Non-recognition Aggression after a Cat Bath

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 after a Cat Bath

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.


Our experience:

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.

I would love to hear from you in the comments. Have you ever experienced this? Please share your story.



  1. Katie
    April 11, 2017 / 9:40 am

    My cats are both female and have always fought on and off. Recently, we had a flea scare, so I put diatomaceous earth on my felines. After a few days, I decided to bathe them, their coats were still dirty from the earth. Our bathtub is having renovations so I used the kitchen sink. Zazz, did okay, aside from one or two yowls at the end. However, Fae, became very protective of Zazz near the end. Which shocked me, because she usually hates Zazz. She ended up attacking me, and climbing up one of my legs. She weighs 12 pounds, so it wasn’t pleasant.

    When it was Faes turn to bathe, she was fine. Zazz didn’t seem to care. But after both had been bathed and dried, they ended up having that non recognition aggression towards each other. It only lasted ten minutes, and then they went to their respective corners to shamefully dry off.

    Unpleasant on all accounts. A funny story for the scars though.

    • April 12, 2017 / 7:31 pm

      In a way it makes sense. A cat is stressed and upset and doesn’t know why exactly and it’s easier and more natural for them to take it out on the nearest cat. But I know when it happens it is sad and incredibly stressful. I’m happy to know your cats are in good standing now!

  2. May 19, 2016 / 2:23 am

    I have two kitties, one very elderly female now, (just turning 18 in a few days), and a much younger male (turning 4 in oct). I actually experienced this even without multiple cats when my female was about 6 years old. A large dog tried to attack both her and my very young daughter, and when i shut the door to keep the dog out, sydney immediately turned and attacked me.

    I have since experienced this only between the two kittiesafter that time. The strangest is today’s event. After the kids went to school, I sat on our back porch with both kitties. Sydney, the female, ventured towards an area I don’t let them go to (since many of our neighbors have indoor/outdoor cats, and aside from these tiny trips onto the patio, mine are solely indoors). She must have smelled a strange cat because as I told her no and to go back to the patio, she turned and saw billy. She immediately hissed and tried to attack him. Even though these two often snuggle together and often even look like bookends (because they look so much alike and seemingly love poses in which they look like a pair). So even though she hides in fear of this “strange kitty”, he still loves her and wants to nuzzle and cuddle. So all day I’vehad to watch them closely to ensure he ddoesn’t upset her even further. He seems so dejected and upset by this whole thing. I see him watch her and slowly try to approach her, even just crouching near whereever she will stand him, just to be close to her again. Its so depressing to see honestly. Btw, the incident that caused this, literally took less than 5 seconds of her not seeing him. That’s it. :-(

    • May 19, 2016 / 6:12 pm

      It’s so strange how this can happen but is quite common. I hope they adjust and go back to normal as quickly as possible. Both times it happened to us (after spay and after a bath) It took a couple days to go back to normal. Let me know how it goes for your kitties! Thanks for sharing :-)

  3. Dragonheart, Merlin and Devi
    March 26, 2016 / 3:32 pm

    Wow, we’ve never experienced this! Of course, as Sphynx, we are bathed from a very early age. Oil builds up on our skin since we have no fur for it to distribute itself through, so we need periodic baths to get rid of it and keep our skin healthy.

    • March 26, 2016 / 10:07 pm

      Yes that’s right Sphynx need to be bathed often, much more than Persians. I’m curious if you have any favorite shampoos?

  4. March 26, 2016 / 1:14 pm

    Have we ever experienced this?! Yes! Every time one of my kitties comes back from the vets! It’s those horrible vet smells they are frightened of and don’t recognise their “brother” or “sister”…. Sometimes it’s just hours until they are friends again, but at other times it takes days…

  5. March 26, 2016 / 8:47 am

    We never got a bath (don’t even think about it, Mum ! ). Mum noticed with her previous cats that taking them together at the vet was better for their relationship. It’s not always possible (as for the spay/neuter operation for example), but she does it the most possible with us. It can happen that one cat get a ride in the car for free (yeah !) because only the other one has to see the vet… Purrs

    • March 26, 2016 / 9:15 am

      Cornelius has a vet appointment on Tuesday. I will be bringing Elizabeth with after this experience.

  6. March 26, 2016 / 12:18 am

    AAAGH! A strange cat has entered my house, thinks Elizabeth!

    Makes perfedt sense to me! Cornelius smelled like a completely different cat after his bath (his normal smelled apparently being soaped away) so naturally Elizabeth thought a strange cat had entered her home!

    As his smells gradually returned over a period of days, she recognized it was her old buddy Cornelius.

    • March 26, 2016 / 9:15 am

      I’m so happy its over! But I am aware that it is likely to happen again.

  7. pilch92
    March 25, 2016 / 11:20 pm

    I have never given my cats bath, but I do notice this when we return from the vet clinic.