Many of us who have been breeding cats for a number of years will have found ourselves in the sad and distressing situation when, suddenly, the harmony of the feline household is destroyed.
There are many reasons why this occurs. One cat, as it matures, can develop a preference for being a solo cat, attached to one human and being a completely unchallenged “King (or Queen) of the Walk”. Sometimes two individuals simply decide that they do not like each other and, especially if they cannot really avoid meeting and/or cannot get out of each other’s way when one challenges the other, they can simply decide to kill each other! If anyone has been involved in such a fight to the death, you will know that it is a very frightening experience which can never be allowed to happen again. Humans intervening in such a brawl will probably bear the scars for the rest of their lives!
Breeders often report that breeding queens very often turn on one of their own kittens if the breeder has kept the kitten into adolescence. A Mother cat which did a wonderful job of protectively rearing a brood of kittens can eventually decide that she will not tolerate living permanently with one of her brood. She is perhaps extremely friendly with a previously retained grown-up offspring, but this latest one that the breeder has decided not to part with is absolutely not acceptable.
Occasionally it is very difficult to see which of your colony is the instigator. It can be one of them that, by casual observation, does not seem to be the “agent provocateur”, but who in fact, by very subtle feline body language is the one who aggresses and terrifies the others. You may need to spend time sitting quietly watching to see how the fighting starts. Be particularly aware of maintained eye contact between cats. Whichever one starts to “stare out” the others whilst maintaining a tense posture could well be the offender.
Sometimes, without being the least aware of what we have done, we bring into the household either a very dominant character who wants to be “top cat”. This is very hard to tell when the cat is still a kitten, as these characteristics only become apparent as the kitten matures into adulthood. Conversely, we buy or keep a kitten from a litter who turns out to be a real wimp; who is simply just not assertive. The others quickly discover this and start insidiously to gang up on it.
Another cause of fighting or deviant behaviour can stem, quite simply, from the fact that your cats have insufficient space. Without being aware of it, your house is too crowded. Cats are not pack animals and they frequently do not tolerate living in a colony. This is especially true if you keep them all indoors.
Whatever the cause, the cat’s behaviour can become totally deviant. It can cease using the litter tray and leave “messages” all over the house; it can retire to a cupboard and sulk and it can become very aggressive with the other cats.
There are many approaches that breeders can try in these situations. Clearly, if you have a home that lends itself to compartmentalisation, this can be a solution. It can, however, result in the victimised cat living in a bedroom or in a small shut-off part of the house where it can often be deprived of regular human and feline company. This is no life for a cat and is not a humane permanent solution. It can also be very inconvenient for a family living in a compartmentalised home, remembering to shut doors and constantly be aware that you will cause world-war-three to erupt if you are not vigilant and the two warring factions accidentally meet.
Many people have tried homoeopathy, with varying degrees of success. Gelsemium can help a shy cat to be a little more confident. Valeriana can help calm things down and cause the aggressors to be somewhat more relaxed. Carsinosin is indicated for intra-family quarrels. A further natural product called Zylkene from Schering-Plough, which can be sprinkled on the cat’s food, has also been found useful as a means of alleviating stress, as is Feliway, a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone spray and diffuser, both of which products can be obtained from the Vet or ordered via the internet. There is also newly on the market an animal diffuser called Pet Remedy, containing a blend of Valerian, Vetivet & other calming essential oils.
Methods that can also help – such as keeping the protagonists apart for a while in the hope that they forget their antipathy and then re-introducing them for short periods of time, either under human supervision, or else by putting one of them in a pen in the same room as the other and then swapping them over – have also occasionally had some good effect.
Sometimes to have some or all of the cats spayed or castrated can work. Occasionally the neutering process has a beneficial effect on the brain via the hormone changes brought about by neutering.
However, if all these remedies have been tried and have failed, you are faced with the final (and very sad) alternative of re-homing one of the offending individuals. You are bound to feel extremely guilty, because inadvertently you have probably caused the problem. It may be a very hard decision, BUT, in the final analysis your duty is to put the cat’s welfare first.
Cats who are fighting or who are exhibiting deviant behaviour are extremely unhappy. To maintain this situation for more than a few months is unkind to all your cats, and in particular to the one who is being victimised. So eventually you must seriously consider re-homing the victim, or the one who is the aggressor.
It is highly likely that, in both cases, these cats will, in the right home, be completely different animals and well able to lead a very happy life. Your task is to steel yourself to do something about it and to take steps to find the right kind of person and environment for your cat or cats.
The first thing to say, of course, is that as a responsible breeder, you should NEVER re-home a cat that has not been spayed or castrated. They must go as pets to be sure that they will never find themselves in a similar situation again. To let them go to another breeder (unless of course you are 100% sure that they will be the sole cat to be kept) will inevitably result in the cat finding itself eventually in exactly the same situation in someone else’s house as it has been in your own.
The next thing to reinforce is that you should on no account try to SELL the mature cat and to recoup the money you may have paid for it as a kitten. A mature cat, especially one that has been a problem, is not a cat from which you should take profit. You will dramatically reduce the opportunities for finding it a good home if you plan to charge money for it.
There are many wonderful people out there who will give lovely homes to older cats, but who cannot afford to pay top prices for pedigree cats. It is likely that the new owner will have a difficult time with the cat until it has settled and it is much better to find a suitable caring person who perhaps has not invested in a pedigree cat before now because of the cost of so doing. It is quite acceptable to ask for a small financial donation to a rescue fund in exchange for the cat, but that is all the cash that should be in question, other than to ensure that the new owner has sufficient means to care properly for the cat.
Finally, it is extremely important to tell the prospective new owner EXACTLY what has happened in your house and to make quite sure that this person is absolutely sure that they want to take the time, trouble and a certain amount of risk in offering the cat a home. If you are totally honest and OFFER TO TAKE THE CAT BACK IF THINGS DO NOT WORK OUT you are giving the new owner every realistic chance of feeling confident enough to give it a go. You must explain that the cat cannot go outside until the new owner has finally decided that things are going to work, and preferably the cat should be kept separate from any existing cats that do go out, until the new owner is prepared to make a commitment to the new pet. If the re-homed cat were to go outside or be in contact with existing pet cats, the risk of infection, were it to come back later into your household, would be unacceptable. In this case you would have to keep the cat isolated in your home until sure that it had not collected any disease whilst away from your home. This, again, is extremely stressful for the cat and the worst of all scenarios.
The best situation, of course, is that the prospective new owner has no other cats and is more than willing to keep your cat indoors for as long as it takes for the bonding to take place. Once the new owner is happy with the cat and is sure that the cat is happy, you can then transfer ownership officially into the name of the new owner.
So, how do we find such wonderful people who love cats sufficiently to take a risk with a re-homed pedigree? Believe me, they do exist. There are many ways in which you can find such lovely people.
Putting up a notice in your veterinary practice can sometimes work. Clearly the clients visiting the surgery are, by definition, animal lovers. They may have recently lost an elderly cat and be ready to accept another. If you describe your cat’s personality and situation, stressing that you are looking for a permanent and caring pet home and are not looking for financial recompense, this can be a story that will generate a favourable response in the right person.
Most breed clubs run a rescue service. The Oriental Cat Welfare Trust has a Welfare Officer – Val Walter, whose contact details are given on this site and via the link to the Trust. Val keeps a list of people who have offered to take rescue cats and will make herself responsible for finding the right home. In extreme cases she will offer to take your cat into the care of the OCWT and into a “safe house”. She sometimes has more people prepared to help than cats looking for a new home.
There are, of course, many cat rescue services, such as The Cat Protection League, whose telephone numbers you will find in local directories. Your vet may also keep details of such services. Unfortunately, however, these rescue centres usually have far more cats and kittens desperately looking for homes than the other way around. However, it is worth a try.
You must, of course, take great care to check out the people offering to take your cat and give it a home. Just as you would when selling kittens, you should ask all the obvious questions which give you clues as to people’s honesty and integrity. In fact, it is more important to thoroughly “vet” the prospective new owner of a mature cat than it is for kitten re-homing. Your cat will be less adaptable then are kittens and will already have been living under incredible stress in your home. To make a mistake and put the cat into an unsuitable situation is clearly disastrous for the cat. Find out whether the prospective owners have owned animals before. If they tell you that they have had one cat at a time and all have lived to a ripe old age, this is usually a good sign – especially if they show you photographs of their much loved moggies. Be careful of the usual things – young unsupervised children; large dogs kept indoors; a history of many cats being owned, all of which seem to have died young, been killed on the road or just plain disappeared.
Make sure that people can afford to feed your cat properly and pay for booster injections, etc. Ask them how much they think it will cost them to keep a cat and, if their expectations are unrealistic, think again about letting them have the cat. It is ideal to go and see where the potential new owner lives, especially if they plan to let the cat outdoors. Make sure that the environment is as safe as is reasonable. It is often a good sign if there are neighbourhood cats that have been around a while. Watch the person’s facial expression when you tell him or her that your cat will have to be kept in for at least a month before letting it out and that, during that time the new owner will have to provide and clean out a litter tray. If the facial expression starts to wobble a little or the eye contact suddenly goes, it’s best to exit gracefully.
If you have not managed to visit the new owner in advance of agreeing to let the cat go there, I suggest you offer to take the cat to the new home. If people are not what they seem, you must politely rescind your offer and look further afield. You can always decide, on the day you deliver the cat, if the new home looks unsuitable, not to leave the cat there. If you are unhappy about anything do not leave the cat there. You must always say that you do not think the cat will be happy for whatever reason and simply leave. Remember, that your embarrassment is unimportant. It is your cat’s future happiness, health and safety that lies in your hands at that moment. So, who cares if you offend someone?
Once you have safely delivered your cat to its new home and have early reports about how, miraculously, it seems to be a different animal in its new environment, I guarantee you that you will know that you have done the right thing. In my experience, cats who have been desperately unhappy change out of all recognition in a new and suitable situation, often when they are the sole pet and have no competition and plenty of space. You may miss your loved cat, but you will be able to sleep soundly at night, knowing that the cat is happy, probably for the first time in its adult life.
The final piece of counsel I would offer to readers is that of keeping in touch with the new owners, especially for the first few months of the cat’s new life in its new home. This will help you come to terms with the action you have taken and, in most cases, will thoroughly validate your decision to part with the cat. You will almost certainly hear wonderful news of how the cat has been metamorphosed by having his or her “own person” for the first time and how it now loves its new owner to bits. You will also hear how the new owner’s life has been enriched. All of this will help your remorse. It will also ensure that things really do work out and it will give you a chance to intercede if they do not.
You will clearly need to have a contingency plan worked out if the cat, or the new owner, is not happy. It does sometimes happen that the first new home a cat goes to is not quite right and you will need to persevere in looking for another suitable place. Be prepared to do this and I guarantee that you will find somewhere suitable in the end!