Feline Friends - How to help your Cats get Along
As I give talks, and write articles about pet health and behavior, I am learning more about what really concerns loving pet owners. One problem that is kind of hidden from the veterinarian, is how well the housemate cats are getting along. Cats rarely fight so bad that they need to come in for stitching up or other care due to the fight. In dogs that is a different story. But cats do a lot of hissing, yowling, chasing and running with loads of threats but fortunately few actual nasty attacks. So, until we ask or the client asks us what to do, cat fights and "grouchiness" is a hidden problem for your veterinarian.
So, why do cats dislike each other? Really they do like each other. The problem is that the needs they have for space, food, water, and play are very different that dogs or humans. When these needs are not met in the way the cat needs them to be met, trouble flares. It is not difficult to change the home around to help your cats, but it does need to happen. You will likely have to move a few collectables off the top shelf of a cabinet, or get a nice cat tree near the window for the cats. If you do not follow the suggestions - the fur will keep on flying and it may go into an all out brawl.
Cats are normally solo creatures out in the wild. Only lions really live in social groups and depend on each other for hunting and such. So our pet cats want to have their own beds, perching places, food dishes, and litter boxes. Every time you add a cat, you need to add each of these things. All of these extra items (resources) need to be placed a distance apart or not in view of the cats when in use. So all of these items need to be about 6 feet apart from each other to have the cats feel like it is separate.
Using the space along the walls will greatly expand the space for the cats. Put shelves staggered along the walls going up so the cats can hop up and perch at different levels. This is like increasing the space by 2 or 3 times for the cats. A cat tree should have at least 3 shelves and one box or cubbie area for the cats. Some cats like to be hidden and low, others like to be out and up high. Watch and see where you cat is going - top of the fridge? Get a cat tower that is that high. Under the end table? Get a box or tube for the cat to hide and see out. This fills the need for a cat to have places to investigate, to rest solo and climb.
Cats want to play, but with something that is moving and looks like a bird or mouse to kill. Cats don't really "play" with each other much. They do some, but usually not until they have had time to swat, jump and try to kill a moving toy - usually one that a human is tossing or moving. So get a feather toy or real fur toy on a wand and tease your cat to try to catch and kill it. You are now filling this cat's need to kill something. Once that need is filled, they are often more calm and want to interact with another cat.
Separate feeding areas are also important. Cats rarely outwardly fight over food. If they are swatting or hissing, then they are really stressed over the sharing. Get a bowl per cat and position them so no one is looking at each other. It is best to feed the cats about 1/8 cup of food twice daily. Don't leave the food out. This can lead to fighting over the food, or over eating. Cat obesity is the leading reason for diabetes in the cat and other health problems.
If you have a new cat that has recently entered the home - within the past 4 months - you may need to re introduce the cats. I have an article on my website to help you. Write or call me if you want me to go over the right way to introduce a new cat to your present cat.
Some cats have pain in the back or other places and use aggression to keep other cats away from them. Other cats bumping up to them, grooming them or rubbing up to them may hurt so the painful cat uses aggression to keep the others away. This is why it is so important if your cats that used to get along, are grouchy now to have a very complete and detailed exam for pain. Cats hide pain, and x-rays and other tests may be needed to check for common problems especially in our older cats.
- written by Dr. Sally J. Foote