OLD CAT, YOUNG CAT?
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
You love your old cat, but he’s not as active as he used to be. It’s wonderful to cuddle with him on the sofa, but you miss his antics as a youngster. Wouldn’t it be great to get a kitten so you could enjoy those good times again and still relish the pleasure of your aging cat’s company?
Not so fast. It’s easy to think that a young pet and an old one will get along and that the young one will even rejuvenate a senior, but sometimes expectations and reality clash. Senior cats faced with a rambunctious kitten may be grumpy or even aggressive, and youngsters can become fearful or learn bad habits when their overtures are forcefully rejected. Here’s what to know to help ensure a happy, respectful relationship.
First, think twice before getting a kitten at all. Introducing a young cat to senior cat household can be a bigger problem for cats than introducing a young dog to a senior dog household, says Marsha Reich, DVM, a veterinary behavior specialist who lectured at the American Veterinary Medical Association conference in Indianapolis last month. That’s because cats in general don’t welcome the addition of other cats to their environment.
A senior cat who doesn’t want to interact with a kitten may begin by simply walking away, but that doesn’t always work.
“Some young cats want to play with the senior cat no matter what,” Dr. Reich says. “These are the ‘me, me, me’ kitties. In some cases, the younger cat stalks the senior cat with what seems like play but is really aggression, ending with the senior cat aggressively defending himself from the younger one or fleeing the younger one and being chased. If the senior cat doesn’t think it’s play, it’s not play.”
This can lead the older cat to engage in more active behaviors to avoid interaction. Hissing, growling, swatting and chasing are all signs that a cat has had enough of another’s behavior.
It can be difficult (and sometimes painful) to interrupt and redirect a cat who is behaving aggressively. With cats, managing the environment is often the best way to reduce conflict. Give the younger cat something to entertain him, such as interactive toys or a bird feeder that he can watch from a window. Spend more time playing with him so he has less time and desire to annoy your old cat.
When you can’t be there to supervise, keep the cats separated. If your older cat is sedentary, confine him to a comfortable room with everything he needs: food, water, a litter box and a comfy place to nap.
Place resources such as food and water bowls and litter boxes in separate areas. Neither cat should be able to guard those items and prevent the other from using them.
Sometimes owners are surprised that there’s a problem because the cats seemed to get along at first, Dr. Reich says. Often, that’s because the kitten was recovering from a respiratory infection or some other kittenhood illness so his behavior was muted until he was feeling better.
Finally, consider whether your senior cat is grouchy because he’s in pain. Degenerative joint disease is seen in 90 percent of cats older than 12 years. Other conditions that may cause pain include lower urinary tract infections, dental disease, kidney disease and endocrine disorders such as diabetes. Loss of vision and hearing can also contribute to spats between cats because the older one doesn’t see or hear cues from the younger pet. Take your cat in for a checkup to rule out potential health problems and get them treated if necessary. Your veterinarian has more options for managing pain in cats than in the past.