Reintroduction: tension during the eat/play/love phase with new Catification in the apartment.

SuperD

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Hi everyone, I'm new... And quite desperate! So I hope writing here I will find some help... It's going to be a bit long since I want to add context.

It's been almost a month since we started the reintroduction of our 2 9yo girls after a bad fight.

This is our second reintroduction, the first one around 2 years ago because of another fight.

Both my cats are neutered and been living together since they were 3 months old, but they have 2 quite different personalities. Misha is very energetic, Namii a bit less. Misha is more of a floor cat, Namii instead likes to jump around.
Misha at times playfully attacks Namii when she has too much energy, but Namii most of the time doesn't like it and push her away screaming. This always happened without big problems since they were 4 years old, I always try to make Misha tired to avoid this but she seems to have infinite energy, so sometimes it still happens :)

The first fight 2 years ago probably happened because of non-recognition aggression. Misha (the victim) got scared of some drilling in the building and peed on the floor, she's usually the confident, energetic and bossy cat, so Namii (the aggressor) didn't recognize her and attacked her. With help of a cat behaviorist it took 1 month and a half to reintroduce them. Around 18 days going from the screen door to completely free.

This last fight, around a month ago, happened because of redirected aggression, sadly a bit my fault too. Namii sneaked outside on the balcony and I didn't see her, so I closed the balcony before going back to the other room and she was stuck there for 2 hours. When I realized since I couldn't find her, I let her in. She was quite stressed, so I kept an eye on them for 20/30 mins. I fed them a meal together and things seemed to calm down, so I lowered my guard, left them in the living room with some interactive toys where they usually nap and went back to work in the other room... 5 mins later I hear a huge fight, I go check and Misha got attacked, she's hiding and scared and peed all around the living room. So I separated them, prepared the sanctuary room in the living room (it's the only option, our apartment isn't big) after cleaning properly and started the full reintroduction process. They are taking Bach drops and Zylkene since the beginning, and we have Feliway Optimum plugged in.

So... Yesterday we opened the door for the first time after around 12 days of screen door feeding, treats, play and clicker training. It was going well so we decided to try and continue the eat, play, love phase without the screen door.

Everything went smoothly, Namii (the aggressor ) went from the living room (the sanctuary room) to the bedroom where we placed a new cat tree and a couple more things to start an improved Catification of the apartment. They kept playing there, eating treats, Misha even smelled Namii's butt at some point without issues. They got close, face to face while playing, no issues.

When they got tired, we stayed with them in the bedroom. Namii went to sleep inside a "little house" on the new cat tree, while Misha was on the bed on the other side of the room. They looked at each other every now and then, also blinking at each other, so pretty positive! We kept rewarding them each time.

Well... At some point Misha got curious, seemed to have her confidence back again, so she got close to where Namii was sleeping on the new cat tree, she tried to sniff her but Namii woke up, hissed at her and she started staring badly, so we separated the two lightly (used some paper to break line of sight). Once done, Misha was getting away from the room on her own but Namii seemed to be a bit fixated on her and to slowly chase her... When Misha realized Namii was following her, she turned back and hissed. At that point we thought Namii felt provoked and ready for an attack because she started moving very fast toward Misha, Misha started growling so we separated them completely to avoid an extremely bad ending. Namii is now back in the sanctuary room with the screen door separating them. We let them see each other again after 10 mins, we played a bit, did some clicker + treats to keep the positive association and now they're ok with each with the screen door in-between, so we're probably just a step back.

The whole meeting lasted 30 mins or a bit more, so it was positive until then... But not sure if the Catification was the issue, maybe it was better to wait before adding new stuff around the apartment? Or maybe it's just that the tree was new and the aggressor was feeling territorial and trying to keep the new thing for herself?

At the moment we added this new tree, a few more scratching boxes and toys, a third litter, but in the future I also want to add some more wall shelves which we only have some in the living room.

Since we separated them, we've let Misha roam around the new tree more, so that at the next try her scent is there too.

Any more advice on this? Something else we should do before trying again? We saw some light and then our dreams shattered, mostly because with the first reintroduction 2 years ago they were completely fine with each other right after we opened the door the first time, while now things seem a bit different...

Thanks a lot for taking the time to read and help.
 

silent meowlook

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Hi.
Sounds like you were doing well, but pushed your luck a little to much. In the future, when re- introducing, try to stop the interaction after very short sessions, before things go bad. Maybe 15 minutes. Just go back to where they are comfortable for a couple of weeks.
 

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I'm not clear what you added/changed beyond a new cat tree, but I wouldn't be rearranging/adding anything when they are recovering from a problem. That said, fairly unlikely that a new cat tree caused or contributed. For certain very serious problems, Jackson Galaxy does recommend all kinds of crazy catification, but for a routine incident of non-recognition, it seems more likely to create problems than solve them.

I agree with FeebysOwner FeebysOwner that its possible that no amount of carefully orchestrated process is going to fully restore them to where they were without some amount of work on their part in working past temporary tension. After all, a reintroduction is an introduction, and something like 60-80% of intros involving a 9 year old are going to feature some amount of hissing/growling and even stray swats when you get to face to face, no matter how much prep you do. A little tension doesn't preclude working past it, unless they fight. If you thought they were going to fight, then totally agree with discontinuing interaction. If it looks like a risk of fighting, small supervised interactions may be better.

I assume they have had recent vet checkups? You may ultimately need to talk with the vet about medicating one or both. At this age, recovery from these things can get hard.
 
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SuperD

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Thank you so much for your replies! It's very possible that we (the humans) are a bit too scared and try to end things too quickly and prematurely.

Yesterday we tried another session, they were less energetic than the day before and still it went ok. Misha tried again getting close to where Namii was multiple times, and each time we got a bit scared so I drove her away with toys and treats.

After a bit they crossed paths and Misha growled at Namii, so we decided to end the session after a last treat to end things in a positive way.

I know we might have to try let them talk to each other, that's actually what they do through the net at the door when they're separated. At times Misha growls (rarely also hisses), other times they can get super close without issues.

Yesterday in just a couple hours they both touched noses and swatted at each other through the net, so it's a bit confusing.

During the day the door is always open and they can live peacefully with the net in-between, even without supervision... So there are a bunch of positive signs but then there are these growls from Misha that worry us.

Namii doesn't care much at this point, sometimes she does some little meows when getting close to the net if Misha is on the other side looking at her, but most of the time she's just there chilling. Other times she's stressed because she wants to get out of the room.

What we noticed is that Misha sometimes growls at the net even if Namii is not in the room, we're still site swapping here and there, and what's strange is that Misha, while in the room, even if the door is open and can see Namii is not on the other side, starts growling a bit when she gets close to the net. She basically growls at the door/net from both sides, but she doesn't when she roams the apartment or the room. We're thinking that to build her confidence we might need to also work on giving her some treats in the room when Namii is not there, maybe close to the door. Not sure...

Thanks again for the feedback!
 
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SuperD

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I wanted to add a couple of videos to show you how they act near each other...
Misha is the brown one, Namii is the black and white.

This happened this morning, probably some residues from the catnip stick she played with yesterday:
This is how close they can eat to each other, Misha usually finishes first (she's very obsessed with food compared to Namii):
 
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SuperD

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A couple more... What I'm noticing this morning is that Misha is laying down a bit in front of the net, never happened until now.



That said, there was also a little bad interaction earlier, but of course I wasn't recording :ohwell:
 

ArtNJ

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Not seeing stress in the vids, I do think your moving too slowly. Most incidents of non-recognition can be resolved with a separation of a few hours up to a day or two, without a formal reintroduction process. I did one of a few hours recently. There was some hissing when I put them together, but I have gentle low key cats so I let them work it out. It took 2-3 days for the hissing to end and things to return to normal. Not saying you don't sometimes need a full reintroduction process, but I think its rare if they haven't fought.

Erroring on the side of caution is good if they have ever fought I suppose. With 9 year olds, a mistake could be hard to fix. And too slow is safer than too fast for sure. But I'd still give them a shot to fix this.
 

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You have to move at a pace you are comfortable with because if you don't your own anxiety can be felt by them and they can feed off of that. However, having said that, it is possible that you are delaying the process a bit. Growling, hissing, and even an occasional swat aren't necessarily indicators that a fight will follow. Maybe it would help for you to be prepared to stop a fight if it happens - with a large piece of cardboard, or something similar, to place between them.

I don't know what the growling is about, but since it happens whether or not Namil is visible likely means it has more to do with how Misha perceives the separation in general, than it has to do with anything else.
 
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SuperD

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Thank you all for helping! This forum is quite supportive :)

I'm trying to have more courage and be less anxious, they've been together for around 7 hours today! Slept close on the new tree, played close, etc... No issues beside some very little growls from Misha when sniffing each other or if Namii tries to sniff her butt, but Namii seems to respect her boundaries now instead of replying with aggression.

That said, there's 100% something weird with the net/room where Namii was! Misha's been OK all day with her, they sniff each other and so on as I mentioned and as you can see from the pictures they seem pretty OK.

BUT at one point Namii entered the living room (where the net is), was coming back out, and Misha started growling while Namii was approaching the door, since then she's started being more agitated, growling at Namii more often and guarding the door a bit, then she calmed down, moved to another room and allowed Namii to be close to her and sniff her again.

I'm wondering, is it possible Feliway Optimum (or Feliway in general) can give negative effects? I'm asking because our Feliway is plugged right next to that door on the inside... I don't know what to think anymore, this is all very strange and not sure how to approach it... Misha herself entered that room today on her own and used the litter inside for the first time (which is where Namii usually littered).

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FeebysOwner

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Yes, there are cats that react negatively to Feliway. There are those it helps and those it does nothing for too. Remove it and see what happens. It might take a while for the scent to fully dissipate.
 
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SuperD

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Well... That room is a problem for sure... Sadly things didn't go well. They lasted for more than 8 hours together, but that room has triggered bad behaviour.

After they had their meal in the other room without any issue, I let them play a bit, since after eating they have energy. Misha wondered in the living room on her own since she started to feel safer around Namii, there've been a lot of butt and nose sniffing during the day, without any issue. She went to smell the water fountain which is close to the wall on the other side of the door. Namii got curious, looked at her and Misha probably got scared because felt trapped and became the "prey" by the way she looked at Namii, so Namii basically threw herself at her in a very bad way. I threw a pillow right before she managed to touch her, but she kept trying to go around me and attack her. We separated them (which was even difficult because Namii almost attacked me too), Misha calmed quite fast with the help of me reassuring her and some treats. We tried a couple minutes later to see what would happen if we slighly open the door, but Namii seemed to be aggressive and Misha to stare her too much, so we closed the door.

I think it might be a combination of that being Namii's territory and Misha being scared of the room...

Not sure what to do next, if to keep the door closed and start again from scratch or what, we're losing a bit hope...
 

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I guess I can't envision the layout enough to understand where they are when they get along and where they are when they don't. I get the sense that you are not doing a lot of site swapping, given that it sounds like Misha is still getting familiar with one of the locations, so it seems like Namil spends most of her time there, which could be provoking some of the territorial behavior.

If you think one of these rooms is presenting a problem, not related to the Feliway and not related to a lack of site swapping, then you might have to reconfigure how you separate them.
 
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SuperD

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I guess I can't envision the layout enough to understand where they are when they get along and where they are when they don't. I get the sense that you are not doing a lot of site swapping, given that it sounds like Misha is still getting familiar with one of the locations, so it seems like Namil spends most of her time there, which could be provoking some of the territorial behavior.

If you think one of these rooms is presenting a problem, not related to the Feliway and not related to a lack of site swapping, then you might have to reconfigure how you separate them.
Thanks a lot for your fast replies. Sorry if I'm not super clear, English is not my first language and there's a lot of info to process and share :)

I made a little map and I'm going to try to explain: The Living Room is the "sanctuary room", and yes, Namii spends most of her time there, because I read you usally close the aggressor in a room and let the victim roam the rest of the apartment. That's also where Feliway is plugged. The sanctuary room is what Misha is scared of, mostly at the area around the door. If something happens near the door like a loud sound, or she sees Namii (either if she is inside the room, or outside), she gets stressed. Today they got along all around the rest of the apartment, this last fight happened exactly the first time Misha entered the sanctuary room on her own and saw Namii approaching her from the door, otherwise they spent a pretty good day together around the rest of the apartment. She even entered the sanctuary room on her own today multiple times without issue, that's because in those instances Namii wasn't there too, she was hanging out in another room.

As for the site swapping, we used to site swap them once or twice per day, as long as Misha felt comfortable, but she doesn't last that long, usually max 1 hour. Once we moved to the "sight" phase, so with the net, we kept site swapping for a bit, but then since the door was always open we started swapping them less, but kept swapping the items inside (beds, toys etc.).
layout.png
 

FeebysOwner

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Thanks for taking the time to do the drawing and explain more about the layout!
The Living Room is the "sanctuary room", and yes, Namii spends most of her time there, because I read you usally close the aggressor in a room and let the victim roam the rest of the apartment.
I have actually never heard that before. What seems to have happened is that because Misha - for whatever reasons - hardly spends any time in the sanctuary, Namil now feels that is her space and doesn't want to share with Misha. So, Namil being the aggressor is going to react to Misha entering her territory. That is one of the reasons why most of what I have read says to make sure both cats spend equal time in the other's space, so as to avoid this. It also seems to be supported by the fact that they can spend time together in all the other parts of house without issue.

I'd let Misha venture into that sanctuary whenever she wants to, but keep Namil somewhere else so that she cannot get to Misha, or even realize that is where Misha has gone. The more Misha can spend time in there without being intimidated, and the less time Namil spends in there should translate to them both viewing that room more like they view the rest of the house. Misha has to feel safe there, and Namil has to be weaned off of feeling like that is solely 'her space'.
 

arr

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Thank you all for helping! This forum is quite supportive :)

I'm trying to have more courage and be less anxious, they've been together for around 7 hours today! Slept close on the new tree, played close, etc... No issues beside some very little growls from Misha when sniffing each other or if Namii tries to sniff her butt, but Namii seems to respect her boundaries now instead of replying with aggression.

That said, there's 100% something weird with the net/room where Namii was! Misha's been OK all day with her, they sniff each other and so on as I mentioned and as you can see from the pictures they seem pretty OK.

BUT at one point Namii entered the living room (where the net is), was coming back out, and Misha started growling while Namii was approaching the door, since then she's started being more agitated, growling at Namii more often and guarding the door a bit, then she calmed down, moved to another room and allowed Namii to be close to her and sniff her again.

I'm wondering, is it possible Feliway Optimum (or Feliway in general) can give negative effects? I'm asking because our Feliway is plugged right next to that door on the inside... I don't know what to think anymore, this is all very strange and not sure how to approach it... Misha herself entered that room today on her own and used the litter inside for the first time (which is where Namii usually littered).

View attachment 471384View attachment 471385View attachment 471386View attachment 471387
Hi, I just wanted to mention that when I was doing reintroduction due to non recognition aggression, my cats reacted badly to the Feliway Optimum. It was very puzzling because it would seem we had made progress, then for no discernible reason, they would start attacking each other. Even the two who recognized each other started attacking each other. Two of them sprayed the wall during this time, which they had never done before. When I finally realized what was going on, I took the Feliway out of the house, opened all the windows, blasted the air conditioning, and the cats were completely normal in two hours. This was last year, we’ve had no problems since then.
 
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SuperD

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Hi, I just wanted to mention that when I was doing reintroduction due to non recognition aggression, my cats reacted badly to the Feliway Optimum. It was very puzzling because it would seem we had made progress, then for no discernible reason, they would start attacking each other. Even the two who recognized each other started attacking each other. Two of them sprayed the wall during this time, which they had never done before. When I finally realized what was going on, I took the Feliway out of the house, opened all the windows, blasted the air conditioning, and the cats were completely normal in two hours. This was last year, we’ve had no problems since then.
Thanks for the input, yeah we removed it yesterday to see what happens, we opened the windows a bit and now I placed an air purifier to speed up the process.

We're back at the net, but besides the Feliway we also want to try what FeebysOwner suggested. I'll start swapping them a bit more, leaving Namii in the other room with the door closed while keeping the living room open and let Misha wonder there. I'll also try to spend time myself there since she's very attached to me and might follow me there.

I was also thinking of maybe closing the living room door for now if I decide to let them free again, just to make sure they can't access the room until I'm more positive things can go ok when they're there.

I'll post an update when it's time, thanks again for all your help with this!
 
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SuperD

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A little update as promised: after 2 days of getting rid of Feliway and starting site swapping for 3 hours per day, today I finally managed to let them both in the living room without fighting. They're now both sleeping in it, on the couch on my left and right side, it feels like a dream...

An additional thing I started doing yesterday is using the time-out technique, which I didn't hear before but I found it and thought of trying it. I had to use it a bunch with Namii and once with Misha, it seems to work, so I might also try it for future general unwanted behavior.

I'm still anxious of course, because you never know, and I'm already thinking I'm not sure if it's wise to spend the night with them free... Let's see how the day goes.

That said, not sure what worked... the site swapping for more time, removing Feliway or the time-outs. Or maybe all of it? I'd really like to know, but I don't think I can find out, I could try to replugging Feliway but at this point there's no reason and I really don't want to risk it.

I want to thank you all for helping, the moment I wrote on this forum I managed to improve things a lot, we were feeling quite desperate and now there's some light!

A couple pictures from the living room:

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FeebysOwner

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Who knows if one or all tactics attributed to the improvement. I think I would let this current process go on for a while longer before considering letting them free overnight.
 
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