Q: Our 4-year-old tortie cat, Miss McGillacuddy, has always been the ruler of the roost — until Yoko came along. Yoko is a 1½-year-old rescue who is full of vim and vigor.
Yoko has taken over Miss McGillacuddy’s cat tree, so we purchased another one that’s identical to Mrs. McGillacuddy’s in the hopes that each cat would use one. Even though Miss McGillacuddy sometimes hisses or growls at her, Yoko will not back off.
We want to train both cats to respect one another and want each cat to use a cat tree, especially Miss Mcgillacuddy. She has trouble standing her ground with Yoko.
A: It is possible that Miss McGillacuddy and Yoko were introduced to each other too quickly. They are now establishing their relationship status relatively peacefully. Cats have elaborate social systems that help keep inter-cat aggression problems to a relative minimum. This is important, because in nature a cat bite or wound can compromise a cat, increasing the risk of death from another predator or from complications resulting from the injury.
One component of this social system includes cats forming flexible hierarchies. One way cats express their status is by positioning themselves in relationship to the other cats in the household or colony. Typically, cats who sit the highest are at the top of the hierarchy. Sometimes cats will demonstrate their status by sitting on the prime areas the other household cats normally occupy. Cat hierarchies are not static or fixed in stone. There are many factors that influence who is at the top of the flexible hierarchy at any given moment. These include the time of day, who is in the room and the presence of food. Cats time share and room share. Sometimes one cat will be enjoying the best spot in the house in one room, while another cat is in a prime location somewhere else in the house.
It is important to let the cats work out their flexible hierarchy. Do not place one cat higher than another or move one of the cats from one cat tree onto another. Monitor the cats, and if they start fighting, safely separate them.
Instead of training Miss McGillacuddy and Yoko to “respect” each other, give them ways of demonstrating their status. Add lots of vertical territory with shelves at different heights in all of the rooms they enjoy. Vertical territory can be cat furniture, shelves or window perches. Bookshelves, armoires and refrigerators can also be part of the vertical territory solution. The top shelves should be at least 5 feet high, secure, comfortable and wide enough for the cats to curl up and safely nap.