Dear Dr. Jackson,
My cat Fluffy just came home from the veterinary hospital and is being rejected by my other cat. Is this common and what should I do? A. H., Ft. Myers
What you and Fluffy are experiencing is common and normal in many households. A dog or cat that has been admitted to a veterinary hospital or kennel facility may experience conflict with other house pets when it returns home. The scent of other pets, people, medications disinfectants, and perhaps even the trace of an anesthetic may cling to its coat for days after it is released. The response of housemates may include fear and aggression.
The absence of one pet, even temporarily, can disrupt the established social order of the remaining pets. If the removed pet has been the most dominant, a lower-ranking pet may use its absence to advance its own social rank. The leader’s absence may also allow changes in the use of territory by each pet and individual attention from the owner.
A conflict may result when the former leader returns. Conflicts are usually minor if the separation has been relatively brief (less than 1 or 2 weeks). As a general guideline, the longer your pet has been away, the more gradually it should be reintroduced.
It may be helpful to isolate the recuperating pet during the first few days of its return so that it can adjust more gradually and without the additional stress of housemates. When your returned pet is ready to rejoin the household, it will usually not require any intervention from you.
Meanwhile, during its temporary isolation, make it comfortable and spend extra time in some agreeable and gentle form of interaction, such as petting. Provide additional attention and activity for your other pets so they will not associate a lack of attention with the return of their companion.