Pet Behavior Problems Forum
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Avatar universal

Cats biting each other?

Hello!  I have two older cats, one who is 14 (Nutmeg) and one who is 9 (Mittens). The older has always been docile, to an extreme. She will occasionally hiss at the other cat if she gets too close to food or litter box, but even if the younger one pushes her bounds, Nutmeg will often be the one to back down, and never really hurt Mittens.  I've had both since kitten age.

Recently I've moved in with my boyfriend who has a younger cat, Octavia, who is 4.  She's also very docile, moreso than Nutmeg.  She will run from a fight instead of getting aggressive.  The three took a while to get used to one another, and in the beginning they did fight a bit, but never to the point of biting or scratching.  Just the standard hissing and scuffling.

I recently noticed Mittens had some kind of wound on her back, one on either side of her tail stub (As a manx, she hasn't got a tail).  One appeared first, then another two days later.  The vet has told me they are bites.  I tried to explain to the vet that the other cats are not biters, and they've been together much longer with much more trouble than the last two weeks, and I haven't heard any hissing or spitting.  On top of that, Mittens is by far the most aggressive.  I have no doubt she'd have bitten back if she'd been hurt.  Unfortunately, the vet did not listen to this and insisted that this is a bite.  

My question is pretty simple, though I'm not sure this is the right forum.  Was the closest I could find!  Would it be possible for life-long docile cats and companions to suddenly turn mean?  None of them are outdoor cats, they've never been exposed to any other animals besides themselves and an older cat that my boyfriend had before, and nothing recently happened to make any of them aggressive.  I truly can't imagine either of the other cats attacking Mittens, not without some sign of damage to themselves, which none exists.  Or did the vet just get the easiest result and go with it?
14 Responses
931697 tn?1246245983
Because I'm a behaviorist not a veterinarian I can only address the behavioral possibilities.
Yes, it is absolutely possible your cats could have gotten in an altercation in your absence and Mittens suffered wounds. When my husband and I first moved in together years ago with his 2 cats, my 2 cats and 3 dogs, one of his male cats bit my female cat on the tail.  We didn't witness the event but we pretty much knew which cat it was most likely to be.

However the hair loss could also suggests she is licking/grooming herself excessively for whatever reason - in reaction to social stress among the cats, allergies, or some other skin condition your veterinarian would need to diagnose.  Without knowing exactly where the wound/hair loss is, it's hard to know whether it could be self-inflicted or not - e.g can she reach the area herself?

If the hissing and swatting during the introduction period were fairly frequent, and are ongoing, there's a good possibility that the cats really don't like each other that much yet, and while they may choose for the most part to avoid one another, if one feels (or actually is) trapped by one or more of the other cats, the behavior could escalate to biting.

You didn't say whether you did any systematic introduction of your 2 cats to your boyfriend's, but we recommend very gradual, controlled  introductions - we give a step by step plan in our Helping Kitties Co-Exist DVD available at HelpingKitty.com

If you don't like your veterinarian's assessment of your cat's wounds you can always seek a second opinion from either another general practice veterinarian and/or one who specializes in dermatology. The hair loss I would think needs to be evaluated.  Your veterinarian has seen many more bite wounds than you have so his call may be right on, but it's always your right to seek a second opinion if your are unsatisfied.  

I'd also use the resource I mentioned above or others that you may find you like, to start working on the relationship among your cats to help them be more relaxed around one another.
Avatar universal
Oh!  Forgot to mention, Mittens is also losing hair in about a 2 inch radius around the wound, on both sides.  
685623 tn?1283485207
I would concur with Dr. Hett's assessment that if you are concerned about your veterinarian's diagnosis, you should seek a second opinion.  Unfortunately, since we are conversing over the Internet, our doctors won't be able to see your cat and help make a diagnosis, but they can certainly offer some advice and personal experiences of what they have seen in the past.

I would encourage you to return to your regular DVM or find another for a second opinion soon.   Cat bites are notorious for forming abscesses.   Did your first veterinarian prescribe any antibiotics?

One final note, and remember, I can't see the wounds, so I am just throwing out another idea for you...did your veterinarian find any fleas on any of your cats?   Symmetrical hair loss at the base of the tail is often associated with a flea infestation.  Even though they don't go outside, fleas find ways to get into our homes...your boyfriend's home could even have flea coccoons from a previous infestation.

Good luck with your cats!   Having multiple cats is very fun ( I have had up to 12 at some times in my life) but it also comes with some frustration when everyone fails to get along!
Avatar universal
I'll give a bit more info, but thanks already for the responses!

The three cats had a very systematic introduction when they first met 6 months ago.  They did frequently hiss and tussle when they first met from between doors and such, and occasionally once they were together.  But that hasn't happened at all frequently for at least three months.  

Her hair loss is occuring on her rear, close to the base of her tail.  It stretches from her anus on both sides up at least three inches, about an inch or two wide in some places.  She can barely reach that area readily, though she is very protective of it.  If either me or my boyfriend try to touch it to investigate, she gets very upset and tries to get away, sometimes growling.  

The vet did check for fleas, I believe, with a small-tooth comb and examining the fur.  He found nothing, and I haven't seen any scratching of any of the cats.  Should I get maybe a flea collar or flea medication just in case?  And yes, he did give me antibiotics, as well as tapazole for poor Mittens before her surgery.  I think after she gets that done, if she's still having the issues with hair loss, I'll have the vet double check, since the surgery is coming up.  

Thank you both, for your advice and the good luck.  I've always had at least two cats since I was a kid, and can't imagine a house without at least one!
685623 tn?1283485207
Next time  you go to the veterinarian, take Octavia along with you.  Have the staff "flea comb" her as well.

Again, since we can't see the cat, there is no way to know for certain, but if Mittens has any sort of flea allergy, you generally won't find fleas on her.   Pets who are allerigic to fleas are VERY good at catching the little pests...that's why we see hair pulling and hair barbering in these animals.   They will groom and bite and scratch until they find the offending flea.   Other animals in the household, those without flea allergies, may not even notice that they have fleas.   One of my Siamese would pull all the hair out along her inner thighs, backs of her thighs and along the base of the tail.   We finally had to take my Himalayan in to the veterinarian in order to diagnose the flea problem.

Keep us posted as to how things progress!
931697 tn?1246245983
It's clear from your cat's reaction when you try to touch that area that it is painful to her. And that's a significant amount of hair loss you describe.  So, it's good that you are taking steps to find out what is wrong, because she is experiencing discomfort that you need to get to the bottom of.  

I wouldn't use any flea medication or topical stuff without your veterinarian's input especially since Mittens has recently had other meds for her surgery.  Mixing medications without your veterinarian's input can have really dire consequences.  

Again, I'm not a veterinarian but from you initial profile you say your cat suffers from hyperthyroidism so that's another thing you veterinarian should be rechecking as well.
Avatar universal
Yes, the hyperthyroidism is already in treatment, she goes in for surgery on the 31st.  These wounds happened before treatment, though, so it isn't a reaction to that.  

I've been watching the cats more closely, and also setting up baby monitors in rooms I can't see.  I got to catch Octavia attacking Mittens after using the litter box, though it was just a bit of hissing, without biting.  If this is happening when I am not there, is there anything I can do to stop them from fighting?  I am now more concerned because none of these cats were ever aggressive, and I still find it hard to believe they've been biting, but seeing them today makes me a bit more worried.  

I really don't want to isolate the three of them forever, especially in the summer when the heat can get a bit high without central air in the apartment.  We rely on two large window units, which keeps it very cold, but only if the place is open.  I have two baby gates from earlier use with the cats (They used to like to get into my mother's quilting room and lay on the quilt, and we'd baby gate them off), maybe I can use those for the time being, but is there any advice for long-term remedies?  

I did have a slow process of introducing them, kept Octavia in her own room when she was introduced as she originally came into my home months before the three moved into the new apartment together.  Maybe we'll need to do another introduction phase in the new home?
Avatar universal
As an addition, Octavia dislikes puffs of air, something my boyfriend has used to punish her in the past instead of water, as she's usually okay with squirts.  So when I caught her, I did use a small blast of air from a canned air can, pretty harmless but it scares her greatly.  She ran off and hid, but I still worry that she'll repeat this process when I'm not there, and especially with Mittens going for surgery soon, I do not want to have these attacks when she's recovering.
975382 tn?1283486138
You have received lots of good advice here.  I would like to chime with a little more that I hope will be helpful.

Sometimes there will be changes in the dynamics between cats due to a change in the household, an illness in one of the cats, or some outside event that upsets one of the cats (eg. a stray cat strolls by the window, one cat doesn't like it but can't reach the stray cat so attacks one of her housemates).  You need to try to reduce all of your cats stress levels and try to get them to associate good things with each other.  

I don't think the blast of air will help if it scares your cat that much.  This may increase her stress level and contribute to the overall problem.

You need to make sure your cats do not feel like they are competing with each other at all.  You need at least 3 litter boxes in 3 separate locations.  The cats should feel like they can escape from the litter box if another cat comes along.  Provide multiple food and water dishes in multiple locations.  Provide plenty of hiding and perching places, boxes, bags, closets, cat trees, book shelves, window perches.  Try to institute a regular playtime for all of the cats.  Human interaction will help stimulate their brains and ease some stress.  Give them treats together.  If they need to start across the room from each other to do this, start there.  Make sure they are calm and not hissing when you give the treats.  Separate them but within eye sight even further if needed to stop the hissing.

I hope this will help.  If there continue to be problems, you may need to have a consultation with a veterinary behavioralist.  They could give you more specific advice and maybe prescribe meds if needed.

Judy Karnia, DVM
Scottsdale Cat Clinic
Avatar universal
Thanks again!

I already have three different litter boxes, three different cat beds, food bowls, toys, etc.  They each have their own "rooms" (basically, rooms they choose to hang out in), but I've started to feed them all their treat of wet food (they all get that once a day, dry food at other times) in the same room, one in each corner to start.  They've taken to that alright, so hopefully this will help some.  I noticed an issue seems to be that one of the cats won't use her own litter box if there is any mess in it at all, so I'll have to start cleaning that box every day, hopefully that'll avoid some problems :)

874521 tn?1424120397
hi...you have all given very good suggestions and I have read these with great interest as I have a cat that bites ME...I posted a question to you in a separate thread.
Interesting when you mentioned 'when they see a stray passing by a window and getting upset'
that will happened with my biting boy Sami!!. he gets almost manic when this happens....I and my other cat know to stay clear.
He gets aggressive when he sees or smells other cats either when out in our yard or thr the window (outdoors on a leash only and tolerates very well)
I posted for recommendations abt how to treat these temper tantrums with associated biting, do you also have any solutions?
Avatar universal
This is something that worked on one of my cats.  Granted, it is a last resort, as this cat was feral and very vicious.  She's long since gone, but this caused her to be a very good cat:  When he gets to the point of biting or growling, grab him by the tuft of the neck (Not too hard at all!  Just enough to hold him safely) and roll him onto his back.  With my old cat, I also had to hold her back legs to keep her from scratching.  Again, a very mean cat she was.  Anyway, that was recommended to me by a vet and two women I worked with at animal control.  It might seem mean at the time, or like the cat is in pain, but as long as you are careful, you won't hurt him.  He will probably growl and hiss a bit, just hold him on his back until he calms down and let him go.  No need to do anything more, apparently this causes them to feel submissive to you.  Again, it worked for me, not sure if it the choice way, but it worked.  
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