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We have 4 cats (all desexed):

  • Hunter, male, 10 years, adopted 2005
  • Ginger, female, 11 years, adopted 2008
  • Juliet, female, 8 years, adopted 2007
  • Romeo, male, 2 years, adopted 2014

We recently added Romeo to the household (a few months ago, we had another cat, Kendall, who passed in March), and since then Hunter has become increasingly aggressive with the other cats right before meal time.

Before we adopted Romeo, I had only heard Hunter hiss once or twice in his life (and that was when he was startled). I had never heard him growl. Now, both things are a regular occurrence at mealtime.

At first we thought perhaps Romeo was instigating fights or something (he loves to wrestle), but after closer observation we noticed that Romeo would just be sitting in Hunter's sight line and Hunter would charge him, hissing and growling. Additionally, Hunter's behavior is no longer focused solely on Romeo but he also hisses and growls at Ginger and Juliet (who he's never had problems with before).

He seems to start getting cranky 20-30 minutes before meal time, and does not settle down until I've pulled out the cans of wet food (he doesn't seem to be hissy while I'm fixing meals, just stares at me VERY INTENTLY). He's fine while they eat, and often purrs (contentment or anxiety it's hard to tell).

The only way we've been able to calm Hunter down is to feed him earlier, but we don't want to gradually move meals earlier and earlier and end up with breakfast at 3 am! We've tried separating him from the other cats during the pre-meal period, but he hisses at playful paws (Romeo is made of them) and shadows under the door.

When it's not meal time, he's calm and will groom everyone and cuddle like normal. When Romeo or Juliet try to wrestle with him he'll run off, but not hiss/growl.

For meals, we feed wet food twice a day. We give it to all four cats on a single platter that's washed after every meal (Ginger is prone to acne, but we're too lazy to wash 4 plates). We give them dry food before bed in a puzzle toy.

Hunter has been to the vet since this behavior started. He has a chronic sinus infection (he's had it since he was a kitten) and otherwise he's slightly overweight, but healthy.

How can we keep Hunter calm/non-aggressive in the 20-30 minutes before mealtime?

Update We've been feeding Hunter separately for about 2 months. He's now aggressive with all of the cats. He's never had a problem with Ginger (they've lived together peacefully for 5 years) and the other day he looked at her, and she flinched away from him, anticipating an attack.

Feeding Romeo additional food separately seemed to help for about a week, but then it stopped making a difference. Romeo is super thin and Hunter is chubby. Hunter does not need additional food.

If we put Hunter into another room and close the door during meal time, he won't eat, he just cries at the door. We've just been feeding him on the other side of the kitchen from the other cats, and keeping everyone else away from him if they wander over.

  • How has what you have done so far affected the pre-meal tension? – Oldcat Dec 4 '14 at 17:19
  • @Oldcat not at all, in fact I had to separate them just now (I'm working from home, usually I don't) – Zaralynda Dec 4 '14 at 17:20
  • You might try giving Hunter a seat on a chair while waiting for dinner (or a counter). Vertical distance from the others might relax him some and avoid scuffles. – Oldcat Dec 4 '14 at 17:25
  • There are some other ways you could "free feed" the younger cat that Juliet might not be able to do. Cat puzzle toys and treat balls might be something Hunter would do but Juliet would avoid. A more expensive timed feeder could possibly be tuned to feed Romeo but not Juliet, assuming Romeo gets first crack. – Oldcat Dec 9 '14 at 23:32
  • @Oldcat all of the cats do puzzle feeders. I've been considering a timed feeder but haven't figured it out yet. – Zaralynda Dec 10 '14 at 4:27
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The most likely reason is that Hunter is not as comfortable sharing the plate so intimately with Romeo. It takes a lot of trust for a cat to go nose to nose with another!

This upcoming tension is expressing itself before the next meal, and is displaced onto all the other cats.

I used to have a pair of cats that shared a single plate, eating as one off the same cake. When one died and I got a new cat, they no longer ate as one, but the new kitten would wait while the older cat ate exactly half, then eat. So it became time sharing rather than communal feeding.

The simplest thing to try is to give Hunter a plate with his share, and place it away from the other, preferably facing away so he can't see the others. The more relaxed meal might then reduce the tension and make the 20 minutes before the next meal tolerable.

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  • Could this be the case even though they appear to share the plate peacefully? He appears calm (and purrs) while eating, it's just the pre-meal period that's full of tension. That said, I'm trying it now because anything is better than the current situation. – Zaralynda Dec 4 '14 at 1:52
  • Sure - during mealtime he might be just trying to get his share before its gone. If it isn't proximity when eating, maybe its proximity while waiting. Giving him a seat on a counter to watch you fix meals might help with that. – Oldcat Dec 4 '14 at 17:23
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Use different plates is the obvious answer, keep their bowls in separate parts of the room. This will ensure they don't need to get cranky as they will know they always have their own.

Also keep feeding the same cat in the same place, don't mix them up.

I would place a large bet that this will work once they get used to it. One month or so.

I just read your update.

Also giving your cats a shared plate increases the risk of spreading infections - Your vet should advise against this

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A couple things about this:

1) He likely trusted and liked the cat that passed. He's probably feeling anxious and grieving. This doesn't mean that he hates the new one, just that he's upset Romeo isn't Kendall.

2) He might be feeling that the Romeo will take all his food. This is especially true if Romeo walks over and eats some of his food. Try putting them in different rooms and closing the door to his when they eat. A bathroom will work fine. When he's eating, do you notice that he tends to hound the food down?

My parents have two cats. One is overweight and diabetic, and the other is just kinda cranky in general. They know they have places to eat and sit by them until the food is in the dish. You have to feed the fat one first or she'll go over and munch of the cranky one's food, who then walks away and doesn't eat at all. She used to hound her food down and then would watch the cranky one eat for a few seconds before charging her. The cranky one would hiss and the fat one would eat. Eventually we had to start watching like a hawk and blocking her from charging. Now, after some time, they're calm.

For you I would feed Hunter first, the close the door and feed the rest.

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