Older cat and Younger (new) kitten

AndyBr

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Hi everyone,

The other cat intro thread was so helpful I thought I'd reach out. I wrote a little bit about the situation here: Older and younger cat but it's not necessary to read that to get this.

The cats:
- BC: 6 year old female tabby (fixed), with the exception of her first year in a shelter has lived here.
- Rapscallion: 4 month-old male domestic short-hair (fixed).

I got Rapscallion in March. She was sheltered in the bedroom for over a month, with the food introductions with a door between them, visuals under the door and through the door crack, then supervised intro time making more and more of the apartment open to him.

BC had been the dominant cat with her former sister (passed away) and was growl-ly under the door, but since the space opened up is more of a wimp (as my friend put it). A lot of the interaction had been as others described: kitten was enthusiastic with this new toy. BC did not take well to him. The typical scenario is BC with her ears folded and rapscallion in play mode. BC would generally run away from a confrontation but would expose her back and Rapscallion, who likes to jump attack, would do just that. BC would generally flee upwards. As anyone might have predicted, the kitten found his way to those perches.

The current situation:

The kitten's playful behavior has turned into alpha-territory behavior. Whenever the older cat is on the floor, on her favorite chair - anywhere but two perches that the kitten has a hard time approaching from the side - the older cat will be pounced on. When I see Rapscallion attack her he gets a time out in the bedroom.

The time outs seem to work, to an extent. When the kitten sees me there, she's hesitant about attacking. Or she'll attack and then run to a place I can't get at him. When he comes out of timeout, he's kind of sheepish and goes to a box he's taken as his hideout spot. I'll play with him to get him to understand that it was the behavior of attacking his sister, not being in the room, that was the problem.

Questions for the folks good at cat psychology here:
  1. Is there any way to get BC to be more assertive? That's a key issue in her situation.
  2. Are time outs for Rapscallion the way to go? She's also taken to biting my arm as I'm placing her in time out. But she also seems to be decreasing her attacks on BC (at least while I'm there). If that's the way to go is there a recommended way to do it?
  3. How I'm handling the return after time outs - should I be playing with Rapscallion after timeout (to make him feel less sheepish)? My current thought is that she should associate behavior (attacking the other cat) with result (time out) but that's it.
  4. Distraction: one way I handle the build up to a fight is to distract Rapscallion by playing with her. Good idea or not? Other ways to decrease his aggression?
Thanks in advance anyone who can shed some light or offer ideas!

Andy
 

ArtNJ

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1. No. Its unfortunate, because older cats willing to pin the annoying kitten can teach the kitten a lesson and tend to do much better, but some are too scared or not willing for whatever other reason;

2. Personally, I don't think they work, no. Playing like this is normal for a kitten that age, and not respecting the older cat's unwillingness to play is normal too. So there isn't much you can do except distract the kitten now and then, and give the older cat a break now and then. What tends to work the best is time.

3. See above.

4. Sure, distraction is good if the older cat seems to be distressed. You can try playing with the kitten more, but this may be like trying to drain the ocean with a thimble. Some say getting another kitten helped, (because they play with each other and bug the big one less) but there is also risk there. Two kittens means you have a second cat that could potentially bug the older one.
 

Mamanyt1953

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I agree with the above, with one caveat. You may, but this is not guaranteed, be able to increase BC's confidence by playing with her (ALONE) with a wand toy. The hunt/catch/kill of wand play is a pretty good moral-builder. Also, you can play with Rapscallion, simply to get that urge worked out on something appropriate. One thing I can tell you, playing with them each individually like this will not harm a thing, and is great for bonding with your cats.
 
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AndyBr

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Thanks! Draining the ocean with a thimble - apt description.

BTW, here's their first face-to-face meeting
 

Mamanyt1953

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THAT actually went quite well! What a wonderfully accepting cat BC is. Had that been my holy terror, there would have been blood on the floor...mine. She knows where to place blame!
 
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AndyBr

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Thanks! Yeah, it was touching. It went a little downhill after that, although nowhere near the fights some people experience. BC is almost too nice. As ArtNJ said, it would be good if she could say "my space, too!"
 
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AndyBr

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Here's BC checking out the kitten while she's sleeping.
 

She's a witch

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You can’t adopt a kitten to the older cat and expect this kitten to “be good”, meaning not to want to play, pounce, playfully attack. Wanting to play is wired in them and you can’t unteach them that, that’s not natural and can cause frustration. Rapscallion naturally wants to play with BC the most as the member of his species and frankly, there’s little you can do about this - they’re simply mismatched when it comes to the activity level at this point. I personally don’t believe in time outs as well as you’re punishing the little guy for wanting to play. He’s a kitten, he wants to play and bless him for that :)
Having said that, it’s also natural for 6-yo not to want to play anymore. So if I were you, I’d find some understanding for both of your cats and take it from there.
I would personally let them be and do what they do without any intervention apart from redirection with a toy if you wish. I personally think that by intervening, you take away an opportunity from BC to learn to be assertive with the little one. BC, as a cat, has skills and language to communicate to Rapscallion that she doesn’t want to be bothered. It’d be very useful imo if you give her a chance to growl or even swat at the little one, that way he/she’ll learn way quicker than any time out would ever teach. In time she’ll find her voice if you let her.
Also, try to built some structure for her to retrieve without the little one, she needs some shelter when she can rest from the “pestering”. A shelf for one cat only, box fitting one etc.
Good luck!
 
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AndyBr

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Thanks! All very true.

The rule I set for myself is this: if Rapscallion attacks BC in her sleep, then he gets a time out. I keep it short and Rapscallion gets a (quick but) controlled re-entry. As I mentioned above, I want the behavior to be followed quickly by the response, but he's not going to think about what he did so it makes no sense to keep him in timeout long.


The latest update: Rapscallion seems to be more aware that she can get in trouble for attacking BC. I make sure that she understands that she's welcome anywhere - that it's not about territory, but about attacking the other cat. She's still a kitten - she gets in these playful 'attack everything' moods. If it's more of a 'you're in my seat' thing I might intervene by putting something between them.

BC has also gotten a little more assertive. She still runs away to higher ground, but then she might turn and hold her ground. And she's more exploratory (to the "kitten's room" - the bedroom that was the kitten's for a month and which the kitten regards as his. The degree she can get away with this without Rapscallion making a fuss depends on R's mood but I'm really glad to see her asserting herself more.
 

Mamanyt1953

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Excellent news! That's real progress. I'm tickled that BC is beginning to be more assertive. Hopefully, she'll get enough moxie to turn around and swat Rapscallion. And that's perfectly fine. It would just mean that BC is ready to teach the little upstart some manners.
 
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AndyBr

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A bit of an update: overall things haven't changed. BC's problem - well, other than being a good, placid cat - is that she wants to attack from a higher position so she basically cedes the floor to Rapscallion. She'll fight back if she can get somewhere high but otherwise run away. It seems Rapscallion is playing, but she's pouncing on the other cat's back, some small biting, etc. I'm having a hard time thinking whether my negative reaction to this is solely me from a human perspective.

BC is doing more getting off the high perches and into the bedroom (that was Rapscallion's room). I'd rather have her do more, but I'm trying to be patient.

The other thing is that the kitten is infiltrating BC's shelf (the "She's A Witch"'s reprieve spot). He's ... well, a Rapscallion in that he'll jump up there and lay down nonchalantly then, after a fashion, start playing with her tail and then, moments later, full pounce! In general, my practice has been to separate the two in this situation, because I want BC to have a safe space. I realize, though, that it's only safe when I'm there. It's a shame that Rapscallion will chase her out of each space. I'd rather he chase her out of a space and let her take a second-choice space and be undisturbed there.

I'm gradually getting BC used to the box I designed for her. I'm glad this is taking time, though, because I don't want it to be a hideaway but to be a reprieve.

Andy
 

She's a witch

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Kittens play to learn how to kill, as horrible as it sounds. So yeah, they pounce from behind, they bite, they bunny kick, this is all natural and very functional. In the ideal world, Rapscallion would still be with his siblings where he could have all the play he wants in a way he wants it, but also where he would learn the other cats' limits, what he's allowed to do, how hard to bite etc. Kittens learn all these things from other kittens or from other young/playful cats, in a language they understand the best. I'm guessing your kitten was separated from his family (if he had one) around 8 weeks old which imo is too early to learn all of that, and I'm guessing that's why he's so "mischievous". In the ideal world he would still be with his furry family, and his family would do a better job at telling him what he's allowed to do. BC is not taking that role - yet? But hey, it's ok, it's really not bad at all. I mean, is BC stressed by the situation? Or just unsure of what to do? I know it's not the way YOU'd want it to be, but maybe it's not all bad for BC? if she is otherwise ok, if she eats fine etc, I would relax if I were you. Time&patience is your biggest ally, Rapscallion will grow out of this phase and will - hopefully - become less interested in initiating play. BC will hopefully swat the little monster once or twice. It's still early phase of their introduction.
I'd rather he chase her out of a space and let her take a second-choice space and be undisturbed there.
some cats will want to dominate the other like that, and there's little we, humans, can do about this. But it's not necessarily bad, the other cat may accept this situation with no issues. Sometimes they will accept this situation after issues. It's also possible that he doesn't chase her due to dominance (he's a bit too young to be a dominant cat imo), but simply because it's great fun for him.
 
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AndyBr

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Thanks for that. I'm a little reassured that Rapscallion's play-bites with me are just that, play-bites. And you're right, he was in a shelter the first month or so of his life and I got her probably right as he was going into that phase. Poor BC. If she would just stand up for herself a little more! Hopefully over time things settle down.

Thanks again for the reply!
 

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every time when he bites you, let him know that you don't want this - either by saying NO, or by hissing (as his mom would do), or by crying exaggerated "Ow", which was my preferred method: my kitten seemed to be surprised when I was "ow-ing" as he didn't know that he was hurting me. Even if he's just playing, you don't want that to become a habit.
Good luck!
 
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AndyBr

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It's funny that you say that because that's exactly what I do.
 

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As She's a witch She's a witch said, we humans don't decide how big a deal it is that the kitten is jumping all over the older cat, the older cat does. I adopted Clyde, now 5, from a home with a 3 legged adult cat. While I was in that home, I saw Clyde leap onto that tripod like 100 times. The three legged cat just kept hopping away, not wanting any of it, but not particularly phased either. A tank of stoicism, armored with the zen of indifference thinking "this again" and "I hop away; therefore I am." As awful as it seemed to me, the tripod herself seemed to regard Clyde as about as troubling as a mild case of the runs -- not fun, but to be endured. Your older cat is definitely a bit more bothered, but doesn't seem seriously stressed, so don't project your own distress onto the older cat. Like the tripod cat in my example, the cat decides how annoyed it is; we don't. Nothing you can or need to do - it is time that will fix the kitten's hyper aggressiveness. In the meantime, your older cat, like that tripod, seems able to endure.

As you have seen, height definitely gives an unsure cat confidence and can facilitate play between cats that otherwise won't. It took Rockie, a former stray (now passed) several years to get really close to tolerating Clyde. Even when Clyde wanted to be sweet and give Rockie some lickies, she didn't want any of it. But as she got closer to toleration, a funny thing happened. Once in a while, when she was sitting on a chair or scratching post and Clyde was on the ground, she would voluntarily engage and enjoy it. It is for this reason that Jackson Galaxy, on his show "My Cat from Hell" encourages people to build "cat super highways" in their home so the less confident cat can go anywhere while retaining elevated space. Not terribly practical unless you are a skilled carpenter or have an unlimited budget, but my takeaway was that its probably always useful to add another or larger cat tree if one can afford it and has room.
 
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AndyBr

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Appreciate the comments! That's exactly my dilemma - how much am I projecting and how much is natural cat behavior. The other question is how much can you train out. You can't train out playfulness but I think one could train out certain situations (e.g. no playing while the other cat is using the poopertorium). So that itself brings up key questions, such as: Do you really want to train what you think you do - a year from now will you want that behavior trained (or will it have taken care of itself)? Can you define what you want trained so it's a discrete behavior? Will I be able to enforce it consistently? Will the training be understood by the cat - that it's the behavior rather than anything else (rather than solely the desire to play)? That's where all the advice is very helpful.

For me, I've decided on two rules:
- No pouncing on the bigger cat when she's asleep.
- BC's shelf is her shelf. I've let the kitten invade all the other places that have been sacrosanct up to now, but I wanted to keep one safe spot. And it's a crap shelf in terms of its intended purpose of holding books so I can trash it if later on they're closer pals.

Andy
 

She's a witch

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You can train a cat a lot of things, but in my personal opinion, very little can be done by humans when it comes to the relationship between cats. I’d even say that very often human intervention, and it’s emotional charge, makes things worse. Cats are not driven by a desire to please humans like dogs are, you can achieve a lot with treats and clicker training, but I doubt if enough to change the behavior towards another cat. Certainly they are capable to understand that you don’t want them to do something, but what they will do about it, especially if you’re not around, it’s another matter.

I’d really trust their instinct and their communication. Even if things won’t be the way you expect them to be, it doesn’t mean they will be bad. But I know that you will find different opinions about this on this forum, that you can teach cats not to behave certain way towards another cat. That’s not my experience nor observation nor education, but hopefully someone with this approach will offer their advice in this thread.

How does BC reacts when Rapscallion attacks her in her sleep? I’d hope that it could be one of these situations when she could be so annoyed by the little one that would make her react?

Are you able to have a high shelf that -physically - only BC can get to? I have a male cat that likes to wrestle pretty rough and my girl doesn’t always appreciate that, but well, he’s very persuasive. He doesn’t react to her dramatic hissing and he’s bigger so she has no choice but to retreat to the place he won’t be able to follow her. She has two such places, one is high shelf in the closet that she needs to climb and the second is the narrow mantelpiece. She’s smaller and more agile and the bigger boy isn’t able to follow her there, although he really wish he could :D This is really funny to watch. How proud she seems to be when she reaches these spots with him below. And she looks at the boy with such superiority. In the normal physical confrontation she’s on the lost position due to her size, but being up there seems to bring her confidence to another level. See if you can create something like this for BC. The important part is that Rapscallion can’t phisically get there. Since he’s still smaller than her and hopefully not jumpy enough, it seems possible that you can create something like this. He’ll be most probably bigger than her when he’s adult, so you’d need to find something else, but that’s another worry and hopefully won’t be necessary.

Does Rapscallion attacks BC in the litter box as well? My girl used to do this regularly when we first introduced them in her late kittenhood, but after the excitement period it stopped and now - being in the litter box and eating - means a truce, no matter how crazy playful other cat is. I would make sure though that you have enough litter boxes and redirect the little one with the toy when you see he’s bothering her while she does her business, girl needs some quiet time after all.
 
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AndyBr

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Thanks for all the thoughts!

She doesn't really have a shelf. She used to, but Rapscallion's grown enough now that physically there are probably some areas that he (R) could get to that she (BC) can't. The shelf she has now started as a 'too high' one, and I've isolated it so there's really only one way up and if BC's laying flat there's not much extra room. Not perfect but that's the way it turned out.

As for getting woken up, the trouble is BC will try to retreat which means backwards and lower. So that just feeds into an attack mode (a 'not now' swat or getting up on her haunches would be preferable). It will end up with BC retreating to her shelf.

They had one fight by the litter box, but that's all as far as I;ve seen. Rapscallion has a litter box and then shares BC's litter box. That's a bit of a holdover from when the Rapscallion was isolated in his own room. cat.

I share your thoughts on training, but I've had to do something. My issue is that some behavior is very concrete and discreet. An example might be don't jump up on the counter - that's a specific area and it's a never rule (an example, I don't actually do this). My first rule is harder - it's not 'don't attack' it's 'don't attack if' so that means if it's to be successful Rapscallion has to distinguish what the 'if' is and not be overwhelmed in the moment (by aggression, by playful mood). Certainly a task for any cat.

It seems there are good days and bad days. This was a good day, with BC exploring more floorspace unhindered.

Andy
 
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AndyBr

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A little bit of an update on rules:

Pretty much continues as before. BC is a bit more adventurous.

Rapscallion will occasionally get up on BC's shelf (when he's in a rambunctious mood). Interesting thing: last time he did that I went over and he just jumped off, of his own accord. So some learning (and some peace for BC). I tried to develop another shelf for her but Rapscallion is the more adventurous. Because Rapscallion can now get to any heights (and higher) than BC, it's hard to find places.

There are some small fights by the food bowls. They each have their own, with a screen between them. I'll put the food in Rapscallion's bowl, then the same food in BC's bowl, then a little more in Rapscallion's bowl. At times, Rapscallion will still go over to BC's side. I'm there to interrupt it but I think it's going to be another rule: no fighting over the food. They can do the 'cat switch' thing (which is what my prior cat would do: when BC would go to her bowl she'd switch to BC's bowl, sometimes more than once). I'm thinking maybe of moving the bowls side-by-side, since whose bowl is whose seems to be a very fluid concept. I have the current setup so BC can see Rapscallion coming up rather than eating facing the wall.

Andy
 
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