Last week I had the misfortune of learning about a disorder that cats can sometimes get. It's called Non-Recognition Aggression. I thought I would write a post about it in case anybody else has experienced it, or maybe it can help somebody out!
It all started when the kittens came over for me to photograph. Everything seemed to be going fine; I had kept my cats separate from the kittens the whole evening. But at the very end of the night, the male kitten raced out of the bedroom and greeted Chester and Jeeves face to face. There was some hissing but nothing too crazy. We quickly scooped up the kitten, put him in his carrier and then he went home.
Chester and Jeeves still seemed a bit shaken up, which was no surprise. Chester was under the couch growling so I started petting him to calm him down. Then... Jeeves walked in and Chester acted like he had never seen Jeeves before! He hissed and growled and seemed like he was going to kill Jeeves! Poor Jeeves didn't know what to do. They had always been best friends! Eventually Jeeves' feelings got so hurt that he started yowling at Chester, which made Chester even more angry. It was like he caught a demon! The cats normally all share one bedroom at night, but since the boys were not getting along, I decided to leave them all out so they would have plenty of space. Well that didn't go too well and I got woken up an hour later by a huge fight and Chester hiding under our bed growling and make all kinds of evil noises. So there I was, at midnight, wandering through the shed in my PJ's looking for something that could act as a second litter box so I could keep the boys separated. I was hoping that after a good night's sleep by himself Chester would be back to normal the next day. I however, got about two hours of sleep because Jeeves thought it was party time, and Cloud kept standing on my head. There's a reason they have their own bedroom!
Unfortunately the next day, Chester was just as angry ever at Jeeves, and that's when I did some googling and came across articles about Non-Recognition Aggression. Apparently it's triggered by strange smells and it can cause cats that were once best friends, to turn on each other because they think their friend is an intruder! It's most common when one cat goes to the vet, and comes home smelling weird which causes the cat that stayed home, to not recognize him anymore. It can also be caused by the sudden scent of an unknown male cat, which is exactly what happened!
The smell of that boy kitten messed with Chester and he thought he had to defend his territory. Since we adopted the boys together as kittens, they never had to think about dominance and territories before. Chester also acted like he didn't recognize Cloud, but since she's a girl, he wasn't troubled by her existence. I felt more optimistic once I had discovered the problem, but I was still worried. Would they ever be friends again? It seemed like they would hate each other forever!
The only way to fix Non-Recognition Aggression is to completely re-introduce your cats. Don't let them fight it out! It just makes them dislike each other even more and will undo any progress you've made. So I did my best to keep the boys separated, and let each of them have turns sniffing around the house by themselves and getting Chester used to Jeeves' scent again. I wasn't making a whole lot of progress with that, so I read online that you can cover your cats with baby powder and put a dab of vanilla extract behind the ears and the base of the tail to cover up the strange scent and to make them both smell the same. I even went a little further and added some chicken juice to their heads! This finally worked! The funny smell was masked and Chester was able to sniff Jeeves without trying to attack. He still looked disgusted by Jeeves' existence, but it was an improvement. Anytime Chester started to hiss or growl I would snap him out of it, so Jeeves wouldn't get upset and hiss back and start a huge fight. After about three days Chester finally remembered his brother and now they're friends again, like nothing ever happened. I am so glad! It was very stressful having two fighting cats.
So to recap. If you have two male cats that get along great, and neither is dominant. It's probably a bad idea to let a male kitten loose into your house without properly introducing it first! Has anybody else had a strange problem like this?