Help! My Cats Are Fighting – And Now We’ve Got Litterbox Issues

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Cat-cat aggression is no joke. The screaming, clawing, hissing, biting, and… the litterbox issues. When cats are stressed, they often slip up in their litterbox habits. So how do you help your cats get along? And how do you fix the litterbox problem?

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I got a text this morning at 6:17am from my very good friend Becca. “When you wake up, I need your animal help.”

We spoke on the phone for a while and I helped give her some advice. The issue she’s struggling with is pretty common: cat-cat aggression that’s resulting in litterbox issues.

Here are the basic details:

    • Becca and her boyfriend own three cats.
    • The older female, Katza, gets along really well with the male, Wicket.
    • Wicket also gets along with the younger female, Tiny Cat.
    • Becca found Tiny Cat in June.
    • They did a careful and slow introduction (read how to do cat-cat intros here), and aside from some minor scuffles, things went well introducing the cats to the new home.
    • Katza and Tiny Cat will share Becca’s lap and occasionally groom each other.
    • Becca and her boyfriend just purchased a home. They’re still living in the original apartment, but they’re home much less and a move is on the horizon.
    • Katza recently started chasing Tiny Cat away from both litterboxes.
    • Tiny Cat has started using other places as her litterbox because she can’t get to the litterbox when Katza guards it.
  • Becca will step in between the cats when she can, but she’s not home all of the time. She’s not sure how to react in this situation, because she doesn’t want to punish Katza and make her scared. But she also wants Katza to stop terrorizing Tiny Cat!

Becca loves her cats, but really can’t be cleaning up cat pee all the time. Need I say why? It’s really important to work on cat-cat aggression and litterbox issues as early as possible so that neither pattern becomes an ingrained habit. This is even more important because Becca and her boyfriend are about to move. 

Fixing Cat-Cat Aggression and Solving Litterbox Issues

Her basic question is this: “How do I help my cats get along so that everyone uses the litterbox in peace?”

It’s important to remember that both cats here are probably very stressed. We don’t know exactly what they’re thinking or feeling, but it’s safe to assume that it’s not warm and fuzzy. That’s why I never recommend punishment for animal training.

There are six steps that Becca can take to work towards helping her cats get along better.

  • Re-separate the cats when unsupervised. This is key to helping with cat-cat aggression. This will give both cats space away from each other. This also will give Tiny Cat time to use the litterbox without being harassed.
    • Becca plans to keep one in the living room/dining room area while the other is in the bathroom/bedroom area. The cats will swap spaces every day, while the boy cat stays in the living room area. This gives both female cats time with Wicket. It also keeps them from getting too “set in” in a specific part of the home.\
      • Becca and her boyfriend might have to re-visit this step after they move. Moves are extremely stressful for everyone. Separation and confinement is a great step to take whenever big stressors are coming.
      • Confinement like this is ulta-important in litterbox issue cases. Since Tiny Cat is getting to the litterbox sometimes, while Katza actively chases her away other times, it’s important to give Tiny Cat time to use the litterbox safely. In all housesoiling cases, confinement is a good early step to take.
  • Fix the litterbox setup by adding more boxes. In general, we recommend one litterbox per cat, plus one. In Becca’s case, this means four litterboxes! Yes, it’s a pain. A huge pain. But this will help the cats stop guarding boxes.
    • It’s also a good idea to spread the litterboxes around the house as much as possible. That means having four litterboxes in a row in the basement doesn’t count!
      • Watch the video linked here for more information on ideal cat litterbox setup.
  • Deep-clean problem areas. Your cats are more likely to have accidents wherever they did before. Use a product like Clean Carl’s to clean up any areas that were messed up before.
  • Interrupt cat-cat aggression and give the cats something better to do. Becca wanted to know what to do when she catches Katza posturing, stalking, or chasing Tiny Cat. Let’s go at this in three steps:
    • Step One: Prevent cat-cat aggression by doing slow, proper introductions. Re-separate and try again if necessary.
    • Step Two: Interrupt altercations if they do happen. Doing something like clapping your hands or calling the cats over will often work. The goal isn’t to scare the cats, it’s to interrupt them. If you must move yourself between them, do so safely and without scaring or hurting the cats. Then move on to step three.
    • Step Three: Once you’ve interrupted the cats, give them something else to do. You can feed the cats a treat, play with one or both of them, or pet them. The goal here is to soothe the cats after a stressful interaction and give them something else to do. Ideally, you’ll then give the cats some time apart to settle down.
      • See my discussion on counter-conditioning in this article to understand more about why we’re giving the cats something good to do right after they’ve been naughty. For now, just know that we’re giving them something good in order to change their emotional state, not reward them for being ****s to each other.
  • Add in more interactive daily play. Play with your cat. Many cat behavior experts call this “play therapy,” and that’s literally what it is. Therapy. For your cat. By playing with him.
    • Go buy yourself a fishing-pole type cat toy (or make one) that you can wave around for structured, hard daily play sessions. It really helps! This is a great way for all three cats to get their energy and frustration out in a safe manner.
  • Create more vertical space in the home. Some call this “catification.” By creating shelving and hiding spaces for cats to get up high, we can literally make our homes bigger for our cats without even moving. This will likely reduce Katza’s stress because she’s got more space to call her own. It also will likely reduce Tiny Cat’s stress because she can claim some perches far away from Katza.
    • There are tons of ideas for how to do this without making your home into a cat-tree infested old folk’s home on Jackson Galaxy’s website.
  • Get a Feliway diffuser or spray. There are lots of different calming essential oils out there for cats. The one that I’ve personally used is called Feliway. Basically, Feliway is an artificial version of the pheromone that happy cats give off when they “cheek mark” things. It’s marketed to help for all sorts of different cat behavior problems. It’s worth a try.

In an ideal world… continue to prevent cat-cat aggression by distracting your cats. For example: Tiny Cat hops off the couch and heads over to the litterbox. Katza hasn’t yet started to stalk or chase. Becca jumps up and grabs Katza’s favorite toy and starts a great play session with Katza. Katza learns that if she ignores Tiny Cat, she’ll get a private play session. Pretty soon, Katza will be excited to let Tiny Cat go to the bathroom!

Eventually, you won’t have to keep the cats separate when you’re gone. You won’t have to leap off of the couch to distract Katza whenever Tiny Cat has the urge. Instead, Katza will keep lounging on her high perch and just enjoying her daily play therapy sessions while Tiny Cat uses one of the four boxes available. But it will take a bit of time and effort to get to this place.

Dealing with cat-cat aggression and litterbox issues is really frustrating.

No one wants to clean up endless cat pee, deal with fighting cats, or entertain the thoughts of permanent separation (or rehoming a pet). Luckily, there are several steps you can take that are fairly easy. Most people succeed with just these modifications to their home, routine, and behavior.

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