Q: I just adopted two cats from a local humane society. One, named Marie, is a small 11/2 -year-old year old, FIV-positive female who was found as a stray. She was kept separated from other cats in a cage. Cheddar, the other cat, is also a female. She’s about 6 years old and spent the last year and a half in a cage at the shelter because she has a urinary condition. Cheddar is much bigger than Marie and, although they get along, they both seem to run very fast and chase each other and play fight, but sometimes it gets too rough.
Should I worry about them ending their play with a nasty fight? I have only had them for two weeks, and I am hoping they are just displaying their freedom by running. I don’t want to separate them; I worked so hard to finally adopt them both.
A: Thank you for adopting two cats with health issues, especially Marie, the FIV-positive cat. Unfortunately, FIV-positive cats are commonly euthanized, even though they can live long lives. On a personal note, I have been sharing my home with an FIV-positive cat for the last six years. He is 8 years old and is in good health.
That being said, yes, you should be concerned about the way Marie and Cheddar interact with each other. As you know, FIV is transmitted through bites. Because of this, the two cats should not be allowed to engage in rough play or fighting. Since the cats are still semi-strangers to each other, do not allow them to be together unsupervised at this stage. Also, monitor their interactions when you are supervising them. At the first sign of rough play or at any indication of aggression, separate them, placing one in a room that is complete with a litterbox, a comfortable place to sleep, food, water and toys to play with. Depending on how they interact with each other, you might consider reintroducing them to each other.
Introducing cats to each other should be a gradual process. Even when cats are healthy, without compromised immune systems, they need to be kept separated and gradually introduced to each other, one scent at a time. Activities, such as pheromone exchanges, eating meals and treats on each side of a closed door and encouraging play by slipping a double-ended toy underneath the door will allow cats to become familiar with each other in a non-threatening way. Depending on the cats, stress-free introductions can take a couple of weeks, a month or longer.
Another reason the cats should have been separated from each other when you first adopted them was to allow them to adjust to their new environment after being confined in cages for years. Abrupt changes typically stress cats. Stress can lead to upper respiratory infections and other diseases. Since Cheddar has health issues and Marie has a compromised immune system, it’s very important that changes are introduced slowly and as stress-free as possible.