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Veterinarians see quite a few behavioural issues in multi-cat households.  Stress related issues such as litter box problems and fearful behaviours are common.  Also bite wounds due to aggressive encounters occur.  Fortunately, there is a lot we can do to manage the environment to improve relations between cats.  That said, some people simply have too many pets for the space they are in so there are limitations on that type of situation.

Tips for multi-cat households:

  • There should be numerous perches and hiding spots.   Perches and hiding spots should always have a way in and a way out.  Timid cats often feel less stressed if they can be quite high up.  Furniture can be made cat functional with bookshelves that have beds on the top.  Closet doors can be left partially open and some spots set up for your cats.  Each perch should be big enough for one cat and should have two escape routes. 
  • Several scratching posts should be available in several different areas and on each level of the house.
  • There should be one litter box per cat plus one.  Litter box management is essential:
    • Litter boxes should be scooped once to twice/day.
    • Litter boxes should be placed in quiet areas that are easy to access.
    • Litter boxes should be cleaned once/week with soap and water.
    • Litter boxes should be discarded after one month as the urine and feces smell will soak into the plastic and make them unattractive to some cats.
  • There should be food and water stations that are not in the same area as the litter boxes on each floor. In a large house a couple food and water stations/floor are ideal.  They should be in a wide open area.  If you have aggressive cat(s) in the household, separate the cats at feeding time.
  • If you have an aggressive cat, consider attaching a bell to its collar so the other cats will be able to avoid this cat. 
  • If there are issues between cats, Feliway dispensers can be used to ease the tension.  This is a spray that has a calming effect on cats.
  • Classical music has a calming effect on cats and can be played when you leave or throughout the day.
  • If you have cats that really don’t get along well consider grouping the cats.
  • If you introduce a new cat see ‘Introducing a New Cat’.
  • Watch for signs of aggression.  These can include:
    •  one cat staring at another
    • hissing
    • play can be hard to interpret but if one cat ends up hiding it may mean that play is evolving into aggression
    •  outright cat fights

Also watch how cats interact.  If one cat is aggressive you’ll notice that other cats take a wide route around them.  If you are seeing this, try making some changes to lessen the tension in the household.

  • If there is a fight, use a blanket or box to separate cats as they will often bite an owner accidentally when they are in this highly aroused state (redirected aggression).  The cats should then be placed in separate, confined areas until they calm.  This area should have food, water, perches, boxes and hiding spots too.  It can take up to a week for them to calm down so be patient!   Once they are calm start allowing each cat a bit of time out per day with the group.  If fighting starts again, then follow the protocol for introducing a new cat. 
  • If you have one cat that is continually getting beat up, wounded, or is quite fearful consider re-homing this cat in single cat household.  Even the smell of the other cats on your clothing may cause them anxiety.
  • Do at least one 5 minute interactive play session/cat/day.  See ‘Fun Things to Do with Your Cat’.  Give priority to the most dominant cat so they can burn off some energy and take aggression out on toys and not other cats.

I hope this information is helpful and that you have a happy and harmonious multi-cat household.

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