Tracie’s Top Tips for Creating Love and Peace in a Multi-cat Household
Thinking of expanding your feline household? There are some changes in the household that can trigger inter-cat problems. You will want to be on the lookout and nip problems in the bud before things can escalate. Issues can include adding or losing a cat; illness of a cat (which lowers a cat’s status beneath all other healthy cats); a cat reaches sexual maturity (at six to seven months); and a cat reaches social maturity (at two to four years). All these are prime times for jockeying for social position.
There are many practical ideas in my book THE CAT BIBLE: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know and I’m going to share just a few of them here.
Bring home litter-mates. People often find that two kittens or cats from the same litter often make great housemates. A brother and sister are a better choice than two litter-mates of the same sex, who might have a built-in drive to challenge each other once they hit maturity.
Choose a cat already used to group living. One of the many benefits of adopting from a shelter or rescue center is that you are able to see how each particular cat tolerates others, allowing you to pick one that can cohabit without making issues.
Avoid two males of equal age. When two male cats reach social maturity at the same time—which is generally between two and four years of age—they may have disputes about rank and who is top cat, which can become an ongoing management problem.
Avoid extreme personalities. Cats who are at either extreme of the personality spectrum—those who are very timid, fearful and shy, or those who are confident, active and high-energy—may not blend as easily with other cats.
Avoid multiple Burmese cats. Burmese are a loving breed, but they can be more territorial than other cats and therefore problematic in a group situation unless an experienced and knowledgeable person knows how to manage their complicated feline issues.
Some cats should fly solo. Keep in mind that some individual cats whose personalities are most true to feline nature do best as the lone cat in a household.
Ways to Increase Harmony
Create more vertical territory. Cats need high places where they can escape to feel safe. A big, open, one-level room is a cat’s worst nightmare: nowhere to hide, no vista point from which to survey it all. A cat without options feels vulnerable, and by adding other cats to the mix, you put all the cats in a position of defensive fear.
Add furniture. The easiest way to make your cat feel more comfortable is to add one stuffed armchair to the room. With that chair, you provide multiple perches: two arms, one back, and the seat, with multiple levels, too. An ordinary chair, table or bookcase achieves the same purpose: different elevations and surfaces to occupy.
Time-shares. You may have thought that humans invented the concept of a time-share in a resort community, but cats have been practicing time-sharing right at home for as long as they have lived with people. For example, a higher-ranking cat will lay claim to a favorite chair in the sun, and that will become “her chair”—but there is an understanding that a subordinate cat can use it when she leaves.
Feeding Arrangements are Super Important
You have to create a home environment where the cats feel safe and peaceful, so that none of them feels endangered by the simple decision to eat dinner.
♦ Scheduled feeding is best. Two meals a day of canned food is the most efficient and nutritious way to feed your cats. You will know that each cat got her due and that even the lower-ranking cats get a fair portion.
♦ Individual Saucers Promote Harmony. Each cat needs to have her own dish with her own portion of food and a deep saucer is most comfortable. Avoid bowls with high sides, which are not comfortable for a cat because the sides interfere with her whiskers.
♦ Each Bowl Should Have Its Own Position. Each cat should know where you are going to set her bowl down. Before long, she will go there to wait calmly for her meal. Cats thrive on routine and predictability, and dinnertime is no exception. Providing a protected place for a cat to eat means you are dramatically increasing her well-being.
♦ Watch Where You Place a Bowl. A few spots are inconvenient positions for a bowl. Placing it in a corner or against a wall is no good for a cat because she may feel trapped, with her back to potential enemies (her feline housemates!). Make sure that bowls are positioned so that no one cat has to cross the pathway of other cats to get to the chow.
♦ Tension Between Cats Can Be “Cured” at Dinner. If there are pecking order issues between cats, one way to defuse that tension is to put their dinner bowls far from each other, but still in each others’ line of sight. The theory behind this is that being able to see each other while enjoying a tasty meal will create a positive association, which over time may cancel out any historical problems between them.