Clicker Training the Cat
As you increase the time the cats are exposed to each other, use clicker training to click and reward any positive move, however small it may be. Click for any absence of an unwanted behavior. For example, if one cat breaks a stare or walks by the other cat without hissing or swatting – that deserves a reward. If you choose not to clicker train, offer a food treat or verbal praise for any positive sign. Clicker training is a very powerful training tool though and one I would urge you to try. You may be familiar with clicker training for dogs but it works just as well with cats.
Use Playtime During Cat Reintroductions
Use interactive playtime as a way to help the cats associate positive experiences with being together. Do parallel play by having a fishing pole-type toy in each hand or, if you can, enlist the assistance of another family member. The cats shouldn’t compete for one toy to avoid the risk of having a cat feeling intimidated by the other. When you use two toys they get to enjoy the game while seeing the other cat in their peripheral vision.
Tweak the Cats’ Environment
This is the time to take a second look at how your environment has been set up to see if there’s anything you can do to improve enrichment and a sense of security. The more interior territory you can create, the easier it’ll be for each cat to find enough personal space. With an indoor environment cats have to overlap some of their personal territory so the more you can assist them with this, the better. Use cat trees, perches, cat shelving, and hideaways to create low, medium and high levels. If you increase the elevated territory in the environment you’ll greatly increase the cats’ perception of the amount of territory they have. Vertical territory also helps a cat’s sense of safety and security because he knows it’ll be more difficult for an opponent to ambush him from behind. The vertical territory also increases a cat’s visual advantage in order to see if an opponent is approaching. The ability to scope out the territory is a big plus from a cat’s perspective. Some cats also use vertical territory as way to display status and it can often avert an actual physical confrontation.
Increase environmental enrichment to give the cats ways to divert their attention, release energy and have fun! Set up food-dispensing toys, puzzle toys and other opportunities for solo playtime. A bird feeder outside the window or some cat shelves for climbing and playing may divert attention and ease tension. Increased enrichment will give the cats something to focus on other than each other.
If the previous set-up in the environment included having your cats share one litter box and one scratching post, you should increase those numbers. During the time the cats were separated you already had to increase the number of resources so keep that up once the cats are together again. The less the cats have to share and/or complete, the less likely they’ll fight. Provide multiple litter boxes in various locations around the house so a cat doesn’t have to cross the path of the other cat. The same goes for scratching posts and any other valued resources.
When it comes to meals, provide separate bowls for the cats. This will help lessen the chance of competition and concern for resources. In some cases, depending on your specific situation, you may find that the best way to create a peaceful co-existence during mealtime is to feed the cats in separate locations.
Remember the Importance of Choice When it Comes to Cats
A cat who doesn’t feel she has a choice is the cat who feels threatened. The cat who feels backed in a corner is the one who will lash out or display unwanted behavior. As you go through the reintroduction process, keep in mind how important choice is to a cat so you can tweak and adjust your process to provide that crucial necessity.
If you have a question about your cat’s behavior, you can find information in the articles on our website as well as in Pam’s books. If you have a question regarding your cat’s health, please contact your veterinarian. This article is not intended as a replacement for your cat’s veterinary care.