Ask the Pet Expert: Cats fighting after brief separation

December 30, 2013|By Kim Fernandez, For The Baltimore Sun

My two cats are littermates and we've had them since they were about six weeks old — they are both neutered males and have gotten along perfectly. But recently one cat had surgery, and as part of his recuperation, we had to keep him in a separate part of the house. He is now recovered and released from his seclusion, but our other cat has decided his former best friend is now a threat. He hisses at him and attacks him. What can we do to bring about detente and perhaps even return to days of true camaraderie? 

This common issue may resolve itself in a few days, or you may need to play their little game and reintroduce them as if they were true strangers. In that case, keep the cats separate except when you are able to enhance together time. If you do see there are problems — such as hissing, growling, or flattened posture — keep calm and separate the cats. Yelling will only convince them they have reason to be anxious.  

The only times the cats come in contact with each other, something they really like should happen, such as food. Increase slowly to include playtime, such as letting them chase a motorized toy together. Before long, they'll start to associate their sibling with fun and goodies. If seeing the other guy means extra treats, wet food, or even tuna is going to come along, that other guy can't be all bad, can he?  

Once they start feeling more relaxed around each other, you can start extending their time together, but be sure the house is set up to keep them happier. That means two food and water bowls and two or more litter boxes, so they have access to everything they want without interruption from a cranky housemate. Give them lots of escape options and places to hide, and always be willing to separate them if needed. Don't forget to think three-dimensionally!  Give them cubbies and hideaways, and also shelves and cat trees to climb — extra levels can make a huge difference in your cats' feeling of comfort.

This week's expert is Amie Glasgow, head trainer and behavior consultant at the Maryland SPCA. Send your questions to

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