.

Thomas: It’s really important that you spend lots of time in interactive play with your kittens. Feather wands, teaser toys, and all those sorts of things, can be really fun.

Bella: The kittens should be exercised at least 15 minutes a day. The best time for that exercise is before supper because it allows them to have their natural behavior cycle: hunt, “kill,” eat, sleep.

Siouxsie: You should also spend some time playing with your older cat. Play will boost her confidence, too, and make her feel more like she owns her space. Which she does!

Thomas: Between reintroducing the kittens to your older cat and giving the kittens plenty of play time so they can work of their energy without harassing your older cat, we think all four members of your feline family will be able to live comfortably together.

Bella: One thing we have to ask: Are the kittens spayed or neutered? If they’re not, that could be playing a role in their aggression, and we’d recommend you have that taken care of as soon as possible.

Siouxsie: If you haven’t done so recently, you might want to take your older cat to the vet for a checkup. Sometimes when cats start attacking other cats, it can be an early sign of illness. Also, he or she will probably have more good ideas to help your older cat and your kittens get along.

Thomas: And remember, if this doesn’t work out and you end up having to find a new home for someone — please keep your older cat and find new homes for the kitten siblings.

Bella: We know it’ll be difficult, especially since you raised the kittens from such a young age, but your older cat deserves to stay with you, and younger cats do have a much easier time finding forever homes.

  • Aimee

    These are wonderful ideas. I’ve had many times introduced new cats into my home and these work very well for me. :) I have 4 now and 1 foster and the foster now has one room to herself. It will work out with time and patience. :)

  • http://randomfelines.blogspot.com Random Felines

    That was great advice and we hope it works out for them. Kittens have SO much energy and we know the older cats here don’t appreciate the antics of our foster kittens. It takes some time, but it can be worked out….

  • Dee

    Thanks for suggesting the kittens go and not the older one. People sometimes think kittens and puppies are so cute but throwing away the older one is just wrong and immoral.

  • TJF

    Thanks for sharing your issues…I hope that some of the suggestions work for you…but PLEASE don’t get rid of the older cat! That is just cruel and she was there first !

  • AnitaB

    Please don’t find another home for your older cat. As everyone agrees she must stay. I am fostering and probably will end up adopting a 7 month old kitty (Sid for Sid Vicious) who constantly torments my older cats. He plays rough and doesn’t seem to understand that one has arthritis and the other 3 just don’t want to play with him. He is so high energy that at night I shut him into my spare room and he seems okay with it. If he bothers the other cats when I am home I put him in that room for time out. He seems like a very young kitten (I’ve never had so many cat toys around) but often needs put in his place. I smack a newspaper against something near him and he runs. When he sees the rolled up paper he knows I mean business. Talk firmly to your young ones so they will know your tone of voice is serious when they are hurting the other cat. Good luck and remember which kitty came first.

    • Traci

      That is so funny because we named our Sid after Sid Vicious also and he is crazy with our 19 year old. Sid is only 12 weeks old.

  • Gail

    What great information, most esteemed Kitties. I think this is yet another really informative column, I will have to print out and put with all the others.
    I do agree, keep with the older cat…. If the ideas given by the Kitties work, you will have a great family.
    I had to do this not that long ago, when I got faced with 5 cats in my place, after a major earthquake. I had left my cat door open because one of mine obviously was out when the quake hit and took off. Two days later, I awake to three cats asleep on the couch in a “protect me huddle”. The missing one of mine, finally turned up two weeks later and was in good health, so think she was in the same boat as those that turned up at my place. While I tried to find the owners of the babies and yes, they were babies, I found my own two, were okay with the older cat that turned up, but couldnt face the young kittens. I did do the seperation thing with the kittens, into the spare bedroom and found the others were constantly at the door, trying to get in.
    I actually used perfume on them all. I sprayed each cat, with perfume – okay, so they didnt like it, but it meant they all smelt the same. This worked wonders and after a day or two all cats got on tremendously, while I continued to hunt for the owners of those who had turned up.
    I unfortunately never found the owners of the two really young kittens that the vet put at 8 weeks and ended up adopting them out.. they now live a life of luxury together on a farm and from what I have heard, they rule the roost when it comes to milking time… All well that ends well. The older cat, now has two homes…mine and one other…it took me a while to track down who had also taken him in, but we now share him equally and pay 50% for his vet bills etc.. so a good outcome.

    • Janet

      That’s really an interesting story!
      Wouldn’t you give anything to know how the kittens found their way to (into) your home, and ultimately you? I think it is further proof that often times, THEY “choose” us.
      Great thinking! I would never thought of spraying the perfume on all the cats to mask the other’s scent.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/dog-arthritis-pain-relief Adam

    I don’t know much about social relationships with cats, but I too see these issues with different generations of cats. You hear so much about the relationship of dogs and the alpha male, it would be nice to learn more about cats and their behaviors.

  • http://trupanion.com/ Danielle

    Thank you for this very informative article. I’ve had similar problems with my cats in the past. Once I got a new cat and our older cats weren’t getting beat up, but the amount of animosity (no pun intended) between them was palpable. I tried all I could to get them to get along, but nothing ever seemed to work. It’s nice to know that other people have similar problems with their own pets. I’ll definitely be taking the advice found here!

  • Cindy

    Very informative. I normally use the scent method. That is like swap the pillows after each uses them. I do this prior to introduction.

  • Carol

    I am so happy I read this article! I am facing the same issue. A 4-year-old girl named Nina and a 7-month girl named Lily. I will reintroduce them as you recommended. However, got very concerned when you said cats get attacked when they get sick. What types of diseases? Nina is due to a vet check and vaccine shots end of this month, but should I go sooner? Sorry, just got so concerned! Please write back if you can. Thank you!

    • The Paws and Effect Gang

      We don’t think there’s any need for you to rush Nina to the vet. Weakness or illness is only one possible reason for the attacks, and although we’re not vets and we don’t know Nina, we imagine it’s pretty unlikely that Nina has any serious illnesses at this point. Stress — like the stress of being attacked on a regular basis — can certainly lead to being more susceptible to illness because long-term stress has a bad effect on the immune system.

      We do recommend that you mention the fact that the kittens are being aggressive toward Nina and ask your vet if she or he has any other ideas about how to manage Nina and Lily’s behavior. Purrs to you, Carol!