Why Can't We Be Friends? Reducing Stress in Multi-Cat Households

SUN 25 OCTOBER 2020

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Jacqui Victor BVSc

Thinking of getting a new friend to give your cat some company? You may want to check this with your resident cat first! Cats are naturally a solitary species (unlike dogs) who have adapted over time to live with humans and other cats - but this doesn't mean they are necessarily happy about it!

Slow and Steady

You can't force cats to like each other and while some resident cats will greet a newcomer easily and become strongly bonded, others will never truly accept them, and these cats will just learn to co-exist and avoid each other. Ideally littermates that have been raised together are best suited, and generally younger cats find multi-cat living less stressful than older cats. It is difficult to predict if two cats will get along, and just because you like your new cat doesn't mean your resident cat will necessarily like them too!

Unfortunately there is always the risk of conflict when introducing a new cat into the household, as the new cat is faced with an unfamiliar environment while the resident cat is facing an invasion of its territory. The key is to introduce them gradually as getting this right makes a huge difference in the long run. There is a great article on how best to introduce a new cat or kitten to your existing cat available here Introducing a New Cat to Your Household.

Signs your cats are bonding:

  • - Chirrups when greeting each other
  • - Sleeping in contact with each other
  • - Grooming each other
  • - Rubbing against each other
  • - Playing together

Signs your cats are not getting along:

  • - Physical attacks, growling and hissing
  • - Blocking resources
  • - Inappropriately urinating or defecating around the home
  • - Inappropriate scratching
  • - Over-grooming
  • - Decreased playing or hiding

How Do I Keep the Peace?

Our job as owners is to help set up our cats for the best possible start together, and this requires implementing some changes around our home, as well as time and patience!

Provide Adequate Resources

Cats don't like to share! Ideally each cat should have their own space within the home with all the resources they need including food bowls, water bowls, litter trays, beds, resting areas, scratching posts and toys. These items need to be provided in different locations (ideally away from high traffic areas which can be stressful to cats) so that all cats in the household have access without needing to interact or compete with each other.

1. Feeding Areas

It is best to feed your cats in separate areas, as some cats may not like to share, while others won't like to eat in front of others (privacy please!). Most cats prefer to drink in a different location to where they eat (and many prefer running water), so make sure you provide several water bowls or water fountains around the home. Cats often prefer wide and shallow bowls made from ceramic or glass, to avoid their whiskers brushing against the side of the bowl.

2. Litter Trays

Cats feel vulnerable when toileting and sharing litter trays can be very stressful. Some cats may even block access to prevent others from using it, so two-way access is important! Make sure to provide an adequate number of clean litter trays, placed in easily accessible, quiet locations throughout the house as cats who don't feel comfortable may decide to go elsewhere in the house!

3. Scratching Posts

Marking is one of the functions of scratching, and each cat will have their individual preference in regards to scratching posts (horizontal vs vertical, different types of materials, etc). Make sure your scratching posts are tall enough to allow your cat to fully stretch and place these posts in locations where each of your cats like to scratch (perhaps just waking up after a nap).

4. Resting Areas

As cats spend most of their day resting and sleeping, it's important to provide them with a safe resting place that is their very own. This is an area where no other pets or people can disturb them and is away from loud noises (such as appliances). A great example is providing soft bedding in a wardrobe as this is a warm dark place where your cat feels safe and can have some "time out".

5. Toys

Make sure a variety of different toys are available for each cat, and that these toys are regularly rotated and replaced. Some cats will not play in front of a more confident cat and will require their own separate play time with you.

Minimise Stress

Cats are very good at hiding their stress, and to us they may not look stressed at all.

Keep things routine! Introducing a new cat into the household is a huge change in routine to both your resident cat and new cat, so try to keep everything else the same! Cats like routine as it makes them feel in control, and this can be as simple as feeding and playing with them at the same time every day.

Feliway is a synthetic form of the natural feline facial pheromone, which cats use to mark an area as "safe". It is a great way to provide your cats with a sense of security, and helps to reduce stress and conflict between cats. If your cats are still not adapting to each other despite all of these strategies, then please consult your veterinarian for specific behavioural measures.

Don't Play Favourites!

It's important to give all of your cats equal love and attention, and putting aside time to spend with each of them individually can make the world of difference!

Further Reading

Want to read more? Check out our other articles:

How to Manage Anxiety in Cats

Urinary Crystals in Pets - What are they?

Dental care for cats

What is the best wet cat food?

What is the best flea and tick treatment for cats?

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