Many people share their homes with more than one cat, and if all the cats get along they can provide everybody with companionship and entertainment. Sadly, however, it isn’t always that way. Cats are relatively solitary creatures by nature and serious problems can arise when more than one cat is asked to share a small living space such as a house and garden. Acquiring the cats at the same time can help, even more so if they are siblings. It also helps to introduce them while they’re young, and it’s often easier to get a male and a female kitty as opposed to two of the same sex. Just like people, newly-introduced cats need some time to get to know each other so don’t expect everybody to get along from day one. If you and your feline family are going through a bit of a rough patch, be it the occasional stare down or full on cat fights, read on... Recognise the problem and try to identify the cause
- Speak to your vet for advice, and to rule out any medical conditions that may be causing any excessive grumpiness.
- Think like a cat. Consider their how the world looks to someone their size, their likes and dislikes, and how they spend their days. Understanding a bit more about their lives will help you recognise potential problems and come up with insightful solutions.
- Observe their behaviour toward each other and toward you, and learn to recognise signs of feline stress (tense body posture, twitching tail, dilated pupils, hyper-vigilance or staring in an intimidating manner, etc.).
- If you notice signs of stress after an interaction with you, try to alter your own actions accordingly. For example, some cats love grooming, but most only appreciate it for a short period of time and on their own terms. Also, very few cats actually enjoy being picked up and cuddled tightly although they may tolerate it well. Trying to comfort your cat in this manner can actually add to their stress levels as they like to feel more in control of their interactions.
- Never punish your cats for fighting with each other. The fight undoubtedly started because of some sort of stress in the first place, and your punishment will only make the situation worse. Stay calm and try to distract them rather than yelling or throwing a shoe at them. Have a basket of toys at hand to distract them and break up any potential fights before they occur.
- Cats like options, especially safe ones, so provide several of each resource (litter trays, feeding stations, beds etc.) around the house for them to choose from. This will help reduce competition and therefore reduce stress.
- Ensure there is plenty of vertical space (such as cat trees, accessible tall furniture or cat-friendly shelves) for everybody to use. They often feel safer when they can observe things from above and it will allow them a place to escape to if they feel stressed out.
- Home renovations and frequent visitors can be very stressful for cats so provide hiding spaces at ground level too, and even in the garden if necessary.
- Scratching posts can be placed in particularly vulnerable areas like doorways and the top/bottom of the stairs.
- Provide plenty of toys to play with inside the house and entertain them yourself when you’re at home, but otherwise try to keep their environment as a whole as constant as possible.
- Create a playground of cardboard boxes, paper bags (with handles removed) or other safe objects and rotate them frequently to keep things interesting.
- Feed cats in separate rooms, or at least on separate sides of the same room, as feeding time is a major source of competition and disagreement.
- And last but certainly not least, try a calming pheromone product such as Feliway. This comes in a spray or a plug-in diffuser and can really help to reduce overall stress levels in the house. Some cats don’t seem to respond to them and it certainly won’t stop every fight, but many owners find that it makes a big difference.