I decided to give Cornelius a bath. Little did I know what the consequences would be.
I bathed him in the bathtub with the door closed. He protested but it was manageable. He wasn’t aggressive just a bit fearful and annoyed. I could hear Elizabeth just outside the door meowing as she normally does if a door is closed and she wants in. When the bath was finished I wrapped Cornelius in towels for as long as I could to towel dry him. I don’t like to use a blow dryer so after towel drying I let him air dry.
Elizabeth was concerned and curious and followed him around for a while as he tried to acclimate himself. About an hour later I heard some growling. Elizabeth was growling and hissing every time Cornelius came near her. She exhibited the same behaviors as she did after she got spayed.
After getting spayed she had re-directed aggression towards Cornelius. I attributed this aggression due to the pain and discomfort she was experiencing and she was taking that stress and pain out on Cornelius.
But this time Elizabeth was not the one who was bathed and in a stressful situation, so why was she so upset?
Non-recognition Aggression in Cats
Non-recognition aggression is when a cat is uncharacteristically aggressive towards a cat they are normally friends with. This can happen when cats are separated for a short or long period of time, after vet visits and apparently after a bath.
It seems difficult to believe that a cat cannot recognize its companion just after a bath. This type of aggression is not entirely understood even by experts. The believe cause is the cat is disturbed or ‘doesn’t recognize’ the other cat due to its smells or behavior. If it happens once it is more likely to happen again, which was our case.
How to deal with it:
- Do not let the cats fight it out. Physical fights can have long-lasting negative effects on their relationship.
- Monitor and try to give both cats space to safely observe each other.
- Scent swapping by brushing cats with the same brush or swapping beds or blankets from the carrier.
- Distract cats and engage in play with toys.
- Use treats as rewards to get them eating near each other.
- Be patient. It may take hours, days or unfortunately even weeks. Take as long as necessary to decrease the aggression.
- Preventing the aggression from escalating is the best way to prevent it becoming long-lasting.
Luckily Cornelius is super chill and wasn’t bothered by Elizabeth’s bizarre hissing and growling. I closely monitored them for the rest of the day. The first few times he approached her I gently pushed him away to ensure there was no fighting. He was so confused and curious about her bizarre behavior that he kept falling her everywhere which didn’t help her. That night they could eat and sleep with no problem. The next morning I thought it would be finished but there was still some growling. This aggression lasted on and off for about 24 hours. Originally I was going to bathe her afterwards but that will have to wait for another day. It’s been a week now since Cornelius’ bath and fortunately they are now back to normal best friends.
After this experience I know that I will avoid taking just one cat to the vet. I’ll bring them together to hopefully avoid this behavior in the future.