I'm feeling anxious about the behaviour of my cats and hope to get some advice here.
TL;DR : My cat Nelly (2 years and 3 months old) has become irritable and aggressive, she often growls at and/or attacks her daughter Pris (9 months old) when she passes by or tries to eat or drink at the same time as her.
Long story : Nelly has always had a strong character - at least partly because we didn't really know how to handle a kitten when we first got her, although we tried our best. She's a Maine Coon BTW.
Last year, my partner decided to bring her to her former cat breeder to get her pregnant. It went well and Nelly birthed three adorable kitties at the end of September. She was a good mother and raised her children very well.
In January, two of the kitties left for their new families. We wanted from the beginning to keep the last kitty (Pris) to have another cat and especially to ensure Nelly would never be alone again while we are at work.
Nelly and Pris would often have normal cat play-fights and everything seemed well. They are not allowed to leave the house, although Nelly would systematically run off in the hallway whenever we opened the flat's door.
We moved in a bigger house in early March. The cats are still forbidden to go outside. With the COVID crisis, my partner and I started working from home so we were always with them and everything seemed still fine, the cats apparently like the house.
However, it's been a few days or maybe weeks since I noticed Nelly was often making weird sounds at Pris whenever she was near, and often go on with attacking her - and it didn't look like their usual play-fights. (It's hard to explain why and I may be misinterpreting, but it's really been bugging me) It happens when Pris is just walking by Nelly, or when she's approaching while her mother is drinking or eating.
One day, I noticed Nelly was watching through a window (1st floor) : there was a stranger cat walking on the street just below and Nelly was obviously pissed off. When the cat went out of sight, she stormed off to the garage and planted herself in front of the door, where the stranger cat would probably be walking (estimating its trajectory). A few minutes later, Pris came by and Nelly lashed at her.
Based on this experience, I suspected Nelly was irritated by what was happening outside and redirected her aggressivity on her daughter. She would also sometimes cry at us, but she's always done that since we have had her, she's quite vocal. She has not tried to redirect her aggressivity on humans, but she has almost not been asking for cuddles in the past few weeks, while she would have looked for cuddles almost daily before.
To try to ease Nelly and protect Pris, we added another bowl of food and another bowl of water on the other side of the main room, so that the cats would not be competing for resources (they have had 2 litters from the beginning), but Pris is still always trying to be near Nelly when she eats or drinks.
We also bought a big cat tree yesterday so that Nelly could perch on top and feel safer, because I read that cats sometimes need that to relax and I noticed she didn't have access to anything higher than a table or a counter.
We try to make a big sound (like slamming on a table) whenever Nelly attacks Pris out of aggressivity instead of play, to cut it off.
Pris, on the other hand, seems completely oblivious of her mother's bad character. She just wants to be around her mother or to play with us. She hate cuddles and always slips away from our hands while purring loudly when we try to touch them, but she is an absolute angel and has no clue about how she could use her claws or teeth to keep us off. I noticed she also purrs loudly and lies down when Nelly is growling at her near the food bowl, and Nelly never goes as far as to attack her in this situation, she even stops growling and resumes eating.
I should also point out that Pris often asks us for play time, which we grant her happily. Nelly has almost not been playing since she got pregnant, but she was quite playful as a kitty. She never joins in our plays with Pris, even when we invite her. I tried a few days ago to isolate myself with Nelly in one room and play with her, she responded quite well, and even came in the evening to have a rest and small cuddles on my lap. She was discretely purring.
From all these observations and experiences, I think Nelly feels on one side unsafe because of what she sees through the windows and redirects her aggressivity on her daughter because that's the only target she has ; and on the other side, I'm afraid she feels somehow neglected by us because Pris gets all the playtime.
Nelly has been awful to her daughter this morning, attacking her 4 times in one hour and growling a dozen more times. I feel so bad for both of them. I'm clueless about what to do to have them feel better and get along better. I'm sorry if this post is very long, I tried to give out as much informations as I could.
Do you have any suggestion for me to help my two cats be better ?
Feel free to ask any question or to ask for any clarification, I'll be glad to answer. Thanks !