Redirected aggression - very stressed

AndreaFiona

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Hello everyone,

I have 3 cats: Tinker (17), Fiona (4) and Ivy (4). All spayed, none declawed. Ivy and Fiona are sisters and have always been together. They were super bonded and were constantly together. I adopted them at age 7 months. Tinker is a feral cat and for her own reasons, she only occupies the top floor of my house (there are no barriers, she just chooses this and has always done that, even before I got the girls).

On August 15 I had my patio door open and a stray cat (who has recently been lingering around our townhouse complex) approached the screen door where both girls were sitting. I didn't notice and all of a sudden I just heard an explosion of a cat fight. I actually thought the other cat had gotten into the house somehow. But no, it was Ivy attacking Fiona. She cornered her several places around the house and each time, someone peed (I believe it was Fiona losing bladder control). She made it all the way upstairs where she lost bowel control too. I was finally able to separate them and locked Ivy in a bedroom and Fiona stayed under a bed. Stupidly I thought she would snap out of it, so maybe 30 min. later I let her out again. Fiona apparently also thought she would have snapped out of it and went to greet her, but Ivy exploded again, attacking her. Again, I separated them. I kept them totally separate for 3 days. I also was extremely panicked and took Ivy to the vet and had her sedated by injection and also my vet gave her 5 days worth of Gabapentin (25 mg twice a day). He warned me this could be a big problem if I can't get them through this.

In the meantime I had used static-cling "stained glass" stickers on my patio door so they can't see out and the stray can't see in. I also washed everything down and got an ultrasonic deterrent for the backyard. I still saw him once in awhile but not as much as before.

By the third day, Fiona was calling out to Ivy so I left them meet face to face (probably a stupid idea) but they instantly were best friends again. Zero tension and were playing, cuddling, etc. etc. back to normal so it seemed.

But I was wrong. On this past Friday, August 28, all of a sudden I heard an explosion again at the patio door. The stray was NOT there, so was this just a memory or a trigger for Ivy? The patio door was closed and the "stained glass" stickers are still up so she can't see out. Anyways she attacked Fiona again. Same as before except nobody peed or pooed that time. I got them separate and called the vet and got more Gabapentin for Ivy. At this point he said I may have to rehome her! However he said if the Gabapentin works she can just stay on it. Ivy has been on Gabapentin ever since then and I have been keeping them separate. However this time Fiona appears to be done with her and is wildly hissing and growling if she sees her. I keep rotating between having one in the basement (it is finished with a nice couch, carpeting, etc but also isolating and lonely I feel) and the other gets the rest of the house.

I should mention at this point that neither have taken offence to Tinker and greet her as before.

I went and bought 6 feet shelving panels and zip tied them together to make a large see-through gate but Fiona was hissing madly when she saw Ivy but at the same time constantly clawing at it trying to get through and be with me or explore the rest of the house. It is getting irritating. I am at work today and left her in the basement and Ivy has the run of the house. Ivy slept in the basement last night so I thought it fair to switch them.

I guess I desperately need advice and some comforting words....at this point I am beside myself with anxiety and worried my cats will always fight to the point where I have to give one away but I also worry about that as they aren't super social and were former ferals so I don't think either would be ok being rehomed.

Please help!
 
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AndreaFiona

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I should mention this is what else I have tried: 1 regular feliway diffuser and 2 multi-cat/feliway friends diffusers are going (and the second fight happened directly in front of a multi-cat diffuser), and I have also put them both on the Royal canin "Calm" vet prescription cat food (the rescue I got them from gave this to me, my vet didn't suggest it).
 
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AndreaFiona

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The rescue I got them from also put me in touch with a lady who experienced this same thing several months ago. She has gotten her cats through it and it took 3 weeks. She has been giving me lovely advice but I just feel worried my case is worse as she didn't experience the second big fight and her cats have been fine ever since.
 

FeebysOwner

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Hi. I think you are going to have to treat them as new cats to each other and start from scratch with introductions. While it sounds like you are doing that to a degree, a closed door between them to start off with might be better than the 'see-through' gate you have (but keep it for later). It actually hasn't been a very long time since the incident, and some cats just take a lot longer to get past these things than other cats do. So, don't think that because they aren't getting along yet that it isn't possible, it may just take a longer time than you had hoped. See article link below for TCS' ultimate guide to cat introductions.

You might also consider thoroughly spraying down and cleaning the area outside those doors - for scent purposes. It is possible they can smell the other cat's scent outside that door, even if you can't.

I am not sure what the Gabapentin is for, other than to 'drug the hell out of' Ivy, which isn't a long term solution. It is even possible that is making matters worse. Sometimes, meds make a cat smell differently, and while Fiona is untrustworthy of Ivy at this point, the meds could be making her smell differently - or, at a minimum make her seem 'different' to Fiona. Another method tried here for re-directed/non-recognition aggression is the vanilla trick: Ode to vanilla extract

How To Successfully Introduce Cats: The Ultimate Guide – TheCatSite Articles
 
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AndreaFiona

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Ok thank you for your input. I will read this article. The Gabapentin reduces anxiety related aggression apparently. It's a mild drug according to my vet.

I will work on hosing the whole back area after work and see if that helps.

Thanks and I will read those articles when I get home from work!
 

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I look at it this way -- when a human couple fights, if something aweful is said, the bad feelings can linger even if the original cause is gone. Similarly, redirected aggression normally resolves quite quickly, but if they have a real fight and/or someone gets hurt a bit, then just like the human couple, the original cause of the fight no longer matters and the bad feelings can linger. Your two had two fights within thirty minutes, and apparently 3 days wasn't enough of a reset. So I agree with FeebysOwner FeebysOwner that a more lengthy formal reintroduction might be needed.

I love the stained glass stickers. I've never heard of doing that, but it sounds like a great idea. If you have a product link to share, I'll try to remember to link it for others with the same problem. I have a sliding glass kitchen door myself, but fortunately have never had a severe reaction to the periodic visiting cats.

I also agree with FeebysOwner FeebysOwner that your vet was arguably too quick to prescribe the drug. Most vets seem to have the opposite problem, and some won't prescribe drugs at all for behavioral issues which is very unfortunate because they can help. I would save the remaining dosage and see if you need it at the end of your more lengthy reintroduction.
 
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AndreaFiona

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These are the stained glass stickers. I just have them on the bottom half of my patio doors.
I got home from work and was able to feed both cats treats on either side of a closed basement door. Each were even sliding paws underneath to grab each others' treats. However, Ivy is obsessing over the patio door and was clearly lying there when I got home from work. I wonder how to break this. Would it be wrong to trap and remove the offending stray?

How often should I be switching them between their sanctuary area and the main house?

I am fretting over many things but the main one right now is that neither cat is getting as much attention from me as they are used to as I'm trying to deal with them and my life all at once. Is this ok? I don't have any other option really.
 

ArtNJ

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Apparently they sell motion-activated sprinklers for this purpose, which is what generally gets recommended in these threads. It doesn't seem like a super-loved product category on Amazon, a lot of them have lowish ratings, but there are a few four star ones.

Trapping is a less good idea. One, it might be someone's indoor/outdoor without a collar. Two, you have to find a no kill shelter. Three, you might well just have another cat show up in the yard in a few months.

Reintroductions are hard on the cats for sure. But what choice do you have? You could put them together and hope they work it out. If they are just grumbling, thats actually viable, but if they are fighting, I can't recommend it.
 
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AndreaFiona

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Thanks for your replies. Today I feel like I have just hit a wall and can't take it anymore. I have asked the rescue I adopted them from to take her back however they said they have no room. I am going to try to surrender her to a shelter perhaps or talk to my vet about options. I just can't live like this.
 

ArtNJ

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You don't necessarily need to rigidly following the introductions guide if that is causing stress, just isolate at least one of the two in a room for a week or a bit longer. The fancy multistep introduction processes have their advantages, but I think what you mostly need is a lengthier cool down, and if that is less stressful, I'd just do that. You've had these two for three years; I'm guessing you'll be upset later if you rehome one now without giving it more time. We do have folks that have this kind of situation, including when it arises from redirected aggression, and the cats almost always get over it. You might or might not need to order a motion activated sprinkler, but I think you can get em through this!
 
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AndreaFiona

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Thanks for your reply. I will see what it's like when I get home from work. I feel like this has just become too much for me. I can keep keeping them separated for a bit longer. The whole reason I got 2 siblings was because I just hate cat introductions sadly and I guess this is life's joke on me!
 

ArtNJ

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Definitely bad luck, but inter-cat problems can come out of the blue in a variety of weird ways long after introductions. I had a terrible problem years ago, where like you I had an older and two younger. The older never much liked the more active youngster, but was fine with the more chill youngster. At some point, after about a year of mostly good or at least tolerable coexistence, the more active youngster must have caught the older with a nail or maybe it was just that he had gotten adult big, and the older one got all hissy. This youngster only had play on his mind *until* he got really hissed at. For whatever reason, that was a switch flipping for that cat, and once it flipped he was raring to fight for real. It became an ongoing thing, with two separate real biting episodes complete with infected wounds! I could never solve it, because the older one wouldn't give up the hissing, and that immediately made the younger one go full berserker. Seems to be a really rare thing, I've only read of one or two similar cases. Anyway, I had to do separate lives, which fortunately the house allowed relatively easily. I've got more knowledge now, maybe I could deal with it better, but yep, sometimes these things are super hard to control.

We do have a few people here with like 8 cats at once that are secretly smug because they have never had any sort of problem (argh!), but a lot of folks here have had stuff come out of the blue like it did for us. Your in good company. Wishing you the best.
 

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Check out the book Cat vs Cat by pam johnson bennet. There is a new version that came out recently. It's a great resource and might help give you the tools you need. For cats yes they need re introductions, adding more territory like cat trees and litter boxes, as well as cat shelves can help to.
 
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AndreaFiona

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Thank you again for your words of wisdom ArtNJ and cataholic. The rescue I got the girls from phoned me tonight and basically asked for me to give it a bit more time as it would be devastating to Ivy to be removed from her home. They are bringing me some rescue remedy to try.

We did have a bit of progress tonight. They were eating treats just fine under the door together and then I brought a cat carrier out and had one in it while the other was loose and then switched. No hissing or anything. I kept it short.
 
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AndreaFiona

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This morning they had more treats under the door and then I put one in a carrier and it was all fine. Then I put one in a bathroom and let them meet face to face with a couple inches of door open and there was hissing but it wasn't aggressive as much as fearful so I just shut the door and separated them again. Does this sound like it is progressing ok.
 

ArtNJ

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Well, 3 days wasn't enouigh of a cool down, they were fighting, so we recommended some sort of more lengthy reintroduction process or separation. And that was just a couple of days ago. So it seems like you are moving really fast and faster than I would have recommended. Since 3 days was proven not enough, I would have done a total separation of at least 4-5 days before moving to more challenging steps like room swaps, putting one in a carrier or visual sight through a cracked door, with the idea of comitting at least a week to the overall process. You've moved to the more challenging steps pretty quick. All of that said, perhaps its fine. I agree with you that a little light hissing is nothing and they might be able to work through that. None of us actually know how long they need or whether they are ready now, so the signals you are seeing when you are pressing forward are very relevant. And so far, I agree that it doesn't sound bad.
 
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AndreaFiona

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Ok thanks. They are completely separated now (I am at work) and are completely separated about 95% of the day. I will slow down on trying to "reintroduce" even in small bits then?
 
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AndreaFiona

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Maybe I will stop with the carrier business and just do treats under doors or not even that for the next few days. Thanks for the support, it helps.
 

ArtNJ

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Yeah, there is no magic to the sequence, but you want to move up the stress gradually. Its like you have heard of gradual desensitizion therapy? You know, that is where if there is a human afraid of spiders, the therapist in session one might say close your eyes and think of a spider. In session two, he might have a tiny spider in a cage 10 feet away. If that doesn't give you hives, he might put a tiny spider loose on the counter 9 feet away in session three. He sees how the human is doing and decides whether to move forward and how based on how its going and lets each step do as much work as it needs to do. With your cats, if they are separated in different rooms, they are still smelling each other. You can escalate the smell by bringing toys and blankets from one area to the other. You could swap rooms after a bit to make sure they arent reacting to or stressed by the smell of the other cat at all. If they don't seem stressed at all by the smell stuff, you can move on after some number of days. I'd still give it a few days because this is part of the reset/break before we up the stress. Like the therapist wouldn't start the whole desensization thing without a break if the human freaked out because a spider was on them! With your cats, the fight was like that, so we want a break of some sort, but the smell-related stages are probably sufficiently low stress to count as a break. Letting them see each other through a cracked door could be next. Putting one in a carrier in a room with the other I would save for last, because that is putting the spider really close if you follow my analogy? But you did that stuff and it didn't go bad, so thats good. I'd still slow down a bit, but as long as you are thinking about some sort of gradual process and adusting based on how they are doing I think you'll do fine.
 
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AndreaFiona

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Ok thank you. I truly appreciate your responses they are really making the difference between me just insisting that one has to go. Some people are telling me this is impossible to fix and one will have to go but I would at least like to try first. I have read through some of the archives here and it seems people have been able to keep both cats and get back to relative normal.
 
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