Q. I have two cats who are best of friends. They sleep together, clean each other and play. I had to take one of them to the vet’s office for some blood work. Upon arriving home my other cat acted as though he didn’t even know his best buddy. He was hissing and growling. It took a couple of days before things were back to normal. Can you give me some idea of what happened and how can I prevent it from happening again?
A. What happened is called “feline non-recognition aggression.” This kind of behavior is not an uncommon problem. This can occur under certain circumstances when two cats that are closely bonded become separated for a period of time. In your case, the cat who stayed home may not have recognized the odor of the cat who went to the vet. That cat may have been releasing stress hormones, as well as taking on the scent of something from the clinic such as iodine, alcohol or even other cats. Your stay-at-home cat may have thought the other was a stranger and he became naturally territorial. The cat returning home may look the same (in our eyes) but from a feline point of view he is not recognizable because he doesn’t smell the same. This is how important scent communication is in the feline world.
Here are some things you can try to help with the homecoming next time one of them has a vet visit.
I recommend that you try and remove the odors from the returning cat by wiping him down with unscented cat wipes. Follow this by rubbing both cats with a blanket or toy that has their regular scents on it. Make sure the returning cat can rest in peace before dealing with re-introductions. It will give kitty some time to do some self cleaning and rid himself of some of the new smells he has acquired. This will also give them time to get reacquainted to each other’s scent. There are also natural remedies such as Rescue Remedy and Feliway that you can use in your home to help keep the cats calm. You may also want to discuss other options with your veterinarian.
It is important to remember in a multi-cat home if one cat has to go to the vet, be sure to supervise kitty reunions upon your return home.
Be sure to reward the cats with treats and praise once they interact in a friendly manner.
If possible the next time one has a vet appointment, take the other cat along so they both pick up the same scents from the animal clinic. Hopefully, when they are back home there will be not be a case of mistaken identity.
Sally Salopek is the owner and operator of Attend-A-Pet pet sitting services in northern Door County. She has also worked professionally with animals in health care, pet grooming, training, wildlife rehab and rescue. Send your pet-related questions to her at [email protected].