Saturday, May 22, 2010
By Julia Williams
I have been a multi-cat household for most of my adult life. Though some of my cats have not been the “best of friends,” most of the time they peacefully co-exist. There have been times, though, when I returned home to find what seemed like half a cat’s worth of fur on the carpet – telltale remnants of a feline quarrel. Thankfully it doesn’t happen often, but no matter how well two cats may seem to get along, I think there will always be minor squabbles now and then. Cats are relatively solitary creatures by nature, and turf tiffs may be an unavoidable occurrence in multiple-cat homes.
Cats who usually get along may sometimes clash out of jealousy. This happens in my household when I pay too much attention to my female cat who is, admittedly, my favorite. It seems like every time I finish brushing Belle, one or both of my two male cats will chase her until she cowers under the table, hissing and growling. I’ve no doubt that if she didn’t run and hide, this altercation would turn into a fight. I used to scold the male cats, but this only made them angry and more aggressive towards Belle. My solution is to either give the two male cats attention first, or brush Belle when they are sleeping soundly in the other room. This usually works, but if they do happen to become aggressive towards her, I simply clap my hands or give a loud, high-pitched “Hey!” or “No!” Another good way to break up a minor cat spat is with a squirt of water. It startles them but doesn’t hurt them, and their hatred of H2O trumps their desire to fight.
Cat fights are usually about dominance and asserting “top cat” status as well as defending their perceived territory. There may also be an “alpha cat” issue in a multi-cat household. Although most people think of dogs and wolves when they hear the term “alpha,” there are alpha cats too. This is readily apparent in feral colonies, where alpha cats are seen being very aggressive to the other cats, which enables them to get more food. Alpha cats are very headstrong and always want their own way. They may bite and scratch their owner or other animals as a way to control them, so that they get what they want.
Proper introductions can go a long way toward creating a peaceful multi-cat household. Don’t bring a new cat home and simply plop them together and say, “Meet your new friend!” This will never turn out well. The cats need to have separate living, eating and sleeping quarters until they become adjusted to this new change in their routine. Some say it need only be a few days, while others maintain it should be at least a week to ten days. It may also help to swap their bedding and toys so they can become accustomed to the other’s scent. The last step before putting them together (supervised of course), is to switch areas, i.e. let the newcomer explore the house for a few hours while confining your other cat(s) to the new cat’s room.
I recently read about another method of “encouraging” cats to get along. I hesitate to mention it since I’ve not tried it myself, but I find the idea intriguing, if a bit odd. Supposedly, if you smear both cats with the juice from a can of tuna and put them together in a room, they’ll engage in a mutual lick-fest which results in good feelings that carry over to their daily lives. Knowing how much cats love that stinky tuna juice, it might be worth a try, but only with cats who are not overly aggressive towards each other. Regardless, you should stay in the room with them to carefully monitor their behavior.
Other suggestions for keeping the peace in a multi-cat household include:
• Neuter male cats to help curb aggressive tendencies.
• Separate their resources by keeping each cat’s food bowls, bed and litter box in a different room.
• Provide cat trees and perches for them in different rooms so they can have some space when they want it.
• Reward your cats with praise or treats when they interact in a friendly manner.
• Pheromones and homeopathic remedies may reduce the stress levels of two cats who aren’t getting along.
• Consult a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist to evaluate the problem. You can find a list here.
• Read Cat Vs. Cat: Keeping Peace When You Have More Than One Cat, by Pam Johnson-Bennett. I just ordered this book because it sounds great and has gotten really good reviews. The book purports to show “how to plan, set up, and maintain a home environment that will help multiple cats—and their owners—live in peace.” The book also covers how to diffuse tension, prevent squabbles and ambushes, and blend two families. It sounds like a terrific resource that every responsible pet owner with cats should read.
Read more articles by Julia Williams