Multi-cat households (where more than one cat lives in the house regardless of if they go outside or are indoor only cats) can be very stressful for many cats. In nature cats are not social creatures but as we have domesticated them we have encouraged them to have social groups (in the family). If cats that live together are in the same social circle they should live in harmony. But if (unfortunately as in many cases) they are not in the same social group it can be a very stressful life.
Clues that your cats are in the same social group are they will play together, groom each other and happily share resources (food, beds and litter trays). Cats not in the same social groups may fight (hiss, bite, scratch etc.). Or they may choose to ignore each other completely to try to reduce stress.
If you have one cat and are thinking of getting another you should seriously consider that you may be affecting the quality of life of your existing cat by bringing another in. The best chance of both cats accepting each other is for both of them to be under two years of age when they meet. But this is not a guarantee. Chances are your current cat will much prefer being an only cat in the household. By bringing in another cat to try to give your current cat a “friend” you are actually much more likely to be introducing an enemy.
If you think your cats may not be in separate social groups you can reduce the stress in a few simple ways:
Give them space to get away from each other. If they are sometimes put in one room (e.g. When you go out) try putting them in separate rooms instead.
Make sure they do not have to resource share. This means one per group plus one extra of beds, litter tray and food and water bowls. The extra one prevents any one group from monopolising all of the resources. Therefore there is stress free access for all cats in the house. This means these resources have to be spread out in separate areas of the house. Three trays lined up next to each other won’t reduce the stress as one cat can still guard them all!
If your cats go outside make sure there is more than one exit/entrance as some cats may be too intimidated to go out otherwise.
Pheromone diffusers (e.g. Feliway) can be used to help reduce stress throughout the house.
The stress caused by constantly living with another cat who is not in your social group can have serious implications. Obviously this stress affects both cat’s quality of life. They can’t be as happy as they would be without this stress. Constant stress weakens the immune system and leaves them prone to disease. Cats also display other unwanted behaviours as a result of stress. E.g. over grooming and toileting out of the litter tray. Some cats will even leave home and never want to live with you again.
This article isn’t here to scare you, but to educate. Cats can get on well together and be great entertainment and exercise for each other. Here at Positive Pet Training we have two cats Thomas and Geoffrey who are definitely in the same social group. They spend all their time together grooming, playing and snuggling up! But unfortunately this is minority. If you have one happy adult cat I would always recommend not taking on another. Or if you do be prepared to have cat things all around your house in order to help them out!
If you’re having problems with your cat’s behaviour at home think about booking in for a behavioural consultation. We can get to the root cause of the behaviour and start a treatment plan.