Consider the following scenario:
You hear yowling and screeching coming from the sun room. You rush in to find two best buddies with claws drawn going for each other’s throat. In fact, blood is shed and only with difficulty do you break up the fight.
This deeply shocking experience upsets both cats and worries you considerably. After all it happened once, what’s to prevent it happening again?
The answer to this question depends on the cause of the fight. In this situation take a few deep breaths, allow the fur to settle, and then look at the bigger picture. Indeed, the situation described above actually happened, and the trigger factor was evidently apparent in the shape of a bold, black panther that had recently moved into the neighbourhood.
This black cat had the habit of strolling across the yard, in front of a window where the two pet pals spent a lot of time snoozing. Recently, he’d started to stare at the cats through the window, causing the phased residents to either run for cover or retaliate through the glass.
On the morning in question the black cat was particularly provocative and sat on the window ledge growling at the two residents – with the result that they turned on each other.
So what’s to be done?
Tension and Trigger Factors
Here we have a classic case of rising tension which is released as aggression redirected at a pal. When we understand the causes of tension we can start to do something about it.
Cats are remarkably sophisticated at avoiding conflict. Their efforts to compromise and avoid a fight could teach the United Nations a thing or two. Indeed, cat territory isn’t just marks on a map, but is shared temporarily (depending on the time of day) as well as spatially.
Cats recognize three zones:
- Core Territory: This is home base, where the cat goes when tired or vulnerable because they feel safe and secure. In this case it’s their home, and most especially the sun room.
- Home Range: This area belongs to the resident cats but they understand other cats need to cross it from time to time and tolerate this as long as liberties aren’t taken. For these cats their home range is the yard, and as long as other cats pass on by (rather than stopping) their presence is tolerated.
- Hunting Range: This is the shared hunting ground, such as neighbouring woods, where there is adequate prey to make sharing the space an OK option.
So what happened on the morning in question is the black cat abused his access to the resident cats’ home range, and went as far as to challenge them in their core territory. With the residents unable to see off the intruder, they turned their frustration on each other.
OK, so we’ve a better idea of why, but what can we do to stop it happening again?
As the saying goes “It takes two to tango”, so let’s tackle both the intruder and resident cats’ issues.
Disarming the Intruder
Unneutered cats are more likely to pick a fight and invade another’s territory. Therefore if the new cat on the block is intact, find his owner and (politely) ask that he be neutered. If the cat guardian is co-operative, you could even suggest keeping the cat in at dawn and dusk (peak hunting times) when he’s most liable to be on the lookout for trouble. This is actually required by law where I live, but not all owners abide by local laws.
The intruder gets a kick out of watching other cats and challenging them; so make this more difficult. If the yard is open and the approach to the house unimpeded, use planters, shrubs, or bushes to block the view. Pay special attention to key areas such as those sunroom windows, perhaps use a trellis as a screen to stop him staring in from a distance.
Another flash point is the cat flap, as the resident cats may hesitate to go out if they feel vulnerable to being pounced on. If your cat enters at speed as if chased, then provide cover. Shield the cat flap from being overlooked (so he can exit and enter in his own time) with some strategically placed planters. Also, install a microchip activated cat flap so that only those with a pass-key can get inside, providing another layer of security to the core territory.
Make the intruder’s perching places less comfortable, so he’s less inclined to linger. If he watches from a fence, try driving nails into the top so the blunt heads protrude making it more difficult to settle down. (Of course, never use anything which could injure the cat – so broken glass or barbed wire are total no-nos.)
If he’s cheeky enough to sit on a window ledge then install a window box containing miniature holly bushes or something else that’s prickly, to discourage loitering.
Defending the Resident Cats
Now to make the beleaguered residents feel bolder.
Provide them with places to survey their kingdom but without feeling exposed. This means hiding places outdoors that face out onto the garden and away from the house. This denies the intruder the option to watch the house, but the residents can safely oversee their patch.
The residents will feel safe if there is plenty of cover to hide in. So if you have an open yard, again provide planters or plants to shelter in or behind. This helps the cat to move around safely and reduces their background level of stress.
Provide softwood scratching places around the garden, for the resident cat to scratch and scent mark. This is their equivalent of nailing up a “Keep Out” poster. To encourage use rub it with a piece of their bedding and then a wire brush, making it more appealing to scratch.
Cats feel safer when up off the ground, so look for places where you could nail a plank to provide a platform (again, facing away from the house.) For a cat, watching from on high is a great source of reassurance, and by maintaining a presence in the territory (rather than hiding indoors) it sends out a powerful message to other cats to keep away.
And last but not least, provide plenty of resources indoors so the stress between cats is reduced. This means each cat having their own litter box, food and water bowls, and beds, placed in separate locations around the house.
Breaking up a Fight
If the worst happens and your cats do fight each other, never put your hands in to separate them. You will end up getting badly bitten and scratched. Instead, try to startle them apart whilst leaving an escape route for the cats to flee.
A loud noise or a sudden shock, such as cold water should do the trick. Or disorientate them by throwing a blanket over both cats, which can give you a chance to scoop up one cat through the blanket and remove him from the scene.
Has your cat’s chi been disturbed by an intruder? Please share your experiences and leave a comment.