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My younger cat has claimed dominance in the household.  But he is still doing behaviors that I am thinking might be realted to this.  He is biting the older cat's neck and the older cat stopped pooping in the litter box so I added a new one, this worked for a few weeks but he in not using it again (he urinates in the litter box).  They do sleep together and usually act friendly.  I feel like this is stressful for the older cat.  Is there anything I can do?
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Hi Lyn,

Your young cat is showing aggression to your older cat and you are correct in interpreting this as stressful for your older cat. It is quite likely that this is the underlying cause of your older cat’s litter box problem. However, I would still advice a trip to your veterinarian first to make sure that there is not an underlying medical cause that may be contributing to this.

Regarding the biting:  You do not provide a detailed description, so it is difficult to say for certain what type of aggression this is.  It may be play-related (i.e. your young cat has poor social skills and is attempting to play, or is a bully when playing). It also may be grooming-related. When cats groom each other a natural way for one cat to stop the interaction when he has had enough is to bite the other cat and then walk away. Last, this could be sexual behavior. When mating, males grasp and bite the neck of the female. We do see this in neutered animals, who direct it toward other cats in their social group.

However, whatever the underlying cause, it is most important that you prevent this from happening so that you can decrease the stress that your older cat is experiencing.  If you do not have these already in place, it is important in multiple cat homes to provide several “safe spots” for cats to go to where they will not be pestered by other cats.  Kitty condos work well, as do providing several different types of vertical space such as ledges in windows. If your younger cat persists in following the older cat to these spots (and we often train cats to go to these areas using clicker training), then you need to provide two different living spaces in your home, essentially protecting the older cat from the younger cat’s aggression. Many of our clients do this by having one cat live upstairs, another downstairs, or by dividing the home with pet gates or closed doors.

If you do think that the aggression is play-related, purchase several different types of interactive toys for your young cat and play with him with these, rotating the toys periodically (cats love novelty).  Direct him to these toys BEFORE he attacks your older cat, not in response to an attack. It is important to redirect his play behaviors to appropriate items when he feels playful, but not while he is attacking the other cat.

Last, if you have not done so, increase the number of litter boxes (and feeding stations) and make sure that the older cat has access to at least one box that the young cat does not use at all. Box issues can be very subtle and it is important to make sure that the older cat has a box that is all of his own and that is in an area of the house that he considers to be protected from the other cat.

Management is key with behavior problems in multiple cat homes because we simply cannot force cats to be buddies. (As I tell my students: “You can pick your cats, you can pick your friends, but you cannot pick your cats’ friends”

I hope this is helpful to you –

Best wishes,

Linda Case
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