Possible PTSD during introductions

KelseyCat

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I’ll start with a bit of a background but I’ll try to not ramble too much...I have a 4-year-old cat named Eko. We adopted him around 5-6 months old, he showed up one day and we never found his owners. He wasn’t feral but was fully socialized either. He’s great with my husband and I, playful and affectionate. He’s always been a bit nervous but we’ve done our best to keep it under control (disconnecting the doorbell was a big help). We had an older female cat when we adopted Eko and they never really got along but they were tolerant, Eko always wanted to play and she definitely did not. She passed away Nov. 2019. We wanted to get him a playmate but we also knew we would be moving and didn’t want to bring in a new cat just to move while they were settling in. We moved May 2020 right in the middle of the pandemic so there was a lot of change for him (new house plus both people home ALL the time) but it only took a week or so to settle in.

The problems started when I tried helping a neighbor try to trap a lost/misplaced feral cat that I had seen in our yard. I was putting food out with a trail cam to see if it was the right cat but it started attracting several owned cats from the neighborhood (I ended up feeding one for a while because I felt bad, big mistake). Eko started seeing the other cats and was getting very worked up and peeing near the doors. We added/moved litter boxes and kept the doors and windows closed and he settled down and started peeing in the litter boxes again. We continued to have problems with cats coming up on our deck while he was watching the birds and he would get really scared (peeing out of fear, full body puff, hissing, yowling and attacking the door). We eliminated anything that could attract the cats (no more feeding the birds or cats) and kept the door closed for about a month and stopped seeing any cats. We now allow him to watch the birds but I keep a close eye to make sure there’s no cats out there (we have a camera too so I can check overnight to be sure). He hasn’t seen a cat outside the patio door in probably 3 months and has had at least 10+ positive experiences per day in that area. He plays there and eats there and loves stalking the birds/squirrels.

Sorry, that was a long background. The problem is, we adopted a kitten in January name Oke, he’s 4 months old now. We’ve been doing a slow intro and it’s been going good. We let them play supervised and have been increasing the time they’re together. Eko get a little overwhelmed with Oke’s kitten antics but he’s behaving appropriately (pinning Oke down when he’s had enough) and he will instigate play too. He hides for a minute but comes back out quickly. He get excited when Oke comes out of his room.

3 days ago we had an incident and it happened again today. Oke was looking out the patio door at the birds and Eko was nearby (the first time he was about 12 feet away, today he was only about 5 feet away). They had been playing before and everyone was happy, Eko was just relaxing. All of a sudden Eko jumps up, runs at Oke and strikes him. When Oke moves Eko does a full body puff, yowls and goes into full cat fight mode. Oke puffs and attacks back. The first time they chased through the house before we could separate them (I had to wrap Oke in a blanket), this time we were able to grab Oke more quickly. Both cats stay puffed (in separate rooms) and act like my husband and I are strangers for 10-15 minutes and stay on edge for at least an hour. Today Oke got scratched and was bleeding a little above and below his eye and I found hair ripped out at the roots on the floor. Luckily his actual eye looks ok but I’m watching closely to make sure we don’t need to see the vet. Also, Oke is GIANT for a 4-month-old (7.5 lbs this morning so I know he can defend himself)

To me, this is seeming more and more like Eko has PTSD because of seeing the cats outside. It’s almost like he thinks Oke is a strange cat outside the door but when he realizes he inside the door he starts to attack. My husband and I are feeling so defeated because it was finally going so good, we don’t want Oke spending his whole kittenhood closed off in a bedroom, but it seems like we might never be able to trust them alone together. But we had them together for several hours yesterday with no aggression and Eko was able to nap even though Oke was around. I’m just confused.

Our thoughts of solutions at this point are to keep the patio door closed (which sucks because they both love watching the birds and laying in the morning sun, they even laid there together this morning before the incident), we’re going to clean the carpet (again) in case Eko is smelling previous times he peed out of fear at that door, and trying to eliminate as much cat smell from outside the door.

Does anyone have any other suggestions? Should we keep them out of that room entirely when they’re together? We tried Feliway with Eko in the past and it made him aggressive so I’m apprehensive to try it again. He also gets Jackson Galaxy Safe Space in every meal and we were using Stress Stopper until about a week ago, I’m going to order more today.

If we can’t manage it ourselves, I will look into a consult with a feline behaviorist and possible talking to Eko’s vet about a chemical imbalance. Thanks in advance for any suggestions, I’m excited to join this community. And again, I’m sorry it’s so long.
 

ArtNJ

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This is a known thing, its called redirected aggression. Something scares cat "A" and he takes it out on cat or human "B" that just happens to be nearby. An outside cat is a very common trigger for redirected aggression. Your 4 y.o. has a kind of severe case of it, but that isn't so uncommon either. We get a poster with a severe case once every couple of weeks or so. The remedy is usually either to block view of the outside cats, or if that is impossible, you can try stuff like a motion activated sprinkler which they make for this purpose. You might eventually have an incident for random other reasons, like you stub your toe and yell, or you drop a dish, and the noise scares the 4 y.o. and he lashes out.

In terms of how to deal with it when it happens, yes if they are fighting you might need to use a towel to pick one up if you can't get them apart otherwise. I've seen people talk about a big piece of carboard you can put between them as a barrier. And then you isolate them for a reset, with the needed length of the reset varying greatly depending on how severe the incident was and whatever other factors. Generally not too long, but if they fight it could require a pretty lengthy separation.

Any questions let us know. Now that you know the name of the issue you can read some articles on it, we have one here in our articles tab, but there really isn't much to say beyond what I've already mentioned.
 
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KelseyCat

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Thank you for the response. I wondered if it was a form of redirected aggression but I didn’t know it could happen even without the scary trigger happening at that time. It’s been months since a cat has been in the back yard but he obviously remembers. It’s just weird because they’re totally fine but all of a sudden it’s like he thinks there’s a different cat there even though they were playing together minutes before. I’ll do some reading on redirected aggression and see what we can do, hopefully the outdoor cats continue to stay away. Thanks again!
 

rubysmama

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ArtNJ

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Cats have incredible senses. Are you sure there was no cat (or other animal) out there?
 
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KelseyCat

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My husband and I were both sitting right on the floor with them, neither of us saw any cats. I just went back through the camera footage from outside the door (we bought cameras to monitor what’s happening outside because of Eko’s anxiety) and nothing happened in that moment. There were several squirrels eating right outside the door (which is normal, he loves watching them) but they did freak out and scatter when Eko attacked Oke, most likely because Eko moved fast and was hissing and Oke hit the door trying to get away. The neighbor’s cat was in the yard about an hour before this happened. I saw him way in the back and immediately closed the door, Eko was facing away and didn’t see him. After the neighbor’s cat left, I waited a good 20 minutes or so before opening the door back up. Eko and Oke were playing nicely at this point, even laying together right at the door sunbathing and watching the birds. It’s just weird that nothing seems to trigger it. I’m wondering if it’s scent based. The neighbor’s cat is ear-tipped so I assume neutered, but still likes to spray all over outside. Since he was in the yard this morning I wonder if he sprayed somewhere and it took a bit for the smell to carry. The patio door is on the second level looking out on the deck, I saw the cat go under the deck. I’m looking at outdoor pet odor removers, I’m not sure anything can full eliminate cat spray but I’m hoping that can help somewhat with the problem. At this point I think the birdwatching and sunbathing at that door will have to be put on hold. Since the cats are still building their relationship, I don’t want the redirected aggression to set them up to never get along.
 
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