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Advice for Integrating Two New Cats - What level of anxiety/aggression normal?

Discussion in 'Cat Behavior' started by wpleary, Jan 12, 2015.

  1. wpleary

    wpleary Thread Starter TCS Member Kitten

    17
    3
    Jan 12, 2015
    San Antonio, TX
    Most of my life I have had a cat, however never more than one at a time. Our beloved cat died about 2 months ago from cancer at 13 years of age. About three weeks ago, instead of going on vacation, we decided to adopt two cats. We had heard that two cats tend to live longer and healthier lives than solo cats, so wanted to take the plunge.

    We ended up adopting two cats from local shelters. One is about three and a half years old, and the other about 7 months. Both are male, and both fixed. The older cat immediately took to my wife in the shelter, and the younger cat with me. As people say, we were adopted by them. The older cat had been an only cat living with a woman, but we were told it was fine with people and other pets. From observing it in the shelter, that did seem to be the case.

    We attempted to do all of the recommended socialization steps: Each was in his own room for about 3 days, not visible seeing the other. Then we started trading scents. We did the feeding near closed doors, then cracked doors, then slowly let them interact. This process probably lasted about 7 days, with slowly increasing the number of times a day they were together, and the time spent. 

     At first it was clear that the younger cat was thrilled to see the older one and wanted to play. The older one wasn't really interested in playing, and would generally try to avoid the other one. There was never any hissing or outright signs of hostility. We did our best to distract them by playing, but that only lasted so long. There was never any hissing or fighting, and I was very optimistic at first. We limited their time together, and things were going very well. The kitten seemed thrilled to have another cat around, and the older cat didn't seem aggressive at all. They were not best friends, but nothing bad was happening.

    At some point, perhaps about a week ago, as they got more familiar and we had been letting them spend more time together (but never alone), it seems that the behavior has changed. For one thing, the older cat is exhibiting bouts of possible-FHS. He may be sitting on the floor looking fairly relaxed, when he suddenly will change to a look of agitation: he will stiffen up, ears may go back, his tail may start flicking, and then he may begin growling. Sometimes he will hiss, and attack his tail. It can last anywhere from 5 seconds to 15 seconds. I have not been able to discern any definite triggers. He does it both when he is with the kitten, and when he is not, but it is definitely more pronounced when he is with the kitten. At this point, it generally happens at least 4 to 6 times a day, and seems to be getting worse.

    We purchased Feliway, and have had that for two weeks. We also took the older cat to the vet where it exhibited to the same behavior in the vet's presence. After examination (not nearly as thorough as I would have liked...was hoping for blood draw, x-rays, etc...) the vet believes that it is most likely a behavioral issue, most likely triggered by stress. They prescribed Royal Canin Calm food, and it has been 3 days now on that diet, but no notable changes yet. We have done everything we can to reduce territorial issues: they have always had 3 litter boxes, 3 feeding stations, all spread throughout the house. We have a cat tree, and there are multiple other high places we see the cats from time to time. I do not believe access to resources/territory is at issue. I've also been 'allogrooming' them as recommended in a book, to try to share the group scent, and do that twice a day with each cat. That has been going on about 4 or 5 days at this point.

    The other issue is that the "playing" has a tendency to get extremely rough, and it appears to me, from watching videos of cats play on YouTube, that it turns from play into aggression, mostly triggered by the older cat. I have noticed a dramatic decrease in the amount of playing that the kitten appears to want to do with the older one. It will from time to time initiate some play, and it is clear they are playing for a few minutes, but that frequently turns into the older one doing the vast majority of the chasing, and frequently when the younger cat is just sitting there, you can tell the older one just wants to bite it. Frequently around the neck area. The older one will not be exhibiting any signs of play during this, and I can visually see and hear that often its nails are out. They will bite each other extremely hard, all over, and it is sometimes hard to separate them. When they are playing I can usually distract them with a toy, but if they get into this more aggressive mode, I usually have to put some physical object between them, like a keyboard, or pillow, and then do my best to separate them. We have never disciplined them but we do quarantine one or the other for at least an hour or so...usually more. I also view it as a sign of them not playing, if after one of these episodes, they seem more pre-occupied with seeking out the other one to re-engage, instead of going off and either playing or some other mellow activity. It is almost always the older one who seems not happy that the aggression ended, and will seek out the younger one to get aggressive again. That is when we definitely put one or both of them in a bedroom, separately.

    So far there has been no injuries (at least that I have seen) and they are able to tolerate each other. After times of not seeing each other for a few hours, they will both tend to act like they want to be out of whatever room they are in, and will interact with each other under doors. When we open the doors and let them back together, there is never any sign of aggression. Usually they may smell each other, and then act indifferent. I have seen one very brief rub of the younger one on the older, but that is about it. Never any mutual face rubs or body bumps. We have never left them alone together, as I am not sure if it is safe. At this point, they generally are together perhaps 4 to 6 hours a day, spread across at least three sessions: morning, afternoon, and evening. We have been cutting short the sessions when things get too heated. I am torn, because I read seemingly conflicting advice: some say you have to let cats have some aggression with each other, in order to sort out their rank and status with each other, and if you prevent this, it will make it worse. But I also read that aggression, if let go, and it is not playing, will cause the cats to have negative views of each other that could be permanent.

    What is so odd about this is that I have come to refer to their relationship as like that of an abusive spouse: the older one, at times, seems to want to be much more affectionate than the younger one: sometimes when they are both on the cat tree, on different perches, the older one will keep looking intently at the younger one while it is resting, and will try to groom it. The younger one, unless it is very tired, will resist this. This resistance has triggered them biting and slapping at each other, with claws out, at least by the older one. Yet, it also seems clear that the older one doesn't really like, or at least, is experiencing significant anxiety due to the interactions with the younger one. It seems like he loves and hates the younger one. And we cannot tell if he has ever learned how to play. Maybe he thinks he is playing. 

    He may also be mad that the younger one is seemingly not respecting his status. I know that cats are not exactly like dogs, but I have seen the young one try to eat from his bowl when he is eating, play with the object we are playing with the older cat, and harass him (playfully?) when he is using the litterbox. I do not know if a 7-month old cat is doing this to project his status, or if he is oblivious at that age.

    I'm reading two books now, Cat vs Cat and The Cat Whisperer, but neither deal with the subject of introducing two new cats to a new home simultaneously, and even more potentially challenging, while there is an age difference. None of the chapters dealing with status or cat-to-cat aggression discuss scenarios where one of the cats is an adolescent. Living with the stress that one or the other may do serious injury while they are having bouts of serious aggressive wrestling is not good. The older cat just doesn't seem happy, and that makes us unhappy for him. We seem to go back and forth, day by day, as to whether we think we are making progress or not, and if it would be better to find the older cat a new home if possible. We are next going to work on having extremely precise schedules to reduce any uncertainty. And we have a follow-up vet appointment in a week. I don't really want to have to resort to meds, as if it is a case that the older one simply does not enjoy having the other cat around, we think re-homing would be a better choice. But how long to wait before that decision? I know now is too soon, but is 3 months enough? 6 months? 

    I am hoping someone may have some advice or tips for this scenario. This is my first post. Sorry for the length, but really hoping we can get a happy resolution to this scenario.

    Thank you,

    William
     

  2. p3 and the king

    p3 and the king TCS Member Top Cat

    1,831
    120
    Jan 10, 2012
    Branson, Missouri (USA)
    This seems pretty normal.  Just read all of the other posts on just this situation.  Cats do not like change.  And they are dealing with a lot of the biggest changes all at once... New people, new home and new "friend."  It's very stressful for them.  My suggestion is to reseparate for now.  Get them comfortable with you and the new home first.  Then take it very slowly reintroducing them.  Don't get stressed if they don't get along.  Just reseparate and try again later.  Many use treats and positive reinforcement.  Keep interactions brief so you don't overwhelm them. 

    Cats are not pack animals.  Sometimes they just don't like each other.  They can enjoy the company of another cat but unlike dogs, they don't desire it.  So because of this, I always tell people to aim for a happy coexistence rather than trying to make their cats friends.  This way, if it doesn't happen that way, that they aren't "Friends" but can live together peacefully, they are not too disappointed.  And if it does happen, it's icing on the cake. 

    Meds may not be necessary.  It's not YOUR time line, it's theirs.  Keep this in mind.  They are dealing with big changes and cats do not like change... Plus you are expecting too much.  It can take awhile.  They need time to adjust to the new situations. 

     

  3. wpleary

    wpleary Thread Starter TCS Member Kitten

    17
    3
    Jan 12, 2015
    San Antonio, TX
    Thank you for the reply. This is all new so glad to hear it may be normal. I know it must be much harder for the older cat as he also likely misses his former owner. I will take your advice and read more posts in the forum and keep them separated until the older one seems to be calm.

    I just got done with a great play session alone with the older one. And after about 15 minutes after he ate and groomed...and was looking content...he had another bad episode of hissing, growling, and attacking his rear feet. Lasted a couple minutes. I so hope he will be happy eventually.

    Thanks again for the advice.
     

  4. p3 and the king

    p3 and the king TCS Member Top Cat

    1,831
    120
    Jan 10, 2012
    Branson, Missouri (USA)
    Also, keep in mind that with all the changes they are going through... That's just a few more to add to the list... Old owner dropped him off at a scary, noisy, smelly shelter and he has no idea why, what happened, where she went.  This is heartbreaking to a cat.  And the shelter scares them.  So of course he wasn't himself.  It's a lot of changes and he is going to be stressed and upset.  Just give him time, patience and love.  And try to be understanding.  Let him adjust in his own time.  Don't rush him.  It could have the reverse effect. 
     

  5. ursulaandbuffy

    ursulaandbuffy TCS Member Young Cat

    35
    2
    Jan 5, 2015
    We recently introduced two cats to each other, and similar things are happening here.  Both of ours are kittens, though Ursula is slightly older than Buffy.  Since they are about the same age and female, there are obviously some differences, but from what I understand, and can tell, this is pretty normal.  Ursula definitely likes to groom Buffy's ears... I don't know if that is a weird sign of domination or some latent motherly instinct or what.  On a good day, Buffy will tolerate it, and sometimes she retaliates.  I usually let them play and keep a close eye -- if I year a yowl, whine, hiss, or growl, i split them up for a few minutes and gauge how they respond.  Then I either put them in separate rooms, or I"ll put the one that seems less aggressive on a shelf or something -- if she wants to stay up there, she does, and if she doesn't seem scared of the other cat, she's able to get down.

    One thing I can suggest is perhaps go back to keeping them separate again and only do "play time" once or twice a day at a scheduled time... I have also noticed that if I play with Buffy and Ursula separately before they meet, for perhaps 20 minutes apiece, and then give them a few minutes to cool off, they are less "vicious" when they play together.
     
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  6. wpleary

    wpleary Thread Starter TCS Member Kitten

    17
    3
    Jan 12, 2015
    San Antonio, TX
    Thank you for the reply. If even two kittens struggle with getting to know each other maybe this is normal. We think perhaps we will keep them separate until the one displaying behavioral issues stops, and then try again slower. We have tried playing separately prior to together time but that hasn't had any effect on the FHS-like episodes in the 3 year old. We are also going to spend even more time alone with him to build up his trust in us...if that may be an issue. Interesting how one cat compelled to groom the other and other not interested. Our younger one, Jackson, definitely isn't crazy about it...
     

  7. ursulaandbuffy

    ursulaandbuffy TCS Member Young Cat

    35
    2
    Jan 5, 2015
    Yeah, separate play times don't STOP the aggression for us, but it definitely makes it a little more lethargic and intermittent. 

    As for the grooming, maybe Jackson will get used to it.  Buffy tried to bite Ursula EVERY time Ursula did it for a while, and then it was chaos.  But then she would tolerate a couple licks, and she is improving every time it happens.

    As for the 3-year-old, I don't know enough about FHS to advise on the episodes :/  If you are trying the calming cat food and the Feliway, that's about all I can think of.  We use the Sentry calming collars on the kittens, and I think it does help some, except for when they are together.  And they are young, so it is the right time for them to get used to a collar.  If  the 3 year old doesn't like collars, it would not even be an option, probably.  

    Maybe since they are both new to the home, making sure each has a place that is just his  would be good?  Like if there was a shelf or a box or something that just the older one could get to when he was feeling overwhelmed?  I don't know... 

    Well, good luck, and I hope they start getting along!  Definitely keep us posted!
     

  8. wpleary

    wpleary Thread Starter TCS Member Kitten

    17
    3
    Jan 12, 2015
    San Antonio, TX
    Does anyone think adolescent cats (7/8 months old) are aware of status and hierarchy? When Jackson, the younger one, jumps up where Remy is, or butts in to play with what he is playing with, I am unsure if it is him just being a curious kitten, or if he is establishing himself.

    The other item that makes no sense to me is why Remy is having more behavioral issues while on the other hand seeming to be growing more at ease overall. Yesterday he had his worst FHS-like attacks, but afterward, after a short nap, he was more affectionate and loving than he has ever been. He sat on my wife's lap for nearly an hour, purring away happily. (Jackson was asleep in another room, so that may have helped as well...)

    We had a thought last night that of course we never will likely know the answer to. We wondered if perhaps Remy had been on medication for some behavioral issue prior to being in the shelter, and maybe now they have completely left his system. Not sure if this roller-coaster of behaviors is normal. The highs keep getting higher, and the lows lower.

    We will be patient however. I got a call from the vet this morning to check on his status with new diet. We will proceed with the blood and urine test if no improvement after the changes we will make based on the advice given here to separate them at this point. 
     

  9. p3 and the king

    p3 and the king TCS Member Top Cat

    1,831
    120
    Jan 10, 2012
    Branson, Missouri (USA)
    Oh yes... Think of human children.  Do they not start a hierarchy right away?  The same with cats and other animals. 

    I doubt he was on behavioral medicine at the shelter.  Many are very limited on resources and meds just aren't done.  And honestly, usually cats with these issues and needing meds for it are put down and not even put on the adoption floor.  This is why I say it's too soon to be considered a behavioral disorder.  You don't want him labeled.  If you do have to rehome, it will next to impossible. 

    He sounds very stressed to me.  A kitten who's been through A LOT.  You need to be very patient with him.  And in a couple of months, if he's still not calming down and still acting erratic, then asks your vet about consulting with a behavior specialist.  Vets are NOT behavior specialist.  They can be expensive but they can really, really help.  But my suggestion is to let him calm down and get used to it.  He probably feels like he can't be secure because of all he's been through.  Cats like security and this poor young guy has been put through the ringer. 
     

  10. wpleary

    wpleary Thread Starter TCS Member Kitten

    17
    3
    Jan 12, 2015
    San Antonio, TX
    Thanks for the feedback on the status. Well, I guess Jackson is quite the assertive little guy, and Remy probably isn't liking not being the king of the hill anymore. 

    As far as for the meds, was referring to the older one, Remy. He is the one who is exhibiting the very odd behavior. I keep trying to get it on video, but can't seem to get the timing right. I wish the problem was one of the common ones like marking or not going in the litter box, as that wouldn't make me as nervous about his overall state of mind as the growing/biting/hissing out of the blue issues.

    Thanks again for the replies everyone. I will update as the days go by...keeping the two guys apart for now, but so hard as the young one cries and cries when he is alone in the bedroom, and you can hear it throughout the house. (A small two-bedroom.) 
     

  11. p3 and the king

    p3 and the king TCS Member Top Cat

    1,831
    120
    Jan 10, 2012
    Branson, Missouri (USA)
    I do think you're going about it the wrong way.  If you really are concerned, ask your vet to consult with a  behavior specialist now.  But they will need to see video of the situation to help you.  As I said, vets are not behavior specialist.  So just having your vet give him some meds probably isn't going to do much good.  It takes time for it to go through their system and there are the adjustments.  There is no instant fix here.  I am sorry.  I wish I had better news.  But if you don't feel we can help you, you need to consult a behavior expert on this matter.  In person.  In real life.  Because as I said, each situation is different.
     

  12. wpleary

    wpleary Thread Starter TCS Member Kitten

    17
    3
    Jan 12, 2015
    San Antonio, TX
    What are we doing wrong? We had them together, and that appears to be making it worse for the older cat. Based on your feedback, we are planning on redoing the processing, keeping them separate until the older one stops exhibiting the episodes, and if they do not stop, then getting a full evaluation at the vet. Open to all advice.
     

  13. p3 and the king

    p3 and the king TCS Member Top Cat

    1,831
    120
    Jan 10, 2012
    Branson, Missouri (USA)
    I think you're getting very upset and reading too much into the posts.  Your stress gets them stressed.  So a big suggestion is to calm down and try to relax and not be so upset.  I know it's easier said than done.  But cats are like furry little mirrors.  They reflect back your stress.  It could be a lot of the problem. 

    Yes you adopted 2 at once, not knowing a lot of their history.  It happens and usually it works out.  But the older one is very troubled because of all the scary changes in a short amount of time.  He is going to need a lot of time and patience.  Yes, the little one bugs him.  But the little one is not really the problem.  I am inclined to believe that he is only manifesting misdirected aggression at the little one. 

    As I said cats do not like change and love stability.  But this poor guy has had little to no stability in his short life.  Of course he acts the way he does.  He does this because he doesn't know he can trust it yet.  You know they say we lash out because we're afraid of losing something?  It's pretty much the same concept for this poor cat.  He is so scared of losing his new home and letting himself trusts it. 

    I understand you want to fix it asap... But meds are only bandages and may not help much.  He needs time and patience.  And if you can keep the little one at a safe distance so he doesn't get any misdirected aggression put on him, then that is what you have to do.  Your stress, though, is feeding into it.  So to help this work.... You need to try to be calm and relaxed. 
     

  14. wpleary

    wpleary Thread Starter TCS Member Kitten

    17
    3
    Jan 12, 2015
    San Antonio, TX
    Thanks P3. Will work on trying to be relaxed while around him. You are probably right. Thanks again. Will post status updates on the progress.
     

  15. wpleary

    wpleary Thread Starter TCS Member Kitten

    17
    3
    Jan 12, 2015
    San Antonio, TX
    I was able to get a video of one of Remy's episodes. They usually last anywhere from 10 seconds to a few minutes. We will notice that he suddenly stops looking relaxed, he gets a very intent look to his face, tail will start to flick, usually there is growling, sometimes hissing, and then he will make intermittent violent bites on his tail or hindquarters. And sometimes during the episodes he will sort of snap out of it for 30 seconds, and then revert back. 





     Afterwards his mood varies. Sometimes he is moody and won't want to be petted and will fall asleep. We have noted that he sometimes seems to lick his lips excessively during this time. (After the episode, while eyes are closed and he is trying to sleep.) Other times he will be just fine, and start playing or cuddle up with us. They tend to occur any time of day, but seem to be more pronounced as the day goes on. Very rarely do they occur in the morning, and if so are shorter. 

    We have not found any consistent trigger. My wife thought this was possibly triggered by him hearing Jackson ("Jack-Jack") crying in the other room. But it has occurred while with Jackson and when he is neither seen nor heard.  Prior to this episode he had been with us for about an hour. He had been very affectionate, and sat on my lap for about 20 minutes. Then he was with my wife, on her chair for about 10 minutes...then he had eaten and groomed, and seemed content. I saw an episode once the morning after we adopted him. He was not aware of Jackson at that point, as he had not been introduced. And my wife indicated that it occurred when she took him to the vet last week, in the vets presence. (As I stated in earlier post, the vet thinks it is behavioral, but we still haven't had bloodwork/urine/etc tests done yet, per her recommendation at that time. Those are scheduled for Saturday if no improvement is seen with the new Royal Canin diet she prescribed. She could see no evidence of fleas or any other obvious physical cause.)

    Curious if anyone has any ideas of this. I'm not sure if it is FHS. We don't always see 'skin rolling'. I don't think he has ever tried chasing anything, and it doesn't seem like he is seeing something that isn't there. I get the impression that he is having some unknown pain or discomfort and he doesn't know what is causing it, or he is thinking it is his tail.

    This is the main reason I wanted to stop the interactions between him and Jackson at this point. When these episodes start, Jackson will be curious and sometimes I think he has interpreted it as a play or Remy wanting attention, so he will jump on him and they start wrestling. And it is extremely clear that Remy is not playing. His ears will be flattened, and look extremely agitated. I don't know what Remy's state is during this time, so am afraid he will really chomp down and do some damage, unintentionally, due to whatever is happening inside him during one of these episodes.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 14, 2015

  16. catladylou

    catladylou TCS Member Adult Cat

    143
    29
    Jan 14, 2015
    West midlands uk
    Hello i am new here but i have 3 cats now and not long got a kitten who is now 6months old. My two big ones are 7 and 6. We done everything you have done. And it worked we had to just leave them to it ( i know its hard ) but unless i could see one really hurting the other one i done it like that. I still dont let the kitten sleep with the big two. The male ( romeo ) who is now 6 didnt like another male here at. He is only just going back to normal and we had rebel the kitten at 9 weeks old.
    Princess the girl who is 7 was ok with it. Think its because when she had romeo when she was one.
    Hope i have helped you abit. Hope it all works out just bare with them it will work in the end.
    Good luck :lol3:
     
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  17. wpleary

    wpleary Thread Starter TCS Member Kitten

    17
    3
    Jan 12, 2015
    San Antonio, TX
    Thanks Catladylou! Very glad it worked out for you. Maybe we will start again...yesterday they were separated all day, but the older one was sitting by the door a lot and seemed to be wondering why the younger one was not out. 
     
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  18. wpleary

    wpleary Thread Starter TCS Member Kitten

    17
    3
    Jan 12, 2015
    San Antonio, TX
    Jan 15th update: Remy has seemed to be relaxing a bit now that he had gone about 3 days without seeing Jackson ("Jack-Jack"). (Other than them batting paws under a door, where we saw no issues.) He only had one brief FHS-like episode yesterday, and was playing more than usual. We decided to try out 15 minutes a day at this point of interaction and see how that goes. We cracked the door and let them eat some trout feast (stinky!) on opposite sides of a door. No obvious signs of any issues. After they finished eating we opened the door. They had a quick smell of each other which lasted about a second, and then they basically ignored each other. Remy doesn't really like playing with Jack-Jack around, so we did the best we could. He seems to mostly be distracted with keeping an eye on whatever Jack-Jack is doing. Once again Jack-Jack wanted to play with the toy that was in front of Remy, so glad there wasn't any drama there. (I have not figured out how to prevent that...the kitten always seems more interested in whatever toy is offered to Remy. I'm sure Remy doesn't appreciate it...) After 15 minutes, with both of them fine we decided to end it on a high note and lure one back into a bedroom and separate them. We'll see how Remy is later today.

    We think that increasing the # of sessions a day slowly would be better than extending the duration of the session in order to minimize chance of issues during that session. I also played with Jack-Jack about 15 minutes prior to this session as UrsulaAndBuffy suggested.

    Will update as we continue to make progress.
     
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  19. deejay0

    deejay0 TCS Member Kitten

    12
    5
    Dec 16, 2014
    This is a bit different to my own situation but I brought a young cat into a home with my cat who has been used to only me 24/7.   And the little one was  used to living on the streets.   But I wonder if some of the same principles may not apply. That it may help to assist the older cat to gain dominance (the rightful pecking order.)  If the older cat batted the younger one for no reason I never intervened, (there was never any real nasty aggression between them but the little one was  freaking out my gentle giant. and would have easily usurped her place if I had not intervened).   It helped the older one not only gain dominance,  but also to be assured  and gain confidence around the little one that no matter what I was on her side.  Your two cats obviously came to your home at the same time, but since there is an older one it seems that that is the one that in the natural run of things that needs to be the dominant cat in the pecking order.  It also will help the younger one to know its place in the pecking order.

    Just some thoughts that may or may not be useful from my own experiences. :-)
     
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  20. wpleary

    wpleary Thread Starter TCS Member Kitten

    17
    3
    Jan 12, 2015
    San Antonio, TX
    Thanks Deejay0. Well, we decided to rip the bandaid off and let them go at it. I read more threads saying the aggressive behavior is normal and needed at this phase. They were together for several hours this morning and we decided not to intervene unless we determined it sounded like an actual cat fight.

    They were intermittently wrestling over the course of probably three hours. Never heard a growl or hiss but they definitely had some intense wrestling with biting of the ears, neck, and stomach. But we just let them continue. They were signs of playing and friendship thrown in, so that reassured us.Neither seemed to actually be trying to kill the other one, or seriously attack it. Very stressful to watch though. Especially while trying not to hover.

    I have good news though: they are now both asleep together on top of a bookcase. Maybe this is just the next phase they needed to work through.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 18, 2015

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