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We have five cats in our household: 1 spayed female and four neutered males. The female came to us first. She was a rescue from a storage yard that had a lot of cats. We took her in when she was 3 months. She is about 6 months older than the boys.

When we first introduced her to them, the boys were small kittens, barely older than three months. At first there was a lot of hissing and growling from the female. The boys were too curious about her to be afraid. Pretty soon they were all running around and playing together. In some ways the boys seemed to see her as a surrogate mother. They would follow her around, play with her, come when she called them, and cuddle with her while they slept.

Flash forward seven months and now that is no longer the case. Things have changed dramatically. She tolerates the boys just fine... until they want to play with her. Then everything goes south. She growls at them and attempts to run away. The boys don't seem to understand that she doesn't want to play. The more she tries to get away from them the more they follow her. It's as if they're obsessed with her. I try to shoo the boys away but that only works for a few moments and then they're right back to trying to follow her around and play.

When it gets to be too much I separate them by taking her into another room to diffuse the situation. After things calm down, I bring her back out. Sometimes this maintains the peace for awhile and sometimes they immediately start bugging her again. It's especially bad early in the mornings and after meals.

I play with the boys on a daily basis. Usually, this involves a morning and evening play session. They also get a lot of exercise chasing each other around. I don't think it's a lack of play time that makes the boys behave this way.

I'm at my wits' end. Our female cat is getting stressed out. There's been no fights, but if the boys are especially persistent she gets paranoid and goes after them, hissing and swatting. Sometimes this drives them off and sometimes it doesn't. The boys never hiss at her.

Any advice on what to do?

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  • Does the female cat have any areas to "escape" from the boys? Some cats are less playful than others, and need places where they can get away and feel secure. – Allison C Jan 13 at 14:15
  • She has several places. For some reason she uses them only now and again when the boys chase her. She'll just keeping running around the house trying to get away from the boys. – donxavier Jan 15 at 6:21
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Try to establish a play, eat, sleep routine.

It's pretty normal for cats to get hyper around mealtimes or when they're hungry, which is a likely explanation for why the incidents tend to happen when they do. Therefore, I think it would help you to change when your play sessions happen to right before mealtimes. In the wild, the natural pattern is hunt, eat, then sleep, so if you can establish a routine like that, hopefully it will encourage the younger cats to be diverted from bothering the older cat while you're playing attention to them, and to sleep when you're not.

Arrange your furniture to help your older cat avoid them.

Use your existing furniture and new cat furniture to create alternate routes throughout your house. Make sure these alternate routes have multiple ways they can be accessed, so no cats can be trapped up on furniture by the others as they wait for it to come down. The idea is make it so your older cat can simply avoid your younger cats by going up on this furniture. If done right, it can avoid these incidents on its own.

Look for and fix any problem areas.

There may be areas of your house where incidents particularly happen. For example, there might be a chair the cats love to hide under and wait for their victim, so they can ambush it. Or maybe they tend to guard a shared resource, like the litterbox. So start taking notes of where these incidents tend to happen, and if you notice a problem area, try to think of ways to get rid of it. Add more of any resources that are being guarded, block access to hiding places that they use for ambushing, and make alternate routes with cat furniture.

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