The Happy Multi-Cat Home

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My cat, Trout, is very different than the cat we had before him, Hobo Joe. Joe was both a fierce hunter and lover, while Trout is neither. We enjoy Trout mostly from a distance because that’s how he mostly enjoys us. Friends of mine, with cats of their own, report personalities similar to Joe’s and Trout’s, but more often somewhere in between. Cats are individuals and that’s what makes having more than one so appealing. Unfortunately, having more than one cat isn’t as easy as having more than one dog. Here’s why:

Cats are solitary. Domestic cats are less so, but still enjoy a certain amount of solitude and privacy. With that in mind, there are few things that you might be doing that isn’t conducive to the private life your cats want to live.

Eating Together

It might be disappointing to their human counterparts, but eating isn’t a leisure activity for cats and it’s certainly not a social one. If you have multiple cats, be sure you aren’t feeding them from the same dish, no matter how big. You should also separate your cats at feeding time. For most cats, just eating at the other end of a room should be far enough, but if you have a less compatible cat, then you should consider feeding them in a different room altogether.

Litter Box Privacy

This isn’t hard to understand as a human. Bathrooms have doors for reasons, people! Your cats don’t get doors, so its up to you to provide privacy. The general rule of thumb for multiple cats is one litter box per cat plus one. Each box should be placed somewhere private. This will ensure that each of your cats can use a litter box comfortably.

Hiding Places

An interesting thing about cats is that they’re well equipped for hunting but not well equipped for fighting. Their skin is thin and their bodies are fragile. Cats do everything they can to avoid conflict, which is why they’re so good at hiding. Even house cats need a few good hiding places to

Cat trees like this can create power struggles

Cat trees like this can create power struggles

wait out “danger” or conflict. There should be multiple hiding places to accommodate each of your cats and they should be conveniently located so your cat isn’t running all over the place to find a safe hideout.

Perches

Cats are territorial and have the need to watch over their territory (check out my article on this). Cat trees are a popular accessory that provide cats with an excellent observation deck. When you have two cats a cat tree can be a source of conflict. The highest perch, which provides the best view, will become an object of contention if multiple cat trees of the same height or a cat tree with multiple platforms at the same height are not provided. Some people get away with only one cat tree because one cat submits to the other, but there’s usually going to be some amount of lifelong stress that goes along with that submission.

Personality

Just like people, some cats just don’t play well with others. Unless you get multiple kittens all at once, you should do your best to judge your cat’s personality before bringing home another kitty. Many, cats don’t do well when another adult is brought in, so the common recommendation is to bring in a kitten. If you decide to do that, be sure you have dedicated rooms where the resident adult cat can be away from the kitten, since kittens can be very annoying for adult cats.

Adult cats find kittens annoying

Photo credit: WritingorTyping

Sexual Status

Whether or not they’re neutered (or spayed) can play a big part in how well they’ll accept another cat in the house. Tomcats, or un-neutered males, are much more solitary than other cats and don’t usually do well with the addition of another cat no matter what age. The best thing you can do is have your cat fixed and then give them time for the hormones to slow down. This will take some time, so be patient!

Signs of Unease

Sometimes people don’t see the conflict between their cats, no matter how serious it gets. Here’s a quick list of signs of stress that your cats might be showing if they’re struggling with compatibility.

  • Inappropriate scratching – check out my article about scratching for more info
  • Inappropriate voiding – Make sure to bring up the specifics of this with your vet as this could also be a sign of health issues

    Photo Credit: Matt Biddulph

    Photo Credit: Matt Biddulph

  • Stand-offs – Sometimes cats in conflict don’t know how to retreat from conflict without triggering the chase instinct in the other cat, so they just wait it out. Cats in stand-off mode don’t look at each other, instead, they keep their ears rotated toward the other cat and are always in a position to flee.
  • Weight loss/gain – In conflicts over food, one cat will gain a bunch of weight by stealing the other cat’s portion, making your other cat lose weight. In this case, separate eating areas should help. Not eating can cause serious health problems in cats, so be sure to fix this problem as soon as you notice it.
  • Constant hiding – Both (all) of your cats should be out and about and enjoying your home equally and comfortably. If you notice that you see less of one cat, you should try to figure out what the source of conflict is (food, perches, toys, basically any resource guarding).
  • Fighting – This should never happen and could mean that you’ll need to rehome one of your cats. I know that’s a tough decision to make, but a life of stress is worse than adjusting to a new family.
Photo credit: Justin Masterson

Photo credit: Justin Masterson

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