Why Has Our Resident Cat Turned on Us?

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger discusses the effects of bringing a new cat into the household too quickly.

Q: I’ve had my two 8-year-old cats, Jane and Bob, since they were 6 weeks old. About two months ago, my girlfriend and I found a female homeless cat and brought her into our home. 

My cats hid and growled for three weeks. Now they are tolerating the new cat, but something strange has happened. Bob now seems to absolutely loathe my girlfriend. This is especially troubling because they used to be very close: cuddling and sleeping together at night. They were buddies. Now he growls and hisses at her every time she holds him. When they’re in the bedroom together, Bob hides under the bed.

One other thing I see as relevant is that the new cat has really warmed to my girlfriend, and now sleeps with her at night, taking Bob’s place near her feet on the couch at night. I told my girlfriend this would be a problem, but we don’t know how to handle it. We thought Bob and Jane would go through a phase and then grow out of it.

My girlfriend is sobbing at the moment. She just can’t understand why Bob hates her so much.

A: Bob is unhappy with the current situation, but he doesn’t loathe your girlfriend. The hierarchy has been upset by introducing the newcomer too fast and by allowing her to take over Bob’s sleeping area.

In order to start making things right with Bob again, your girlfriend should arrange to have special quality time every day with him. The new cat should not be allowed in with Bob and your girlfriend during these times. Your girlfriend should start by winning Bob’s affection back by giving him little pieces of his favorite treat whenever she is with him. Right before spending time with Bob, your girlfriend should either wash her hands or pet Jane, so that her hands won’t smell like the new cat.

Your girlfriend shouldn’t try to pick Bob up or pet him; the friendship needs to be on his terms. She can formally greet him by extending her index finger toward him at nose level. She should be a few feet away from Bob when she does this. When Bob is ready to interact, he will go over to your girlfriend’s extended finger, touch it with his nose and then turn his head so her finger is on his cheek. At that point she can pet him on the cheek, under the chin and on the neck. 

I also recommend that you rethink the sleeping accommodations, finding an alternative place for the newcomer to sleep. Consider purchasing or making a tall cat tree that has lots of wide shelves and putting it next to the sleeping couch, as close as possible to where your girlfriend sleeps. Also, I would try to encourage the newcomer to sleep either on the new cat tree or next to you so that Bob can have his old sleeping quarters back if he’s so inclined.


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