Litter Mates – Can’t We All Get Along?

Oct 16, 2012 by     15 Comments    Posted under: Personal Opinion, Tips & Advice

Reader Question:

“I have two litter mates that are 2 years old.  They get along great.  My previous cats were also littermates, and got along famously until they were 3.  Then the fighting started and lasted over 15 years.  Why did this happen and what can I do to prevent it?”

I am sorry to hear that you had fighting between your last pair of cats.  Thank you for your question and trying to prevent the problem for the 2 kitties you have now.

Cats who like eachotherFirst, for the record, adopting siblings together is a great idea.  They are already bonded together, and they have similar energy levels so that they can play as much as they wish.  People often ask which is best to get, males or females.  Both are great, but there is information to suggest that 2 males are best together, followed by a male and female, and lastly 2 females.  This is of course a general statement and I personally have seen 2 females, Cleo and Sheba, get along well for the 20 years that they were together!

There are some steps that we can take to provide the pair with the best situation, but unfortunately, there are other situations that we may not have control over.  For example, I saw one pair of female cats that were so affectionate together until they were 11 years old; at that age, one of the cats saw a strange cat sitting outside a window and screamed.  The sibling came running to see what was the matter, and a case of redirected aggression occurred – the cat that saw the strange cat attacked her sibling since she couldn’t get at the cat outdoors.  For the rest of their lives, they avoided and even hissed at each other.  Other examples of situations we cannot avoid are often a loud noise outside or something else that frightens one of the cats that we have no control over  – and often it happens when we aren’t present to recognize what caused the problem.

Sometimes kittens that have been best buddies will prefer not to be together (or at least as much) when they reach social maturity, which in cats is between 2-4 years of age.  Providing separate cat beds and more than one place to perch will allow them to have their own space, and choose when to be together with the other.

In addition, reward them for any positive interactions together.   Never force the cats to be together or look at each other because that will only backfire!  And I can tell you from my own experience early on that pampering a cat that “gets picked on” can reinforce that cat to act the victim so that they can get the attention.  Once, I came home early from work because I was sick.  I saw my cats sleeping together.  As soon as they saw me, they hissed at each other and went their different directions!  From that day forward, I ignored the one when she acted like the victim, and rewarded any positive interactions, and they became best buds.

Do your cats get along?  If not, questions are welcome.


Dr Ilona Rodan

Dr. Ilona Rodan, ABVP Certified in Feline Practice
Medical Director and Owner, Cat Care Clinic, Madison, WI
Feline Behavior Consultant

Dr. Ilona Rodan has been a leader in the field of feline medicine for more than 25 years. She started the Cat Care Clinic in Madison, Wisconsin in 1987 to provide the best feline health care individualized to each patient in a compassionate environment that is more comfortable for cats and cat lovers, and where cats are better understood and handled in a respectful manner. With her extensive knowledge of feline behavior, she also understands the cats’ needs at home, and strives to enhance and prolong the relationship between cats and the people who love them. Our clients frequently tell us that our knowledge and caring has increased their cat’s length of life, often by several years.

When Dr. Rodan is not practicing and teaching at the clinic, she lectures internationally
and writes about feline-friendly hospitals, cat behavior and prevention of behavior problems, and recognizing and treating pain in cats. She has been active in the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) since 1982, and has served in every office, including President. She is most proud of her accomplishments in helping to establish guidelines for feline medicine, which include retrovirus testing, vaccinations, senior care, feline life stages, behavior, pain management, and feline handling guidelines (the latter published in 2011). Dr. Rodan was also an ambassador in the development of a specialist category in feline medicine.

In 1995, she became one of the first board-certified feline practitioners. Her hospital is an AAHA-Accredited Feline Specialty Hospital. She and her team are involved in community service, including free spays and neuters for Friends of Ferals. Dr. Rodan also lectures to the public and staff members of the local shelter, Dane County Humane Society.

Dr. Rodan received the national Friskie’s award for outstanding accomplishments in feline medicine in 1998. In 2005, she was chosen from 70,000 veterinarians to receive the most prestigious award given to a veterinarian, the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Welfare Award, This award was given to Dr. Rodan for her work locally and nationally to enhance the welfare of cats through medical and behavioral advancements, and her contributions to community and society. Dr. Rodan’s passion and desire to help both cats and their people is unwavering.

Dr. Rodan continues to be well trained by the two feline family members she lives with, their predecessors, and the cats she has treated for more than 30 years. They have taught her how to respectfully handle and work with cats, to understand that the needs of cat’s in their home is an important part of their healthcare, and to ensure that they have the best quality and length of life.

Cat Care Clinic
322 Junction Road
Madison, WI 53717

Phone: (608) 833-9750
Fax: (608) 829-0345

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  • Howard H

     We brought another cat home as a foster for a cat rescue and our resident cat has been up in arms.  It has been six months – the foster is pretty much confined to our bedroom – the resident cat (both are females, the resident cat is 13 yrs old and the foster maybe 2-4 yrs) stalks the foster at every opportunity.  I think we are in a vicious cycle because the resident cat doesnt like not getting access to the bedroom – but the reason the door is shut is because she is attacking the foster.  I have purchased two dog metal crates and I am considering placing each cat in a crate and allowing them to be somewhat close to each other – within feet – but not that close and not close enough to attack. This way they can sort of get the introduction that they have not really had.  Any thoughts?  The foster is part Maine Coon (Calico) a total lover not a fighter.  She is not aggressive at all towards the resident cat, and is pretty traumatized by this whole ordeal. 

    • Ilona Rodan


      Hello Howard,
      Thanks for being a good samaritan and bringing home a foster kitty. 
      Unfortunately, our good deeds are not always rewarded.  Do you know how
      much longer the foster kitty may stay with you?  Dr. Brown asked some
      excellent questions and those answers would be helpful.

      I’d like to try to address what you can do now to help in this situation, and
      also try to prevent a future problem if you – or someone else – takes another
      cat into a home with one or more cats already in the home.  Let me first say that there are a number of
      reasons cats don’t get along.  One can be an underlying medical problem
      such as pain from arthritis; if your cat has not recently been examined by a
      veterinarian, it is important for that to occur to identify if there is a
      health condition that could make you cat overly irritable or protective. 
      Another reason for poor cat interactions can be how we react when we think one
      cat is bullying another – just as I described with my own cats in this
      blog.  If we inadvertently reinforce the over-reactive behavior, a cat may
      continue to do that behavior. 

      If we rule out these causes, the next most common reason is that the resident
      cat is stressed or even frightened by the new addition.  Usually it takes
      a full behavior consultation to address the problem, and I would be glad to
      refer you to a behaviorist in your area or to help myself in a consultation off
      the blog.  However, I will provide here a few major points. 

      Each and every cat in a household needs to have a sense of control, which means
      having easy access to each resource that they need in a safe and private place.  Most of us are unaware of the resources that
      cats need – they are food, water, litter boxes, scratching posts, hiding or
      resting places, play, and perches.  Each resource should be separated from
      the others (we don’t like to eat where we use the toilet and neither do
      cats!).  Additionally, there should be multiples of each resource, and
      placed in areas where they don’t need to compete or have access blocked by
      another cat (or dog, or child).  Avoid placement that would necessitate a
      cat needing to go down a narrow hallway or into a narrow opening where the
      other cat could prevent access. 


      Good places to hide include cat beds
      with high sides or cardboard boxes. Perches include window ledges or cat trees.
        The latter increases overall space and provides a way to monitor what is
      going on in the environment.  All cat beds, hiding places, and perches
      should be the size for only one cat to fit in.   I suggest placing
      them in different rooms or where they are visually separated by a wall or
      half-wall to allow safety and privacy while using a resource.  The same
      rule goes for food, water, and litter boxes – all these resources should be
      separated from each other and with multiples of each resource per household;
      the general rule is 1 per cat + 1; for example, 2 cats should have 3 litter
      boxes, each in different areas of the home. 
      Make sure that the resources aren’t in areas where a cat may feel
      blocked from reaching the resource – such as a narrow hallway or entry into a
      small area such as a closet.  Until the resources – hiding places,
      perches, food, water, toileting and scratching areas – are spread out, the cats
      should not be let out together at all.  If the resident cat is still
      anxious or fearful, medication to reduce anxiety may be needed as well.  I
      would not force the interaction.  If you
      feel you have to move things along, then I prefer to train the foster or new
      cat to wear and harness and leash, so that you can control their actions and
      allow the resident cat to feel more secure.  Remember though that the cats may never be
      friends, and co-existing peacefully in the home is a good goal.

      If you consider getting another foster cat in the future, I would suggest one
      or two kittens.  Young kittens will not be threatening to your older
      cat.  Getting two will allow the kittens to do the normal rough play
      together, and hopefully not bother the older kitty.  There is information to suggest that 2 males
      get along best, then a male and female, and lastly two females.


      Hope this helps, and I am glad to try
      to answer further questions.

      Dr. Ilona Rodan

      • Howard H

         Thank you for this thorough reply.  The foster is now a de facto adoption.  She is the sweetest cat that I have had, and my wife likes her (and she is not a cat person).  So, given what the foster went through in a high kill shelter, her being abandoned by a previous owner, etc., we are now attached.  So, we could use a behavior consult with someone in the Rockville, MD (Montgomery County, Maryland) area.  (Just this morning when I thought detente was taking hold, the resident cat caught a glimpse of the foster and again immediately sprang to attack – the foster did manage to escape without a scratch – again under the bed.  I think what makes sense here is medications for both cats – and I will buy a cat tree for both cats.  Thanks, Howard H.

        •  Howard,
          Thank you again for being a foster home.  You have great resources in Montgomery County Maryland.
          Dr Marsha Reich is a boarded veterinary behaviorist.  Her appointments are usually 2-3 months out. 
          You may want to see Dr Dale Rubenstein while you are waiting.  She has a wonderful feline clinic in Germantown, MD
          A disclaimer is that Dr Rubenstein is a good friend and a contributor to this blog

          Best wishes and good luck with your new wonderful cat
          Marcus G Brown, DVM

          • jlung

             From Dr Ilona Rodan
            I agree, Howard, with Dr. Brown’s recommendations for veterinarian and behaviorist in Maryland.  I think that medication may be appropriate, but first I would start by providing the multiple hiding and perching areas, as you already mentioned.

            One additional point – sometimes, and I don’t think in your case, but I want to bring it up – people try to do the best and try to encourage cats to get together.  I have heard of more people being scratched or bitten because of these attempts.  Cats feel safe if they get to choose whether they stay in a part of the house separate from the other cat(s) or be with the other cats.  They can still each get individualized attention from their people as well as getting all their other needs met.

            Good luck with your kitties, and thanks for falling in love with and giving a good home to your newly adopted cat.
            Ilona Rodan

  • Hi  Howard,
    Thank you for being a foster home. There is a huge need.
    I have a couple of question that might be useful to Dr Rodan or any of the other doctors.  How did you start the introductions? How did you separate them initially?  How much time did you take with the introductions? How big is you abode? House, townhouse, or apartment?  

  • Howard H

    Thanks.  I actually feel like I did things sort of by the textbook.  First, the foster came in from Animal Control with a severe URI.  She was limited to a hallway bathroom for about two weeks, which was like her ICU, and I regularly changed my clothes on exiting, taped the door cracks, etc. to prevent the spread of infection.  That being said, the resident cat knew that there was another cat in the hallway bathroom and did not appear bothered by it.  (The resident cat is 13 years old, about 9 pd female tortie short hair.  She was thrown out of a car at 3 weeks, and lived under the shadow (literally) of a giant orange Maine Coon male until he passed in Feb. 2011.  She appeared depressed and lonely following his death, but they were not best friends and did not sleep together, etc.).  Anyway, once the URI had definitely cleared, the foster was taken out of the bathroom – she may have been abused prior – she was a “code 22” meaning someone left her behind in a foreclosure.  Skittish, she sort of gravitated to underneath our master bed with its bed skirt for protection.  But, she did go out and explore the 3bd TOWNHOUSE (to answer your question).  For a time, the resident cat would shadow her as she went about her explorations.  Finally, the resident cat snapped and declared war, and pursues the foster like a terrier might chase a cat – she has been on the hunt.  Lately, we may be reaching a point of detente, and neither cat has yet been badly injured (the foster is a real lover and seems to withdraw and not fight – but she growls).  Even if the resident cat relaxed her ways, the foster is pretty badly shaken by this experience.  My experience with Maine Coons tell me that she would be fine with other cats and is social.  I cannot limit the resident cat to the master bedroom because the resident cat would not stand for it – she would likely howl at the door.  I could limit the foster to one of the other bedrooms but we are not talking much space.  To answer your question, we did begin a gradual introduction after the URI cleared up.  I even remember them early on both sitting together on a sofa – now that would be unheard of.  Any ideas are greatly appreciated.  We may be moving from this townhouse to a larger home which might shake up everyone’s territory – that might change things.  Also, the 13 yr old is not exactly a kitten but she is very good shape for her age, perhaps as she continues to mature she may give up the violence.

  • Mike Smith

    Wow, Dr. Brown, a very timely article! I am cat sitting for my girlfriend while she is in Hawaii for six months (who got the short end of that stick?). Anyways, as you know I have Moco (male) and he is fully declawed and very gentle cat. My girlfriends cat, Bailey (female – which is also a adult/senior) is fully clawed and a lot more energetic than Moco. The problem is that it has been over town months and Bailey still hisses, chases after and attacks Moco. I feel bad for him because he has no claws to really defend himself. However, he doesn’t seem to mind, he seems to be okay with it. I have an apartment and Bailey pretty much stays in the living room and Moco stays in the bedroom. I don’t try to force them to hang out but will try to pet them both at the same time if the near each other. This seems to help a little up until the point I stop and then it’s on. Is there anything else I should be doing or should I let time run its course? Thanks Dr. Brown!

    • Hello Mike,
      I asked Dr Rodan to help answer your question. Here is her response

      Hi, this is Dr. Ilona Rodan, author of this blog. Being a Hawaii lover, I sure understand about who got the short end of the stick!

      Mike, you are doing a very good job to keep the cats separated when they want to be separate. One thing I would suggest is giving each individual attention and not petting them both at the same time, since problems occur once you stop petting. Also, cats prefer the individualized attention.

      If you have hiding places or boxes or high cat beds around the home, as well as perches, this will allow the cats to be more secure. I would also get a Feli-way diffuser (Feliway is a synthetic cheek pheromone of cats) and put it in the room where the cats have had the most difficulty.

      Good luck and please let me or Dr. Brown know if further questions or concerns.

      Ilona Rodan

      • Mike Smith

        Thank you!

  • Lydia Strother

    I have 4 litter mates about 3 to 4 months old. They all get along for the most part during the day. But at night the runt of the litter is getting “picked on” or they are playing to ruff with here. There is 3 girls and 1 boy. Just 30 minutes ago I caught Chi (her older more active sister) playing ruff with her and found new “scrapes” on her. I had to take her to the vet a few days ago because she was missing fur on the right side of her neck with a shallow “scrape” on it.
    I know they all get along but they are playing to ruff with the runt (Yumi). Is there a way I can help that? I don’t like the runt getting picked on.
    Because I know it’s happening at night I isolated Yumi (the one getting picked on) form her litter mates so she doesn’t get “attacked” or play to ruff with her litter mates un supervised.

    Side note they all have been fixed.

  • faisal Lone

    I have 3 littermates 2 of them females and a male. All of them are almost 1 year old and they are outdoor cats and have a shelter outside. Everything was fine till winter, they used to cuddle each other and sit together in the shelter. But just after winter one of my female cats was in heat and wandered outside to mate, she didnt stay here most of the time as she was searching for a male cat, but still spent sometime here. Now she has mated and is back but the problem is that she sleeps here during the day for sometime but then climbs the wall and goes away till 6 in the evening probably for sleeping somewhere else. Same happens after 1o at night, she goes away to sleep somewhere else but returns early morning. The male cat dosent leave ever. What can be the reason for her sleeping somewhere else. She is very affectionate with me and sleeps in my lap also. What should i do so that she sleeps here only..

    • 9rt5zsdzip

      You sound ignorant to have an un fixed female Cat, are you aware there is a serious cat over population problem in the U.S.? There are not enough homes for the number of cats. Even if you managed to find homes for her kittens, what about those people not fixing those cats. And, your other cats aren’t fixed either! IRRESPONSIBLE!

  • Lisa Nordling

    We adopted two sibling cats as a “bonded pair” and they are both female about 1 yr old. We had them for almost two months before the one turned on the other. We are trying to find a way to have them live together without killing each other. They can get along and be cuddly one minute and the next the one wants to attack the other one. While it would be great if they would be friends again, at this point we just want them to coexist. Any pointers?

  • enubus

    Dear Dr. Rodan, I have two littermates, one male and one female. They eat together, they sleep on the bed with me. He sleeps at the end of the bed and she sleeps on my shoulder. He is twice her siz and they are both 11 years old in good health. They can be congenial for days and then all of a sudden he attacks her out of nowhere. He has bullied her since they were kittens. I keep a sprayer handy just in case I have to spray him. He attacked her today after more then a week of quiescence, He got behind her, got her by the back of the neck and was using his back claws on her back, pulled out some hair. He got sprayed and took off. He just slinked back for forgiveness. What can I do to resolve this problem, if there is a solution, without separation?

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