I love cats. No two are alike and they are way more intelligent than most of us realize. It tickles me to watch cats outsmart those in their company, including veterinary professionals. After 30 years in practice, I am still fascinated by cat health and behavior.
Most cat owners are multiple cat owners because, like me, once you have a feline family member, you become an addict of sorts. This addiction readily intensifies and before you know it, you are at risk for becoming a “crazy cat person.” To set the record straight, Jobey and Diane are the only two cats I own. Well, they’re the only two that live in our house (truer confession: we have had four house cats at a time).
The reality is that while some like to “collect” cats because of this addiction, cats are independent creatures that do not want to be congested in their territories. My observation of multiple cat households is that each additional cat beyond two exponentially increases the likelihood of behavioral problems among them. The second reality is the No. 1 reason cats lose their happy homes is because of inappropriate elimination behaviors associated with this congestion.
To expound further, consider the ancestry of cats. First domesticated as early as 4,000 years ago by ancient Egyptians, plentiful rodent populations drew wild cats close to human communities. The killing skills of the Felis catus species quickly won the affection and attention of early Egyptians who also worshipped a cat goddess and mummified their beloved cats for their journey to the next world (along with mummified mice!). Even historically, cats lived and worked independently, competing for food and territory … sharing was not an option.
So, why then, do we think cats would be happy living closely with several other Felis cati? Many cats enjoy companionship, but not constant companionship, and most crave a “safe” space to call their own. Because many among us are cat lovers, I would like to share some do’s and don’ts of becoming a multiple cat household.
DO adopt kittens in pairs after 7 weeks of age. Siblings have already been bonded by nature. The kitten socialization period will continue through 12 weeks of age. Essentially, they are growing up and learning to be social together, during a critical period.
DO adopt a younger cat or kitten to be a companion for your young adult cat. Back to that independent nature thing, cats become less adaptable the older they get so choose a companion early in your cat’s life. Kittens are also more adaptable to “playing by the older cat’s rules” and will more readily submit to the pre-existing cat’s “laws of the land.”
DO consider choosing a male kitten to join a pre-existing older female cat’s home. A common observation in multiple cat homes is that female cats are less willing to share their territories at all, let alone with other adult female cats. Inappropriate elimination behaviors may be more likely among female cats cohabitating.
DON’T expect your pre-existing cat to immediately like the “newbie.” Seniority rules so introductions need to be slow and gradual, for both parties. Confine the newcomer to a small, safe area to grow acquainted to its new home, for days to weeks. The senior cat in the household will become aware of the new resident via “under the door” communications and scents. Once acclimated to the sights and sounds of the new home, gradually give growing freedom to the new adoptee. Some growling and hissing will still be likely until the two cats establish an understanding of territory and safety.
DON’T forget to increase the number of litter pans to one per cat plus one! Litter pans need to be immaculate and inviting for all cats. Scoop each pan at least once daily and dump and clean every pan weekly. Avoid deodorizing cleaners/litters that stressed cats will likely avoid. Cats prefer “au natural” when it comes to their toilets … litter pan deodorants are for humans, not cats!
As a connoisseur of cats myself, I do encourage cat owners to adopt cats in pairs so they are never alone when they are alone. But, consider this: cats LIKE to be alone. They just need things to do to occupy the average eight hours daily that they are awake. Give your Felis catus jobs! Make them work for their food by hiding it throughout the house or placing it in Egg-cersizer toys that drop kibble when rolled. Provide cat trees, climbing ladders with dangling toys (avoid strings!), cat walks, cat videos, window perches, cardboard box condos or paper bags. And, don’t forget a cat hammock for the other 16 hours of the day!
Oh, to be a cat.
Dr. Bonnie Jones is co-owner of Delphos Animal Hospital which she operates with her husband, John H. Jones, DVM . She was valedictorian and Outstanding Senior Clinician of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 1985.