Many cat lovers are not satisfied with a single cat; they are so smitten by their feline friend that they are consumed by the desire to have two, or even more cats as family pets. However, done incorrectly this can lead to significant problems; including persistent fighting and/or urination and defecation outside the litter-box. Having fostered more than 400 kittens and cats over the past decade, my husband and I have encountered this many times – both in our own cat family and in the homes of the people who have adopted our foster pets. I have come up with the following advice for cat owners considering expanding their furry family.
The first question I recommend that prospective multi-cat owner ask themselves is: “should I even get a second/another cat?” The most important thing to realize in this context is that cats are not naturally pack animals. Unlike dogs, whose forebears live in devoted and highly structured family units, cats are solitary creatures. Exceptional cases do arise, but in general the only affectionate multi-animal scenario in the feline world in the mother-kitten relationship. Because cats are usually born in litters of at least 2 or 3 (and often more), there is generally a second level relationship among littermates. However, the attachment between mummy and kitten is the strongest, and it is invariably affectionate. In fact, there are those who suggest that your cat’s affectionate attachment to you is transference of this relationship – essentially they consider you their ‘mummy’ and the younger they are when you adopt them, likely the stronger this relationship will be.
I personally believe that the attachment cats develop for humans is probably more to do with individual personalities (both cat and human), but whatever the reasons and mechanisms, it’s definitely true that it is a lot easier to get a cat to love you than it is to get them to love another cat. So, ask yourself candidly if you really need a second (or third, or fourth) cat. And, if you have gotten away with two, don’t be fooled into thinking that you will necessarily be problem free with more. Each cat has his or her own unique personality and hang-ups – just like people. Our own personal experience was that cat number two dovetailed perfectly into our family, right up until we introduced cat number three.
Presuming that I have not talked you out of the idea by now, that you are determined to have a multi-cat household, here are my suggestions for increasing your chances of smooth success. First, consider going multi-cat right from the start. Ideally, adopt a mother and her kitten. This can be especially successful if the mother is under one year old which, sadly, has been the case far too often for the mother cats we’ve helped rescue. You can also consider adopting litter-mates and chances are almost as good that things will work out well, but this is by no means guaranteed. Keep in mind also that reintroducing mummy and kitten and/or littermates after a period of separation can be no different that introducing feline strangers. Our experience has been that cats have the capacity to remember people and other cats for about three weeks, on average. Some forget you, or their mother, kittens or siblings, in as little as 2 weeks. If you are a cat owner who has used a boarding kennel for kitty and come back from vacation only to get the cold shoulder from your pet, consider the possibility that this may not be so much a case of punishing you, as one of kitty having forgotten who you are – at least a bit.
If you already have a cat and this option is not available to you, then great care is essential. I cannot give you a definitive recipe for success, but I do suggest the following. First, adopt from a humane society that fosters the cats in a home setting. If the cat you are adopting is known to be good with other cats, then the battle is half won. Consider fostering yourself; see how your current cat reacts to other cats. Ideally both cats should be neither aggressive nor timid with other cats. One of each, for example, is not a good combination; you are setting the stage for a bully and victim relationship. This can sometimes lead to worse problems than two aggressive cats. You may not be fortunate enough to happen on two cats who both actually enjoy the company of other cats but, at the least, you should aim for two that are indifferent to each other. If you simply do not have the opportunity to assess how your current and prospective cats are around other cats, then your most promising scenario would be to introduce a kitten as your second cat. You should probably also plan to get a cat of the opposite gender from your current cat – we have found that this can be quite conducive to friendly relations.
How you introduce your new cat into the household can also have a significant impact on the success of the ultimate relationship between these two. A gradual introduction can go a long way to smoothing the path towards friendship. Many people make the mistake of dumping the new cat into the middle of the household environment, which has the distinct potential of eliciting an aggressive reaction from the incumbent cat. I suggest you start by confining the new cat to a single room of the house, and let the two get to know each other first by smell and sound. After a few days, if things are progressing well, you can introduce the two for brief periods, under close supervision. The speed with which you increase the duration of these face to face sessions will really depend on how things go between the two cats.
Whatever you do – don’t give up too quickly. It can take weeks for things to settle down and even the most acrimonious introductions seldom actually lead to injury for either cat. And remember, however long or short, and rough or smooth the adjustment period, always be sure to provide one more litter-box than the number of cats in your household. Even if cats get along well, they seldom like to share the ‘facilities’.
Finally, be sure to spay or neuter all your cats – not only will this make them less likely to fight and spray urine, there is an endless supply of homeless orphans, many of whom end up abandoned and suffering, or euthanized, for lack of suitable adoptive homes. It is irresponsible for us to let our pets breed and contribute to their numbers. Best of luck!