Why did my cat hiss at her littermate after his recent stay at the veterinarian's office?

CatChannel behavior expert, Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains that unfamiliar scents can lead to tension between cats.

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Q: I have two 3-year-old cats from the same litter – a boy named Jango and a girl named Sapphire. Jango recently got sick and had to stay at the veterinarian’s office for 4 days. When he came back, Sapphire started hissing and batting at him. Our vet told us that Sapphire doesn’t remember Jango, and he is a stranger to her. Is this true?

A: Sapphire’s reaction to Jango after his prolonged visit to the vet is not uncommon. Cats have a very acute sense of smell and define much of their world through scent. Jango came home smelling like the vet’s office instead of the familiar Jango scent that Sapphire was used to.

Separate the two cats from each other for a few days. Take a towel and gently pet Sapphire with it, then gently rub Jango with Sapphire’s towel, transferring Sapphire’s smell onto Jango. Repeat this twice a day. Encourage positive feelings between the cats by giving them treats or their regular food at the same time on both sides of the closed door several times during the day. Slipping a double ended toy under the door and encouraging the cats to play with it simultaneously will also help alleviate the tension between the two of them.

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Why did my cat hiss at her littermate after his recent stay at the veterinarian's office?

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Reader Comments

Megan    Baltimore, MD

3/11/2010 6:42:36 AM

This has happened twice to my big boy, Chewie. Once when he came back from the vet, his sister didn't recognize him, and hissed at him for days until he regained his "normal" smell. Then they were buddies again.
Another time, Chewie was caught outdoors in a rainstorm when he snuck outside when I left for work. (Naughty Cat!) When I got home I found him drenched and hiding under the car. I brought him back in and dried him thoroughly. When he tried to play with his sister, she hissed at him, hit him and ran away. This time, to help him get his normal smell back quicker, I took the blanket that the two of them sleep on and rubbed him all over with it. I also took some of their toys and rubbed him with them. His sister still wasn't too sure of him, but he smelled more like what she was used to, so she accepted him back much more quickly than just leaving him alone to get his smell back to normal.

adrian    North Las Vegas, NV

10/5/2008 3:21:20 PM

This is not an unfamiliar experience to me. I have found that rubbing both cats down with a "cat wipe" helps to a certain extent since they both retain the same smell for a while.

Good luck.

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