Managing Stress in Multi-Cat Households
Cats are territorial animals, solitary hunters, and are not socially obligate. Female feral cats (usually related) and their litters will form colonies based around resources and will grow around availability of these resources. Male cats will not usually be a part of a colony, instead existing on the periphery with large territories that may overlap several groups of females.
The cats living in our homes generally do not have a choice on who they must coexist with, and instead are thrown together by the owner. We should keep this in mind when managing households with more than one cat.
Having easy and immediate access to resources is of the highest importance to a cat. This includes food, water, litter boxes, resting and sleeping areas.
A general rule for multi-cat households is the “plus 1” rule – resources for every cat in the house, plus an extra. For example, if you have 3 cats in your household, then you’ll need 4 litter trays, 4 water bowls etc.
Access to high up resting areas and the ability to escape will help the cat to feel safe. These areas should have multiple exit points, so the cat will not find himself cornered by another cat.
Cats don’t like to share – placing their bowls next to each other during feeding is highly stressful. During food preparation and feeding time, it is best to separate your cats and allow them to enjoy a stress-free mealtime.
You may also try feeding them smaller portions more frequently – 4-5 meals a day is ideal.
When introducing a new cat to your home, proper introductions are essential and may take anywhere from a few days to a few months depending on the cat.
Choosing the right personality will help. For example, placing a young, playful kitten with a senior cat (who both have separate needs and wants) might not be the best idea. Cats start to lose sociability after 2 years of age, and although it’s not impossible, introductions may become trickier with older cats.
When bringing a new cat into your home, you should give them their own area – a spare bedroom or a bathroom with their own resources. Smells should be introduced first – let each cat smell some bedding from the other, and after a while let them explore each other’s areas without the other cat present.
Then you can let them smell each other through a crack in the door – small enough so paws cannot fit through. Read their body language and if you notice any negative reactions (growling, aggression etc.) stop the interaction immediately.
When beginning face to face introductions, keep them short and include equal praise for both cats. This could involve playtime and treats so that the cats associate each other with positive rewards.
If you are experiencing cat-cat aggression in your household, you need an action plan!
Firstly, never punish your cats – there is no villain or victim. Separate the cats temporarily and control the re-introduction. You should also rule out any medical causes with your vet.
Learn to read their body language and stop a fight/tension before it happens. Thinking they’ll “sort it out between themselves” will not work and can lead to serious and dangerous fights that only become worse. Bad relationships are very hard to fix, and so preventing this is key to managing a multi-cat household.
The importance of neutering is also significant – although all cats can get into fights, most inter-cat aggression is seen between intact males.
You may also use pheromone sprays to create a calming environment for your cats and speak to a qualified cat behaviourist.
It is important to know that some cats may learn to tolerate each other (without the need for being best friends!), and this is ok. However, some never learn to get along, and in serious cases re-homing may be the last resort to support the wellbeing of both cats.