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Old Cat, New Kitten – who is the aggressor?

Posted in Guest Blogger @ Mar 4th 2021 - By Gillian Shippen, Director Pets Need A Life Too & HandicappedPets Australia
Old Cat New Kitten Who Is The Aggressor

Hands up all who have had clients complain their old cat has become aggressive towards their sweet innocent kitten that is only trying to play?

(Did you happen to note the hint of sarcasm there?)

When I was veterinary nursing, this was a common complaint and I found it highly frustrating that clients were not viewing the situation from the older cat’s point of view.

The story begins...

Here is the scenario – your client already has a significantly older cat that has been an only cat for many years and then the family decides to add a kitten to the mix.

They may have heard all about kitten/puppy license, understanding it to mean the kitten will be allowed to do anything it wants and it will then be completely accepted by the older cat without any problems. However, often the opposite is the case. Trouble can start when the younger cat pounces in play and the older one takes great exception to the onslaught. The owner then views the older cat as being aggressive for no reason the owner can fathom as in their eyes the kitten is only trying to play.

Life through the eyes of the older cat

If we take the time to see life through the eyes of the older cat - usually also an only cat - the kitten is an interloper in their territory. Remembering also that as cats often withhold signs of pain, the owner may be completely unaware that they may also be feeling some level of arthritic pain. Not to mention other faculties that may also be impaired, so a kitten “creeping up” in a surprise attack can at best can be annoying, and at worst be perceived as a threat to one’s life!

I'm too old for that....

There is a cut-off point in any animal’s life where they just don't want to put up with the playful attentions of a younger individual – no matter the species! It doesn't however, necessarily have to mean they won't accept the kitten all together as long as appropriate strategies are put in place to help drain the younger cat’s energy.

When you're helping a client work through this scenario, it's imperative to impress upon them the different energy needs of both animals. Clearly the cute kitten will have boundless energy and the older cat, although possibly showing some interest in the younger one, will most likely wish to have a much more sedate life. So draining the kitten’s energy by themselves is important – the older cat may or may not choose to join in on the fun - but the key word here is “choice”.

The older cat needs to be able to feel safe, have a choice to engage or not, and have an ability to get away from the situation.

Older cats & the importance of base camps & a kitty highway

The older cat must have access to safe spaces, cat people like to call it “Base Camp”, where they can feel safe, feel a part of the family and observe the goings on. The next thing is to ensure there is a Kitty highway. Kitty highways give cats a means of moving about in a space without feeling trapped. Some cats are ground bush dwellers and others are high tree dwellers. Catifying the household makes for huge benefits for cat relations.

Younger cats and the opportunity to use up energy

The most important thing your client can do is to create outlets for the younger cat to drain its pent-up energy by allowing it opportunities to seek, hunt & “kill”. I hasten to add that I don’t mean this literally, but a young cat was put on earth to seek, hunt, kill, eat and sleep, simple as that. Kitten owners can however, provide them with activities that mimic these - without the need to actually do a “kill.

Toys & activities perfect for kittens (and older cats too!)

I have always been a big advocate of “ditching the food bowl”, and this is never more significant than for a young kitten. Your client needs to get their kitten moving and moving quickly to expend its energy, so slow feeders are not the best thing for a young cat.

However, this is where Food Dispensing Toys which require a cat to run around after it or have some sort of physical exertion to manipulate the food from them are perfect. Simple food dispensing balls are great for very young kittens and they can then graduate up to harder and heavier toys as the youngster grows in both size and confidence. These solutions not only tap into the seek, hunt, kill systems but have the added bonus of feeding as well, so we're not only working the body, but working the brain too. These toys are also perfect for those who like to free feed their cats.

Wand toys also tap into the seek, hunt and kill sequence of a cats brain. For kittens and smaller cats I recommend ordinary cat wand toys, but for heavier and more agile cats I recommend purchasing a dog wand toy – they are much more robust and better able to handle the assault from a bigger kitty – perfect for the Bengal type cats too.

Wand toys should not just be dangled in front of a cat’s face - the handler needs to “be the prey” act like a bird or moth might act. Flutter the toy around, suddenly landing in front of the cat, and then quickly taking off again. Or if the cat is more of a crawling insect hunter…….the toy needs to mimic the actions of a crawling insect. The main function is to encourage the cat to move, run and leap during the activity.

Cats are built for sudden bursts of energy; they are not made for endurance. So if you're playing with a cat for a long time, you're not playing with your cat correctly.

Tired kittens are less likely to annoy older cats!

Played with appropriately and with the goal to drain energy, a young kitten is then far less likely to want to prey on the older cat in the household and hopefully they may then be more likely to tolerate each other, if not be friends.

The key though, is to help your cat owner clients to recognise that their older cat is not being aggressive but rather is being defensive and needs their support.

If you have clients in this situation who need some help with enrichment ideas, I offer Enrichment Consultations for all species at Pets Ned A Life Too.

About Gillian

Gillian Shippen is the Director and owner of 'Pets Need A LIfe Too, a website that advises on and sells a wide range of environmental enrichment toys for animals including dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and horses as well as wheelchairs for dogs. She has spoken at conferences on the importance on environmental enrichment for all animals and has also written a book: 'Pets Need a Life Too - A Guide to Enriching the Life of Your Pet - Series One: Dogs'.

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Email Gillian to discuss enrichment needs for your pet:


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