Twice this week I’ve had friends write to me referring to their multi-pet households as a “house of horror”. Both houses have an IBD kitty so the stress already exists but on top of that there is a lot of fighting between pets going on, causing IBD to up the ante. A multi-pet household is not always a happy one and usually there are one or two trouble makers causing a ruckus. Depending on how many pets are present in the home, someone is going to get picked on.
Pets can sense when another one is sick and if they get along, they may stick to them like glue and take on the role of nurse maid. But if they don’t get along, the sick one could be in for it; hence the house of horrors. When a kitty is sick, even the smallest change can stress them out and set IBD recovery backsliding. Add to that one or more household pets picking on them and IBD or any other illness becomes a raging fire.
Unfortunately IBD is extremely stress sensitive and calming that fire can be tremendously challenging. Integrating households is rough on the people involved but it will always be harder on your pets. They’ve got to get used to a new home in addition to new pets inhabiting a territory they aren’t familiar with. Scents have not yet been established in this new home and this can lead to confusion and being scared.
Although I don’t have all the answers I do have some suggestions that might work:
1. Separation is usually the only way to start things off. Putting up a gate might work but of course cats can easily scale those. Find an area of the home that you can segregate for your kitty and let them get used to the place before having to get used to any new pets. I know someone who actually installed a screen door inside their house to keep several cats separated. They’re able to see what’s going on and not feel closed in by a solid door. It’s extreme, I know. But it seems to have worked well and it can always be easily removed later on.
2. Get a couple of calming collars, the ones I have in my gift shop: http://www.ibdkitties.net/giftshops.html. It literally saved my relationship with my kitty Finnegan this past winter. I accidentally poked him in the eye and he wouldn't come near me after that. He looked terrified if I even glanced at him. I thought I’d never have him back, but that thing saved us! It’s really amazing, works instantly and better than a Feliway. It’s completely handmade and the quality is MUCH better than the calming collars you get in the stores. She also makes calming sachets you hang on the doorknobs, which may work well if you have them separated by just a gate. You can add a couple of Feliway plug-ins to the mix anyway. They certainly won’t hurt and do work to an extent.
3. When I had brought Finney to the vet a couple of years ago, Lacey growled and hissed like mad because he smelled like the vet when I brought him back. First I gave Finney a bath with some kitty wipes, and then Lacey. Then I took a towel and rubbed it all over Lacey and then on Finney and then on her again, so they got each other’s smells. It took a couple of days but I didn't have the collar then so I had to improvise. I’m smarter now and bring them both when they have to go, even if one isn't being seen.
4. Give one kitty on one side of a gated area a treat with the others watching, then give some to them with that one kitty watching and do it closer and closer to each other. Bribe them into thinking that being together is a good thing. Start putting their food dishes up close to that gate and let them see each other eating. They’ll hopefully pay more attention to eating than to each other. Keep doing positive reinforcement things close to each other and let them know whenever they've been good by rewarding them.
5. Try using harnesses as a way to have them in the same room. If one starts to growl or hiss you’re able to control any contact. Again use the reward system. If they are able to be close or sniff each other without any mishaps, reward with a treat and high praise! If you can walk them outside a little on their harnesses as a means of getting out some of that energy and facing different territories, this may redirect some of that nervous energy.
6. Establish some high areas for them to climb so any kitty that feels they are the alpha kitty can use that as a means to dominate instead of picking on the others or the one. Use cat trees or even shelves mounted on the walls if you can do it securely. If you have a large yard, try getting an outdoor kitty enclosure or even building one if you’re handy or have someone who can do it for you. The more healthy things for them to focus on the better. Lots of scratching posts and scratching beds as well. Use tools you’d have for them anyway as a means for them to redirect their aggression. Maybe just add extra ones.
7. Realize that the sick kitty takes precedence over the others. Especially if your kitty has IBD, be prepared for the possibility that they may have to go a little while with increased medication. If they’re experiencing a flair up, precautions should be taken immediately. A vet visit, maybe a short time of increased meds to calm things down, and plenty of quiet time as well.
8. Call an animal behaviorist. They can’t always help but it’s worth a try and many times they do make a huge difference.
9. Extreme measures should be a last resort such as behavioral medications for the other kitty if it’s just one who’s the culprit or maybe even for your IBD kitty if they are the ones that stress is taking over. If all else fails you may have to come to a decision such a re-homing an aggressor if nothing whatsoever has worked. They may be better off in a single-kitty home.
10. Last but not least make sure to take care of yourself! Do what you can to keep the peace but do not let it take over your life. The stress will not do anyone any good and can cause problems between the humans in the home as well. No one wants that so sit down together and discuss all options calmly, and don’t take it out on each other. Patience and perseverance may be the key to all of this so take your time, go for a walk every day for ten minutes, listen to some soft music and meditate. Do whatever you have to do for yourself to keep your own nerves from getting the best of you. Stress has a nasty way of spreading from kitty to kitty, and person to person. And stress makes any illness and situation worse, no matter what the cause.