Monday, April 16, 2012

Reader Question: Introducing a Trouble-Making Cat into a Stable Cat Household

Veterinary behaviorist Nick Dodman weighs in on the mayhem caused by the introduction of a trouble-maker into a stable cat household

QUESTION: I have two cats (not from the same litter) who are 8 years old:  Patches (19 lbs.) and Molly (half-Manx around 9-10 lbs.).  I also have two miniature dachshunds Annie and Acee, who are 6 years old.  I introduced a new cat about a month ago, whose name is Cutie.  I would say she is around 1 year old.  We live in the country, and she showed up on my back porch (where I feed several feral cats) wearing a collar but no tag.  She is very sweet and loving to humans, and she seemed so vulnerable; however, she doesn’t like other cats (except for an aggressive tom cat).  Since being in the house, she has chased Patches three times…now he is terrified of her and hides in the closet.  Molly has wandered out but gets in hissing/growling contests with Cutie.  Additionally, Molly has now stopped eating, but she is diabetic which is controlled through diet.  I don’t want to give up Cutie, but I don’t know what to do.  Molly would start eating again, I’m sure, if I can just get Patches out of my closet (where she normally eats uninterrupted).  I keep Cutie in the den where my dogs are kept in a crate during the day and night when I am not home or sleeping.  Can you offer any concrete suggestions?  Thank you very much for your help.
Elissa Patadal


ANSWER: Dear Elissa:
 You have indeed got yourself into a pickle by allowing Cutie into your house. Your resident cats, Patches and Molly, do not appreciate the newcomer’s intrusion, and their lives have been totally disrupted by it. It is a fact that not all cats immediately get on together and enjoy each other’s company. Indeed some seem to have a natural dislike for each other; that seems to be what’s going on in your home. The best solution would be to find a new home for Cutie so that Patches and Molly can get their lives back. Patches is terrified and hiding, and Molly is so anxious that she’s stopped eating, which is very serious for cats in general and diabetic cats in particular. If you decide not to take this course, then the only other humane option is to keep Cutie in a separate part of the house so that she cannot see, be seen by, or chase your other cats. Over time it may be possible to allow them to see each other through an inch crack in the door, graduating from this to some kind of screen, and then to controlled interactions in the same room, but I would certainly not hurry this process along and would not bank on it being successful. It seems to me that Cutie and your other cats may just be an oil-water mix.

Dr. Nicholas Dodman
Head, Animal Behavior Section
Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
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