Keeping the Peace in a Multi-Cat Household

Lorie Huston, DVM
By Lorie Huston, DVM on Aug. 12, 2013
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

Lorie Huston, DVM


Lorie Huston, DVM


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