Tips for Living With Multiple Cats
I’ve lived with cats all of my life.
I grew up with Bootsie and Smoky and then as an adult I shared my home with Pywacket, King Lear, Flea, Tigger, Spice, Squash, Pumpkin, and Xena. Today, Kirk, Spock, and Scottie amuse me on a daily basis.
Sharing your home with multiple cats can be great fun, especially when the cats get along, but there can also be challenges. There might be squabbles over food, water, your lap, or over nothing at all that you can perceive. Litter box problems are common. I’ve heard from more than one cat owner who said one cat is perfect; multiple cats are less than perfect. It doesn’t have to be that way, however.
Providing Space for Each Cat
Domesticated cats and their ancestors tended to be solitary creatures and living in close proximity to other cats isn’t natural. Groups of cats, such as feral domesticated cats, may hang out together around the food and water sources, but they will also have their individual spaces where they can be alone.
You don’t need to have a large multi-room house to keep your cats happy, but having hiding spots in various places will increase your cats’ comfort level. My three cats often nap together but that doesn’t mean they don’t each need some alone time. Cats who have places where they feel safe to relax and nap will be less stressed than those who feel crowded and vulnerable.
Cat trees with various levels, especially tall cat trees with hiding boxes and beds, are favorites with many cats. We all know cats love cardboard boxes, and although those aren’t pretty decorations for your house, your cat will appreciate them. Shelves under windows where the cats can look outside are great. Cat beds in different rooms allow each of the cats to have some peace and quiet by himself.
Since alone time is important, don’t try and keep track of each cat’s location all the time. If you regularly search the house for each cat and peer into cat tree hiding boxes, under the bed, and into cardboard boxes, you’ll cause more stress for your cats. Keep in mind direct eye contact (staring) is what predators do before they begin to hunt their prey. Your cats need space from you as much as each other.
Litter Boxes Can Be Stressful
One of the first signs of a problem in a multi-cat household usually shows up as housetraining issues. Most often a cat who is lower ranked in the social order will refuse to use a litter box used by a cat higher in the social order. To use that box would be showing disrespect to the other cat and so the lower ranked cat would rather use the carpet. To prevent litter box problems, the generally accepted advice is to have one more litterbox than cats in the household and to have boxes in at least two locations.
Keeping the boxes clean is important, both for you and the cats. You’ll appreciate the smell, and there will be less chance one cat will claim any one particular box as his own. It’s also important to place the boxes in quiet places in the house so the cat using it feels safe. Placing the boxes in high traffic areas could cause the cats to avoid the boxes.
Have More Than One Food Bowl
Problems around food bowls are almost as common as litter box troubles. With many cats, as with many other animals, food is survival and therefore it must be guarded and protected.
If you have one or more cats who feel this way, then have more than one food bowl and place them in two different spots. That way the food guarding cat can protect one bowl while the other cats can eat at the second bowl in peace.
Water bowls don’t tend to create as much tension as food bowls can. I have two large water bowls that are refreshed daily, but place them side by side and have never had any problems. However, if you find a cat guarding the water bowl(s) and not allowing other cats near it, then set up an additional bowl somewhere else.
Consider a Catio
Two of my recently adopted cats, Spock and Scottie, were rescued from a feral colony and made it clear from a few months of age that they were not happy remaining inside all the time. Since it’s not safe for them to be free outside where I live (birds of prey, coyotes, traffic) I built an outside cat patio (catio) and installed a cat door so they could go in and out as they pleased.
This covered, escape-proof area isn’t large, but it has places for the cats to bask in the sun, watch the local songbirds and hummingbirds, and enjoy the weather outside. I can close the cat door if I wish, and they’ve gotten used to that. When I get home, however, they lead me to the cat door to open it.
There are commercial catio kits you can use or you can hire a fencing company to build one. I used chain link fence sections and then covered it with a pop up awning; then fastened the awning to the fence so there were no gaps. Potted flowering plants around the outside provide color and attract hummingbirds without placing the birds at risk.
Squabbles can Happen
My three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, all grew up together in my house since they were kittens. Now all adult males, they get along rather well.
However, not all multi-cat households are peaceful. When cats don’t get along, then one (or more) will need to be kept apart from the others. Setting one cat up in a room with a screen door can help diffuse the situation. Having one cat separated for a period of time will allow tensions to ease while at the same time allowing the cats to see each other. You don’t want the isolated cat to become a stranger to the others; you just want everyone to calm down. After a few days (or a few weeks if the scuffling was bad) then the cats can, hopefully, be allowed to mingle again.
Sharing your home with multiple cats may require more effort from you to make sure everything runs smoothly and all felines get along, but it also provides a great deal of enjoyment. I love watching the interactions between my three cats. Each cat is unique in personality, likes, and dislikes, and habits. At the same time, they truly do like each other and mutual grooming sessions happen often. Plus, evening play times make me laugh.