Living in a Multi-Cat Household
With lions being the only notable exception, cats are natural solitary predators that do not live in socially constructed groups by choice. The domesticated cat, however, has proven to be an adaptable species that has managed to adjust to living in compact groups by developing primitive social structures. This post will look to outline the best practices for cats living in multi-cat households, where natural instincts need to be catered for to encourage harmonious living.
In any household, cats need to be able to establish territory in order to avoid conflict with others. Territorial marking is a form of communication and is an important tool as cats have a limited ability to communicate in other ways, such as visually. The household cat often doesn’t get the opportunity to establish a wide territory, especially in multi-cat households, so important steps need to be taken to ensure any potential tension is limited.
Firstly, the most important aspect of multi-cat living is selecting cats that are compatible. Naturally, siblings that have been raised together offer the best chance for compatibility but often this isn’t practical or possible. In multi-cat households, cats will form sub-groups depending on their similarities and differences. These sub-groups will establish a territory within the house where they will seek a more solitary day-to-day life.
These territories act as boundaries that determine social groups, and cats will not share important resources with other social groups. These resources include foods, water, litter trays, beds, high resting places, enter/exit points, scratching posts and private areas. Therefore, these resources need to be provided in sufficient numbers and distributed evenly so they’re easily accessible for all sub-groups. This will help in avoiding tension and conflict between cats who can establish a natural safe-haven within their own territory. A general guide for the appropriate number of resources per cat is one, with an additional resource for every cat to use. So, in a household of 3 cats, the owner would be recommended to provide four of everything (Source – International Cat Care).
The location of these resources is important. Feeding/watering areas are often areas of conflict so it’s best to implement a strategy to avoid cats eating together. Providing some space between feeding and watering areas can also help significantly. Having ample areas for private ‘down-time’ is vital as these places act as avoidance destinations which can be gravitated to whenever a cat is threatened. They also allow cats to observe their surroundings without being at risk of attack and are best situated up high. Providing beds that are warm, comfortable and in safe areas helps to further alleviate stress and aid relaxation.
Scratching posts also provide a visual and olfactory mark as a means of territorial communication. It is therefore advisable to have multiple scratching areas that are situated within each territory.
Entry and exit points to a territory can be areas of tension as well. Cats can guard, block or intimate others as a show of dominance. To avoid aggression and conflict, owners may want to provide cats with 2 entry and exits points in these areas so a cat can escape/retreat if needed. This is particularly important in windows, front/back doors and where there is access between floors– essentially wherever an entrance to a territory is.
The density of cat population in the surrounding area can also affect behaviour in multi-cat households. In high-density urban areas, domestic cats can become stressed if other cats continually intrude upon their territory. This is regardless of whether a cat has an indoor or outdoor lifestyle as other cats can be observed through windows and can be smelled through odour carry. It may be worth considering having a secure and cat-proofed garden to exclude other cats if their territory keeps being intruded upon.
To conclude, multi-cat households provide owners with the joy of having a bigger family. However, some steps should be taken in order for a multi-cat household to be properly managed. Domestic cats have adapted remarkably well to modern life and taking these steps will help to reduce stress and increase harmonious living, leading to a more enjoyable experience for all.