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The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Keeping the Peace in a Multi-Cat Household

Do you live with more than one cat and have problems with your companions just not getting along very well together? Have you ever wondered why your cats don’t like each other? There are many different reasons why cats might fight with one another. Sometimes, it really is just that they don’t like each other. But, in many cases, there are other reasons. Here are some tips that might help your feline companions live more peacefully together.

Provide ample resources for all cats in your home. At first glance, this advice may seem simplistic. But what you consider to be ample resources may not be what your cat would prefer.

  • Provide more than one feeding and watering station for your cats. Some cats will “stake out” the food and water station as their own. For instance, I live with six cats. One of them, Rhette, will actually lie near the food and water bowls and growl at the other cats if they come near. Another, Rusty, will lie with his body covering the food while he eats, effectively keeping any other cat from sharing the bowl with him. It seems he simply prefers to eat alone. Providing an ample number of feeding and water stations can help prevent altercations over the food and water. If Rhette is busy guarding one food/water station, there is always another available for the other cats.
  • Provide at least one litter box for each cat in your home, plus one extra. Many cats simply refuse to share litter boxes. Failure to provide adequate numbers of litter boxes may result not only in confrontations between cats but in undesirable behaviors, such as peeing and pooping outside of the box.
  • Provide plenty of scratching surfaces for your cats, at least one for each cat if not more. Don’t forget to provide both vertical and horizontal surfaces as many cats have preferences. You can also try different textures. Cats use these scratching surfaces not only as a means of sharpening their claws but also as a means of declaring the area as their own.
  • Be sure each of your cats has a private area to retreat too in the event that your cat feels overwhelmed or simply needs some privacy. Carriers (left open so that your cat can enter and exit at will) and even cardboard boxes can make great retreats. It is essential to provide at least one private area for each cat. However, if at all possible, your cats will appreciate having more than one area from which to choose.
  • Provide plenty of toys for each of your cats. Consider rotating toys to keep your cat’s interest fresh.

Take advantage of the vertical space in your home to provide more territory for your cats. Cats love to climb and they love to rest on perches at eye level and above. Midge, one of my female cats and probably the most submissive of the group, loves to hang out on top of the kitchen cabinets in the space between the cabinets and the ceiling. From there, she can look down at the entire room and keep a closer eye on her surroundings, which I think gives her a sense of security.

Providing perches for your cat can be easy as allowing access to the top of shelves, cabinets, and other similar areas of your home. There are also many options available commercially for providing stairs, ladders, perches, and houses for your cat. Some are free-standing, such as the many cat trees available. Others can be attached directly to the walls of your home.

Provide at least one perch for each cat in your home. Consider placing a perch or two near a window where your cats can watch the activity outdoors.

Provide plenty of exercise for your cats. Many of our housecats tend to be less active than is good for them. A lack of exercise can contribute to weight issues for some cats. For others, it can lead to pent up energy that is directed toward the other cats in the household. Interactive play sessions with your cats are a good way to bond with your cats as well.

Rule out medical issues. If you suddenly start experiencing aggression between your cats where none existed before, consider the possibility of medical issues. Pain and illness can make cats irritable in much the same way these conditions can make people grumpy. And irritability may result in your cat lashing out at you or at his feline companions.

Misdirected aggression can also be the cause of fighting between cats. In some cases, one cat may take out frustrations on another. The inciting cause may be totally unrelated to other cat involved. For instance, Rhette doesn’t care to be groomed. He doesn’t like being brushed at all and he becomes very angry when I do groom him. He will not take out his frustrations on me in other way other than a rapidly swishing tail. However, he won’t hesitate to take his anger out on any of the other cats that happen to be in his vicinity when the procedure is finished. To prevent this misdirected aggression, I make a habit of leaving Rhette alone in the bedroom after grooming until he has calmed down and relaxed.

In Rhette’s case, the inciting factor is grooming. For other cats, seeing another animal outside and being unable to reach that animal might be the cause. Or it may be something completely different. It can sometimes be very difficult to determine the actual cause even though the result (aggression between your two cats) is often very obvious.

Use Feliway to reduce stress and ease tensions. Feliway is a pheromone product. It simulates the facial pheromone that cats produce naturally. It can be, in many instances, an easy way and effective way to reduce aggression caused by stress or other factors for your cats. I use the Feliway diffuser in my home and this product is so effective for us that I can actually tell by the change in my cats’ behaviors when the diffuser needs to be replaced. Immediately after replacement, our home returns to a calm relaxed atmosphere without tensions between cats.

Dr. Lorie Huston

Image: veera / Shutterstock

Comments  6

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  • 08/12/2013 04:42pm

    We always have new cats coming and going. The introduction has a lot to do with how things go forward unless you have a cat with a mental issue as we did with our FIV+ boy. We figure his 'catitude' was what caused him to become infected in the first place.

    We find each cat has a toy preference, too. Also there are preferences for eating surfaces, in that one of our new cats likes to eat on the freezer, (very inconvenient if we are hungry). We always give water in a way that allows our cats to stand or sit, rather than crouch. If we offer any other method it is rejected, so this must be more comfortable than bending low. It could also be that the volume allows the water to stay cool longer. Higher containers collect less fur on the surface, for sure.

    Muffin was known as "high maintenance" when we took her in. She was attempting to assault every cat in the cages at the adoption center we found her at when a friend suggested Muffin needed "extra" attention. The hardest problem we had with her was with "Grandma" who is a retired breeder, clearly used to being in charge of her space. In areas where there is restricted space for passing in transit, we have either obstacles, or tunnels. Grandma used to head for a tunnel whenever there was a concern, so we feel she was used to being in a confined space and felt safe there. She now feels comfortable enough that all the cats are free to use the tunnel if they feel so inclined.

    Each cat finds its own way, here, possibly with the help of a squirt bottle for the nastier contention, but nothing else, and it was seldom needed. I have found it interesting that the girls got on better in our outdoor run on the deck where they are exposed to other preditors. It is like they understand the safety in numbers rule. (-;

  • Aggression
    08/12/2013 06:41pm

    I've had several instances of misdirected aggression when there are kitties outside. Since my critters don't have the opportunity to "run them off", sometimes they have decided to take it out on a housemate.

    And then there's my Josie. No health problems. No other kitties attacking her. Plenty of feeding stations and waaaaay more than enough litter boxes. She's never been an only cat. She just doesn't like other cats in her "space"and doesn't hesitate to let the others know if they get within a couple of feet.

  • 08/12/2013 10:36pm

    Our two cats are not compatible (both inside cats)! Both de-sexed, one is a male two years older than the other who is female. Bean (the male) pretty much constantly stalks, nags, glares at Armi unless he is asleep or eating or otherwise entertained. Armi (female) slinks around with a defensive/submissive position trying to avoid him and sometimes with a low, extended grumble in an attempt to warn him off. Often, Bean pounces, and hissing and squealing resound. Bean is only sometimes scratched lightly (usually on the nose), otherwise I get the feeling that to Bean it is almost just play, something to do, while for Armi it doesn't seem like fun at all and is very one-sided. Armi spends a lot of her time under the bed in our bedroom (Bean can't get there easily because of an injury he had), while Bean seems to get free rein of the rest of the house.

    The one thing I will try which is doable/which I haven't done already in this post is give them separate water bowls.

    I wish they would just love each other! Any ideas?

  • 08/12/2013 11:38pm

    erialc, you may not be able to EVER get them to love each other. I don't think that is what is being suggested.

    How were the cats introduced? Was the home 'owned' by the female first? It looks like she should have a space that is her own for a while, so she can have a space she can trust, and then let her be the one to gradually move toward integration if the male is aggressive. Giving them their own feeding/drinking areas as well as litter boxes is a great start, too. That usually happens when cats are introduced with segregation involved as they start with their own "possessions". HTH

  • 08/13/2013 12:00am

    Hi westcoastsyrinx. We adopted Bean first in 2005 then in 2009 we adopted Armi. They were both shelter cats but after adopted Armi lived with my sister as a solo child for about two years, before we adopted her. Bean, apart from his shelter kitten-hood, has only lived with one other, older female cat for less than a year. From what I can remember he was fine with her.

    I have now given them a separate watering and food station each. They used to share the water bowl. I've also moved them out of sight of each other so hopefully Armi can eat without looking over her shoulder or being stared at all the time.

    The other weird thing is that Bean is the way more docile one of the two in every other respect. Armi has attitude and a definite personality. Bean, we named after a Beanie Baby because he's so floppy!

  • 08/13/2013 12:07am

    I too have six cats and for the most part they get along. Only at breakfast, Helio always slaps his brother Johnny Walker--the only time I serve moist food. So yes I scold Helio.

    But when I bring in foster cats, I always worry. I know how to introduce new cats but normally when I rescue it's usually a pair of kittens or more so they play with eachother. But our latest rescue, Ninji, is about 8 months old and has lots of energy and appears to be aggressive with JP and JW--the bigger fat cats. Geisha, the small petite cat, stands her ground and if anything, follows Ninji and lets him know she's a tough cookie and won't tolerate his aggression. It's amazing to watch. But now Jean Pierre and Johnny Walker hide under the bed all day.

    I spend some time with Ninji who loves to chase the felt mice. But I have to constantly fetch and throw it across the room to wear him down and I don't have 30 minutes three times a day to spare. So I'm anxious to get the Feliway diffuser!

    Thanks so much for this helpful post!


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