When Cats Get Territorial

Cats can become territorial, and that can be difficult for everyone in the household. Here’s my experience.

Cats can become territorial. By: bnilson
Creative arrangements can keep the kingdom peaceable. By: bnilson

Dawnie and Fey loathed each other right from the get-go.

Dawnie, my red Abyssinian spay, had been with us since kittenhood. Fey, a ruddy Somali, had just come from a cattery in upstate New York. She was a high-strung girl who had almost died during her spay surgery – which, of course, didn’t make her settling-in period with us any easier.

She decided that the best defense really was a good offense and began chasing Dawnie all around the house. The little Aby took to hiding in the false ceiling over the finished part of our basement. After coaxing her out of there more than a few times, I had insulation stuffed in all the spaces/access points.

That still left the top of the fluorescent light fixture and a few other hard-to-reach places in the cellar’s unfinished section. So I finally set up food dishes and a litter box for Dawnie in my bedroom.

For the next 3 years she lived upstairs, going back and forth from my room to my son Zeke’s. She’d  sit on the stairs with me and occasionally sneak down to the living room, but she always kept one golden eye peeled for her Ruddy nemesis.

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Making Adjustments

When you have cats coming and going the way that we do, you have to come up with all sorts of creative arrangements to keep the peaceable kingdom, well, peaceable.

A few summers ago, when Zeke was fostering kittens for Animal Friends of Connecticut, he kept them in his bedroom with the door shut. This worked until our adult cats got resentful. They had free range of most of the house, but they wanted his room, too.

Fey was particularly bent out of shape. In a bit of kitty karma that I’m sure Dawnie gloated over from her perch on the stairs, the Somali exiled herself to the spare room for a few weeks until she was sure the kittens were gone.

Never underestimate the power of an extra room as a safety valve or a haven. My friend Rita took in a white Persian named Cleo as a kindness to an elderly friend in a convalescent home. Well, the friend was appreciative, but Cleo wasn’t. She also wasn’t a big fan of the other cats, so Rita had to keep the curmudgeonly cat in her study for the rest of her (Cleo’s) life.

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Over the years, I’ve had to make use of my own study — for new cats, fosters or young kittens. A few of the cats-in-residence — Fey and Phoebe, for instance — come in here regularly to de-stress.

Fortunately for us, this house, though not large, is laid out so the cats can more or less carve out their own territories. Fey and Dawnie eventually did just that, Fey keeping to the first floor while Dawnie held court upstairs.

Tricks of the Peace-Keeping Trade

I used to give cats who were acting up a minimal dosage of Diazepam under my vet’s direction. I stopped doing that because I didn’t like how logy it made them. I prefer to go with more natural remedies:

  • Adding a teaspoon or two of chamomile or Sleepytime tea to their food does help mellow them out. Moonlight, my lilac Aby, is fond of it and will sometimes lick it directly from the spoon.
  • A dab of lavender oil on the top of the head (a good unlickable spot) seems to soothe an aggressive cat. You can also try giving him a drop of Rescue Remedy or other flower essences. I’ve used Bully Remedy and Peacemaker, part of Jackson Galaxy’s Spirit Essences. Flower Essence Services (FES) also makes a nice Animal Relief Formula.
  • Reiki is always my go-to option. It can help you to get to the root of the problem and help you defuse tensions among your cats.

Détente, Feline Style

That fall, Dawnie began coming downstairs again. Fey left her alone. It was almost as if they had made a truce. That January, my old Aby friend died. Strangely enough, to this day, Fey won’t go upstairs. It’s still Dawnie’s territory as far as she’s concerned.

T.J. Banks

View posts by T.J. Banks
T.J. Banks is the author of several books, including Catsong, which received a Merial Human–Animal Bond Award. A contributing editor to laJoie, T.J. has also received writing awards from the Cat Writers’ Association, ByLine and The Writing Self. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Chicken Soup for the Single Parent’s Soul and A Cup of Comfort for Women in Love, and T.J. has worked as a stringer for the Associated Press, as an instructor for the Writer’s Digest School and as a columnist.

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