Cats can be social animals, however, not every cat will get along with every other cat. This can manifest itself in a number of ways from outright aggressive behavior to food issues, inappropriate elimination, scratching and overgrooming.
If you live in a multicat household you should become adept at reading the body language of the felines in your family. If there is a change in the social structure, it will become quickly apparent.
Many outside influences can impact on the interaction of cats. Some are: stress level of the human family, new family members or pets, parties, houseguests, job changes which impact time spent at home, illness or remodeling.
Another factor in the relationship of cats in your family is the relative health of each cat. Any change in behavior that does not have an obvious cause, should be considered worthy of a health check-up to rule out illness first.
All cats are territorial, and should have some space in the household that they can call their own. This can be as elaborate as a cat tree, secure outdoor enclosure, cat condo, or as simple as a cardboard box with a hole cut in it, or a bed on top of the refrigerator. If the cat feels secure in it’s own territory, then communal territory is much easier to share.
The concept of territory expands to litterboxes as well. Often the dominant cat in a household will not bury his/her eliminations, thus “marking” “ the litterbox as their territory. Other cats will be reluctant to use this box, especially if they have a submissive personality.
A solution to this issue is to provide multiple litterboxes in more than one location in the house. Scooping litterboxes regularly will also help the submissive cat feel more secure in the box.
A cat with a dominant personality will need places to mark their space via rubbing and scratching. Scratching posts of various textures from cardboard, to carpet to sisal in various locations in the home will provide an outlet for this behavior without sacrificing valued carpets and furniture.
Cats are amenable to training with positive reinforcement. The judicious use of treats, play and attention when cats are interacting appropriately can establish your position as the dominant personality in the house. This will encourage peaceful interaction between feline family members.
It may be impractical to expect all cats to get along to the point of sleeping together, or grooming each other, but with close attention to environment, body language and training cats can learn to coexist peacefully.
If you are faced with two cats that are openly antagonistic towards each other, the first step is to separate the cats completely. Separate rooms with closed doors will allow the situation to “cool off”. A gradual period of reintroduction should follow. Start with allowing the cats to sniff each other under the door. Follow this up with visits to each others “space” to sniff bedding, etc. Each forward step should be followed with quiet time in separation to allow the cat to “process” those scents. Products such a Feliway™ can be used to mark each cat with the facial pheromones of the other to decrease their stress levels.
Multi-Cat Households Behavior Checklist
- Does each cat have its own litterbox?
- Does each cat have some “private space” as their own territory?
- Are food and water accessible on neutral territory not claimed by any cat?
- Are cats rewarded with treats, extra attention when they interact calmly?
- Are all the cats healthy? If not, have special space been set aside for the ill cat to recuperate without stress?
- Are there acceptable scratching surfaces available for the cats?
- Are there any new changes in the family which could account for a change in behavior?
- Are there any new cats in the neighborhood that could be adding stress to a relationship? Even indoor cats notice outdoor cats in their yard.
- Do cats have opportunities for exercise and mental stimulation? Toys, birdfeeders and active play with human family members will provide a needed outlet for excess energy.
The Snug Retreat
For the smaller household, or the family with ongoing cat interaction difficulties, a “snug retreat” may be a solution to intercat aggression problem.
A snug retreat is a large enough enclosed space- usually a medium sized dog crate, which can house a cat bed, litterbox and water bowl. This space is used for several hours each day to allow the cat to relax in a stress free environment. When the cat is not in the retreat the door is kept closed so that no other cat has access to the litterbox inside.
Many cats look forward to sleeping in a snug retreat and will run to their bed at night. Some cats prefer to have their snug retreat covered with a blanket or the like to make it seem more “cavelike” other prefer to have the visibility of open sides.
A cat will be happier to use their snug retreat if it is also used as a place where they can get cat treats, or that is lightly scented with catnip.
If you have a cat who is older, or ill, or a young cat newly separated from it’s mother and littermates, putting a hot water bottle or heated rice bag in the snug retreat will make it even more comforting. Electric heating pads should be used with caution to avoid burns with elderly or ill animals, or kittens who may chew on cords.