Anyone with multiple cats knows it’s not a picnic. We generally consider a harmonious multi-cat household as one in which all cats maintain an appropriate distance from each other and can tolerate each other when congregated around shared bowls, playing with their owners at the same time, or in other social situations. Of course, some lucky few have gregarious cats who enjoy sleeping together and regularly seek each other’s company. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those who struggle with daily catfights, constant hissing and growling, and secondary behavioral issues such as inappropriate elimination outside the litter box. This is when many owners start to consider turning their comfy indoor cats into outdoor cats or consider rehoming them.
So what can you as a kitty parent do to prevent the situation from reaching that point? Here are a couple helpful tips to de-escalate and de-stress your multicat household.
- Take kitty to the vet to rule out physical problems. Cats are the masters of hiding their sickness. Acute behavioral changes, including sudden-onset aggression or urinating outside the litter box, can point to an underlying disease. Cats are also the masters of redirected aggression, meaning they tend to target another cat or person by virtue of being in the vicinity even if they’re not the cause of the aggressor’s problems. Arthritis can make cats painful enough that they lash out at another cat simply because the other cat brushed by them.
- Count your litter boxes. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, you should have one litter box for every cat in the house plus one. If you have four cats, you should have five litter boxes. Some cats can be extremely finicky about litter boxes and will only use one if it’s clean. Having multiple litter boxes increases the likelihood that there will be a clean box available. Ideally, you would have multiple bathroom stations. This decreases the likelihood they will run into each other and potentially start a catfight. Once that happens, they tend to develop an aversion to that area.
- Have multiple watering stations. This ensures there is never a “shortage” of resources and if there’s a cat at one bowl the others know there are other bowls available to them.
- Scratching posts. Cats don’t scratch your furniture out of spite or boredom, they do it to mark their territory. Some prefer posts, some prefer pads, but having at least one in as many rooms as possible allows cats to feel secure and confident in their space.
- Mental stimulation. A bored cat will find ways to entertain itself. Keep different toys on hand and rotate them out for variety. As tempting as it is to give them bell balls and catnip plushies, that shouldn’t be the only toys they receive—they like interactive play. Many cats can be taught how to fetch and most like to play with flirt poles. After a play session, reward them with a treat or their dinner to satisfy their hunting instinct.
This is far from an exhaustive list and as a certified cat-friendly practice, Petplex Animal Hospital employees will be happy to answer any questions. I encourage you to read more at the American Association of Feline Practitioners. I also recommend following cat expert Jackson Galaxy, whose show “My Cat From Hell” is about helping his clients overcome their cats’ behavioral challenges. With time, effort, and a whole lot of patience, you can turn a stressful home into a harmonious one.
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