Letters From Home

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Cat politics

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A year or so ago, I read a book called Cat vs. Cat: keeping peace when you have more than one cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett. Up till then, I had not realized that house cats have a “pecking order” too.

In the summer of 1994, we rescued a mama cat and her five kittens. Eventually, three of the kittens were adopted by friends, and we kept two. My daughter likes to give cats names from Shakespeare, so the mama cat became Caliban (because she had a severely distorted spine, a very short tail and a grumpy disposition) and the one male kitten was Tybalt. I put my foot down on naming the calico kitten Antonio, though, and thus she became Calypso.

Time has passed, life has gone on, and Caliban and Calypso are gone. In all his nearly-14-years, Tybalt, despite being larger than many small dogs, has never been the dominant cat. He got his butt kicked by his mother on a regular basis, and after Caliban died, Tybalt and Calypso did some wrangling for position, and what came out of it was that Tybalt wasn’t about to agree that Calypso was now the dominant cat, but he didn’t mind letting her think she was.

After Calypso died, Tybalt was an Only Cat for the first time in his life, and that took some getting used to, for all of us. Still, though, it gave him a bit of breathing room before we felt we were ready to adopt another cat.

Zoe came to us from a home where there were a lot of cats being fostered. It’s clear she’s not used to being the dominant cat, either. So what we have here is two second bananas trying to establish who’s who, and it’s extremely interesting to watch. I’m glad I read that book or I’d have had a lot less insight into what’s going on.

Tybalt’s not accustomed to asserting himself, and he’s such a non-hisser that the first few times he tried to hiss at Zoe, all he did was make himself cough. Zoe is apparently used to standing her ground, so she doesn’t just run away when Mr. Monster Kitty tries to move in on her. We’ve had a few scuffles and spats, and Tybalt seems terribly confused by the notion of asserting himself in the face of female-cat opposition, but I think his few months alone at the top have helped give him a bit more confidence.

The cats take their accustomed placesSo, I guess we will have to see how all this plays out. Zoe’s backed down a couple of times, but she’s also stood her ground a couple of times and has won. It’s kind of nice to have a female cat in the household who’s not cranky and doesn’t just hiss at Tybalt on general principles, I must say.

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Author: infmom

Otherwise known as Infamous Mom.

5 Comments

  1. I have 2 cats and 3 dogs, and the funny thing is that my oldest cat Kiwi is dominate over everyone of them them the dogs included. My dogs see her coming and it is like they are so scared of her they run away. It is hilarious.

  2. We haven’t done anything in particular to try to change things between the two cats. They seem to have reached a state of mutual truce, but lately Tybalt has been approaching Zoe as if he wants to play (rolling over, reaching out, and so forth) and all she does is hiss and bat at him.

    It sure looks to me as though you’re doing the right things with your cats, but I’m no expert. Getting two unrelated cats to get along is never easy. Maybe that Cat Politics book could give you more suggestions? I bet you can find it at the library.

    We recently put a Feliway diffuser in our bedroom. It’s supposed to make cats calmer. Of course, the instructions say it may take a while to work. I can’t tell much difference, yet.

  3. Did you intervene at all to get Tybalt and Zoe to work out their order? I have a 13 year old, 7 pound, declawed (before I got her) female named Missy. I adopted her two years ago from a three cat home. She got along with one of her cat sisters, but not the other (that one dominated both of the others). Missy has enjoyed being an only cat. About 5 weeks ago, I adopted a boy cat, Austin. He appeared on the porch and for about a week and a half before he came indoors, he and Missy regarded one another through the screen door without incident. In fact, Missy seemed to want to have him come in. Still, I took it very slow introducing them and kept them separated by a french door so they could see and smell one another, gradually letting them be together. They are still separated when I’m not at home and at night, and sometimes during mealtime because Austin wants to eat Missy’s food after he has finished his bowl. Austin is a neutered 13 pounder, and very very friendly.

    The past week, Austine has been more domineering of Missy, staring at her, chasing her out of the room, and sometimes touching her with his paw (not hard, but seems to want to tell her he is the boss…). She runs away, or gets nervous and hisses if she feels like he’ll chase her if she runs. She has many high places she can get to (and he can’t because he is too big). Sometimes she gets up there, sometimes she seems to want to be with him…

    I don’t know quite how to intervene. I try to distract him when he is staring her down, give lots of positive attention when he’s leaving her alone… both have “special times” with me separate from the other. I’ve been shooing him away when he bothers her, using a loud noise or even chasing him like he chases her. I DON’T KNOW IF I’M MAKING IT WORSE OR HELPING!!!

    Should I let them work out their heirarchy or what?????

    Your story about Tybalt sort of reminded me of this one, even though the age difference and size are greater in my situation. BTW, Austin has his claws though I have never seen him try to use them on Missy. Sorry such a long post …

  4. That’s so interesting — I never thought about it that way. Before the baby we had two cats, one huge and scary looking and the other tiny and playful. Around the time the kitten turned 6 months there was a huge turnaround in behavior for both of them and the kitten was clearly the dominant cat. It confused the heck out of me at the time, but it makes more sense now.

    Love the Shakespeare names. My favorite was in Rocky, when he named his turtles Cuff and Link. When we watched it again, my husband turned to me and said, “Before you even say a word, we are NOT getting a pair of turtles.” He can read me like a book.

    • I had never thought about cats having a pecking order till I read that book. My family has always had cats and we usually had more than one. Somehow the cats always figured out how to deal with each other without too much trouble.

      It’s been very interesting to see how Tybalt and Zoe interact. Tybalt now seems willing to be friends with Zoe and will happily lick her on the head if the occasion arises–but she won’t put up with that for long and tends to swipe at him and run away.

      Never a dull moment with cats in the house. 🙂

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