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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Vet
Satisfied Customers: 32818
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 45 years of experience.
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I have three cats. One of them bullies one of them they

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I have three cats. One of them bullies one of them they are all females. Bully (Frankie) was in this home before Dodo, who is a rescue cat. Frankie is ok with the other cat (Mimi).
Frankie and Dodo have never gotten on but at the moment it is really bad and poor Dodo gets beaten up everyday. I have started separating them! I never feed them in the same area and each have their own area to sleep. However Frankie has now started to sleep on Dodos cat tree! I push her off but when I'm not home she will be in it when I get back! My question is and if you don't have any other solutions! Should I take Frankie out of the home for a few weeks and then reintroduce them? This would give Dodo time to relax and take over the house for a while. Reintroducing by keeping Frankie in the front room but feeding them on opposite sides of the door so that they can smell each other. Stroking them with the same sock and then reintroducing them Frankie first in a cage in the same room etc. Do you think this would work? I'm at my wits end and don't want to get rid of any of them!
I'm sorry that your question wasn't answered in a timely manner. I have advanced training in feline behavior and am pleased to discuss your situation with you. All of your ideas are good ones especially taking Frankie out of the home for a few weeks but let's start with a review of what's going on in your home...Aggression may occur between two or more cats already present in the household where there had been little or no previous history of aggression. Relationships may change as cats mature and age. In addition, increased conflicts may arise when there has been a change in the social group (people or animals becoming a part of the household or leaving the household), or when there have been major changes to the environment like moving house, or more subtle changes such as where the cats sleep, eat, perch, or eliminate. Medical problems could lead to pain or irritable-induced aggression, or may alter the way the cat interacts with other cats in the household. Any event leading to redirected aggression* could also lead to a change in the way that cats interact with other cats in the home. It's also not unusual for aggression to arise when a cat has been out of the home and then returns (e.g., from a groomer or veterinary hospital stay). This may be due to pheromonal alterations (pheromones are chemicals that cats secrete in order to communicate with other cats), anxiety or discomfort of the returning cat, or the response of one or more cats that remained in the home to some alteration in the way the cat looks, acts, or smells upon its return. There may also be territorial and status issues that need to be re-established, even if the departure has been relatively short. Many of these problems are mild and will resolve themselves over time, particularly if there is enough space, perches, and hiding places for the cat to avoid interactions while they again "recognize" each other and re-establish a compatible relationship. This may take anywhere from a few hours to several weeks for some cats, while on rare occasions the problem may be sufficiently intense to require a formal reintroduction program of desensitization and counterconditioning in much the same way as a new cat is introduced into the household. It may be prudent to sequester one or both of your cats in a dim and quiet area until their level of arousal abates. Many owners will then “test" their cat(s) every day or so and continue sequestering them if necessary.*Redirected aggression is diagnosed when the target of Frankie's aggression (Dodo) is not the stimulus that triggered the state of aggressive arousal. Territorial, fear-induced and defensive aggression are the types of behaviors that are likely to be redirected by her. Stimuli that can cause an aggressive state of arousal include the sight or sound of another cat (at times quite far away from the home), unusual noises, odors of other animals, unfamiliar people, and unfamiliar environments. A common situation is one in which the pet becomes aroused upon seeing or hearing another cat while sitting in a window. When the owner attempts to pet it, pick it up, or nudge it away from the window, it attacks. It may show aggression toward another pet when approached in similar situations. Redirected aggression is a common cause of the sudden appearance of aggression between cats in the same household that have been living together amicably for quite some time. This type of aggression is probably the most dangerous type of aggression cats exhibit due to the uninhibited nature of the bites. Treatment involves identifying triggers for arousal and then removing the pet's access to the stimuli. You may have to be quite the detective as stimuli can be imperceptible to owners. Medication can be beneficial for reducing Frankie's response to environmental stimuli - psychoactive drugs such as Prozac have been used. The most important thing that I can impart to you is to be careful around Frankie when she is aroused. Too many of my owners have ended up in the hospital due to infected bite wounds. One encouraging fact is that many of our cats will habituate to the arousing stimuli and "self-cure" within weeks to months.You can't force the issue. You can't make a cat like another cat. Formal reconditioning involves playing with, feeding, and rewarding Frankie with treats at the same time your other cats are present. This is best done while she's leashed for their protection and it involves more than person. It's time consuming, can take weeks and months, and isn't always effective. The most expedient manner in which to address such aggression within a household is often by restricting cats to certain sections of your home or by enforcing one to be a solely outside cat. Please respond with further questions or concerns if you wish.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Hi againCan I just ask you if you believe that taking Frankie away for a few weeks 2-3 maybe or 4 even would help? You said that it may work? Frankie has always been difficult! Initially I had 2 cats Mimi and Zeus. Frankie came into the home and Zeuss was the dominant male but very old! Frankie bullied everybody and I thought I would have to find her a new home. However she then disappeared for a month and we searched everywhere for her. Then all of a sudden she was back! Half the size and totally changed, for the better! She was fine then until Zeuss died and she became the dominant female. About a year later I rescued Dodo but Frankie never liked her. She would ocassionally attack her but it was never that bad. My husband and I separated about 2 years ago and she actually seemed much better and I thought all was well! However the last few months it's just got very bad and I don't know why.Also what about the cat tree? This one is Dodos not hers! Am I right to push her off it?Best Lesley
I think it's a terrific idea. We ordinarily reach for psychotherapeutic drugs in an attempt to change a cat's mindset but I like the idea of a change in venue which just might accomplish the same thing. This isn't usually a practical option for owners but if you can manage it, I'd like to hear how it works for you. Frankie is taking ownership of Dodo's cat tree just as Frankie would like to take ownership of your entire household. She doesn't understand your pushing her off it and, in fact, your doing so may simply draw more attention to it and encourage rather than dissuade Frankie's behavior. You've got your work cut out for you, Lesley, but you seem to be up to the task. I can't set a follow-up in this venue so please return to our conversation - even after rating - with an update at your convenience.
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Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Ok I am going to arrange for her to go to a good cattery and then reintroduce her the way I first described. I will let you know the out come thank you for your help.Best Lesley
Thank you for your kind accept. I appreciate it. I'll look forward to hearing from you.