What To Do if Your Cats Don’t Like Each Other

A friend of mine, let’s call her Amy, is the proud owner of two wonderful, affectionate cats. Amy is a cat-expert. She works in animal welfare and has fostered over a 100 felines. But despite her knowledge of cat behaviour, she just cannot get her cats to like each other. Amy is very pragmatic about their mutual dislike and keeps them in separate rooms. Both cats are comfortable and happy, but how can she make her cats like each other?

Separating the cats is one way to do it. Most cat owners, however, would prefer a more harmonious solution. But what if our cats don’t feel the same way as we do? How can we tell? More importantly, can we fix this? 

Most wild cats tend to be lone hunters. They are protective of their resources and very territorial. The house cat, while being a social animal, still retains her territorial instincts. We’re talking food, toys, napping areas, even people. When any of these resources come under attack, or what the cat perceives as an attack, she gets defensive.  

As cat owners, it’s easier for us to notice the more “overt” signs of antagonism between our cats—swatting, hissing, howling, and sizing each other up. But tune yourself to notice the subtler movements, because they are the ones that will tell you more.

For example, do your cats attend mealtime together or does one tend to hang back, allowing the other to eat first? During playtime, do both cats engage in play or does one tend to monopolize your attention more than the other? Other subtle signs of stress include reduced appetite, eliminating outside the litter box, shying away in the presence of the other cat, and vomiting—usually exhibited by cats at the lower end of the hierarchical order. 

Plan A: The first step in ensuring your cats’ comfort is by providing enough resources to go around, thereby eliminating the need for competition.

  • Place multiple feeding stations and litter boxes around
  • the house.
  • Provide both cats with adequate playtime. If your cats prefer to play separately, ensure they get individual playtime. 
  • Provide multiple cat trees and perches. The cat on the higher end of the totem pole is more likely to hog the loftiest spot. By providing more resting spots, you’ll help reduce the tension between them.  
  • Reward positive interactions of any kind between them—from acknowledging each other to initiating friendly play—by tossing treats and praising effusively. The more they associate positive experiences with each other, the less likely they’ll be to turn on each other.

If your cats continue to be mortal enemies despite all the above efforts, don’t beat yourself up. Cats, just like people, have preferences about the company they keep. Before you throw in the towel, there is one more thing you could try to get your cats like each other, outside of engaging a professional animal behaviourist.

Plan B: Re-introduction

Time to see if your cats like each other! Put both cats in separate but adjacent rooms and provide them with their own bowls, litter boxes, cat trees, and private you-time. Start by feeding them with their bowls placed on either side of the door. The distance to the door will be determined by how reactive your cats are to each other. This distance can be reduced over time depending on their progress. By separating them in this manner, we want to give them their own space and help them associate each other with a positive activity, like eating. 

Once this is achieved, open the door a notch during feeding time. Make sure to reward them with special treats if they display curiosity toward each other, or even if they ignore each other. Continue to open the door wider in small increments over the course of the re-introduction process until they’re able to eat in each other’s company in a relaxed manner. The final step would be to attempt interactive play sessions together. Always remain calm and alert during playtime and make sure to give both cats equal attention.

During the re-introduction process, it’s important for both cats to be familiar with each other’s scent, and for the scent to be distributed evenly around the house.

This can be done by conducting a room swap every couple days. You might need an extra set of hands to help you do this. 

The re-introduction process can take a few days to a few weeks. It can be immensely successful or completely unsuccessful. It’s important for you to be prepared for both outcomes. 

In the case of the latter outcome, you might need to consider separate living spaces for your cats going forward or find one of them a new home. This is a gut-wrenching decision, but remember that this will be far less stressful for you and your cats in the long-term. After all, nobody likes being forced to pick his or her companion. They must come to this decision on their own.

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  • Althea Craig

    I am lucky because my 2 little panthers are siblings. They have always been very close from birth. When they run their 3 daily races in the house I am laughing up a storm!

  • dorian cushing

    We tried it all ,no positive results Had to go to Prozac! It is working fine. They will never be bffs but at least the male isn’t trying to kill the female!

  • OliviaAndLuna💕

    Six cats one fights them all thats how it is for me *sigh*

  • Maxi

    This article never actually explains the signs that your cats DO like each other. 🤦🏻‍♂️ Not super helpful.

  • Dove

    What if your cats show both signs: resident kitty has vomited a few times and “missed” the box once, plus she only sadly watches when we initiate play with them allowing new kitty to chase the toys… but they also groom eachother, sleep on adjacent sofas, eat, & play/wrestle together (zero injuries).
    Is resident kitty stressed or are these just poorly timed coincidences?

  • Ruth Littlefield

    I have an indoor cat who will turn 7 on March 29, 2019. She is a spayed female tuxedo whom I got from the Humane Society when she was almost 11 weeks old. I am not always home and I feel as though she gets lonely and was thinking about getting her a “sibling”. She will greet me at the door when I do arrive home. She follows me around the apartment (it is quite large 3 bedroom/ 2 bathroom 1400 square feet), not too close, but will set herself down about 6-8 feet away, just to keep an eye on me. This happens whenever I move from room to room. Also I notice that she wants to play (probably more than I do) at inconvenient times. My husband passed away when she was about 11 months old and he did most of the playing with her. She was very young and I don’t even thinks that she remembers that. So, I was thinking about getting her a companion. What do you think? If you think it’s a good idea, should I get a female or male. I think female. Please advise. Thank you. RL

  • John

    My cats are a male (7) and a female (6). I introduced her as a kitten when he was a year old. They got on fine for years, playing and sleeping together. We moved house 18 months ago and they loved the new place. Then he got sick and I had to bring him to the vet. Naturally, he was scared and when I brought him home she attacked him when I let him out of the box. He’s much bigger than her but he was terrified of her. This was just over a year ago. She’s mellowed but he’s still very growly around her and hisses when she’s near. I had to install a gate for meal times otherwise they are not separated but keep their distance. How do I get them to like each other again?

  • Mackenzie Higdon

    I have just brought an 8 week old kitten into the house with my two year old cat. I was nervous because my cat hasn’t been very open to new things but he instantly fell in love with the kitten. He wants to be by her side all the time and the two of them are already causing trouble together! I can already tell that the kitten is helping to pull my cat out of his shell.

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