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Tips for owners that have more than one cat

Cats 7 - Tips for owners that have more than one catCats are extremely popular pets and many owners will often have more than one feline companion in their household. However, not all cat owners are aware that their cats' social behaviour is very different from a dog's social behaviour and the impact these differences can have in their health and well-being.

Cat societies, weather we are talking about two cats or ten of them, are mainly composed of social groups. In the wild these groups are usually formed by females who are related to one another and that live together cooperating in protecting, feeding and caring for their kittens. Males will often be on the periphery of the group, breeding most of the females in their territory and rejecting other males in general. They keep their distance from other social groups and they do their best to avoid direct physical aggression.

This means that they don't have a hierarchical structure since they don't necessarily need to cooperate in order to survive. As a result, when owners try to keep more than one cat in the same home, social compatibility becomes an important issue.

Cats that belong to the same social group will gladly spend time together, sharing the same rooms, enjoying the same resting spots, and grooming each other. Cats that do not get along will do their best do avoid each other. An owner with two cats can have two separate social groups in its home.

While this avoidance behaviour often prevents more serious conflict it will lead to chronic stress and it can condition a cat's access to important household resources such as food, water or the litter box. A cat will actually drink less water if going to the water bowl means having to deal with a cat he or she would much rather avoid. Many house soiling issues can also be due to the lack of social compatibility among the cats in that area.

A common misconception among cat owners is that their cats get along because they will get together when you are feeding them. However, many cats simply tolerate other cats during that time because food is too important to dismiss.

Keeping all of this in mind, here are a few tips for homes with more than one cat:

  • Provide your cats with multiple resources in different locations – provide different areas where your cats can eat, drink, rest and hide so that all cats are able to have individual access to these resources while trying to avoid another cat.

  • Keep several litter boxes available, ideally one for each cat and one more on top of the total number of cats. Cats that belong to the same social group will often share litter boxes, which means that in some cases, less litter boxes will be needed.

  • Please consider social compatibility when adopting more than one cat or bringing a new cat home. In general, young kittens, an adult cat and a kitten or two adult cats of opposite sexes are more likely to get along. Don't rush introducing your new cat to the one/s you already have and if you need advice talk to your veterinary surgeon or to a qualified cat behaviourist.

Social harmony among all the cats in a household is key to prevent unwanted behaviours, chronic stress and future health problems.

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Published: 21 Aug 2015

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