DEAR JOAN: I'm hoping you can give me some insight into why my two cats, Cotton and Cloud, fight, bat and hiss at each other constantly.
They are rescue cats from the Maine Coon Association. As their names indicate, they are both pure white. Cotton is the mother and Cloud is her son.
I have had them for four years and things have gotten worse. I have to constantly (weekly) trim their nails as one or the other will have scratches on his or her nose. I used to think they were playing, but at times it sounds like out and out war.
They are pretty much the same size now. I notice Cotton will move aside when they eat because Cloud, as males do, wants to hog both sides of the dish. Other than that, she's pretty much in charge. They do not sleep together and will actually fight for the best spot next to me or in the top of the cat tree. I come home to lots of white fur all over and know they've been at it.
One other issue I'm curious about: Cotton will walk around with something in her mouth and talk loudly. It's kind of cute during the day, but she does this at all hours. I've tried hiding all her toys at night, but she will pick up anything, such as my scarf or earmuffs, and use that. She'll even pick up pillows in her mouth. Any suggestions?
DEAR CAROLYN: Cats sharing a household basically fight for fun, territory or space.
Some of the fighting between Cotton and Cloud may be play, but from your description, I'd say they are fighting over territory, both in the house and over you. Female cats can also be aggressive toward their offspring in what is known as "get out of the nest" syndrome. The mother is trying to get her child to go out on his own, but of course, Cloud isn't going.
Whatever is causing the spats, you need to try to broker peace. If possible, you might try separating them when you aren't home, and creating retreats for each of them. When you are home and the fight starts, clap your hands while saying loudly, "No." If that doesn't get their attention, blow a whistle or air horn -- something that definitely will make them look up and stop fighting. You can also try tossing a pillow in the middle of the brawl.
After the fight is broken up, seek out the aggressor for some scruffing, that is, taking the cat by the scruff of the neck and very gently pushing her -- or him -- down on the floor. This isn't punishment, it's discipline and it's what mother cats do to their kittens to teach them a lesson. Some trainers also recommend making a hissing sound, but that's totally up to you.
As for the meowing with a toy in her mouth, Cotton may be trying to tell you she's a great hunter and is showing you her catch; she is hungry; she is feeling some maternal needs; she isn't feel well; or she may want to play. The answer may change depending on her mood. Try praising her hunting skills, feeding her or playing with her. You might also want to have her checked out at the vet, if you haven't already. Considering her issues with her son, I think it might be a maternal thing. You could give her a small, stuffed animal that she can mother.
Update on Lucky
The cat rescued from beneath the overpass has found his adoptive parents, thanks to the kind people who rescued and cared for him, and Outcast Cats Help and the Martinez Animal Hospital.
Lucky had a chip that identified his owners and his wounds are being treated. Good work everyone.
Joan Morris' column runs five days a week in print and online. Contact her at email@example.com; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.