17 tips for owners of more than one cat

Three cats relaxing
Photo by Marianne Perdomo.

How are your cats getting along? Do they communicate well in most cases, but then some occasional fights or disagreements break out? If so, you are among the majority because this is what we see in most multi-cat households. Do you want to take a leap ahead and make your cats best buddies? Here are 17 tips to improve harmony in homes with more than one cat.

  1. Add vertical territory. Climbing opportunities are very important in a single-cat house, but they become extremely, extremely important if you have more than one cat. Add cat trees, perches and shelves, clear furniture tops and let your cats be cats. Make sure there are possibilities for the cats to climb in almost every room of your house and that you have perches of different heights available. This will let your cats establish their relationship as social animals, and choose when they want to interact with one another and when they want to be left alone.

    Cat climbing bookshelves
    Do your cats have climbing opportunities? Photo by Sam Howzit.
  2. Try to limit “dead ends.” And by “dead ends” we mean places where one cat can approach another and block his escape path. In nature, a cat would do anything to avoid conflict. Fighting is a last resort for a cat, and it is done only when other options, such as retreating, are not available. If your cats are getting into minor fights occasionally, one of reasons is that your cats are not able to escape one another. Common dead ends in a household are narrow hallways and cat trees that lead to nowhere. Add more cat trees and shelves on your walls so your cats have a larger choice of paths.
  3. Play with your cats. Play as often as you can. Use different toys and playing methods. Alter activity and length of playing, use toys that you control and also let your cats engage with solo play toys. Play with your cats together or have individual play sessions with a single cat behind closed doors. Experiment, and you will learn what works best for each cat. Playing will let your cats release their energy, relieve tension, improve social skills, build confidence in shy cats, reduce aggression in dominant cats and much more.

    Kitten playing with an interactive toy
    Do you play with your cats interactively? Photo by chispita_666.
  4. Provide several litter boxes. Litter boxes are commonly guarded by dominant cats, and, if a submissive cat goes to the toilet, it surely will not want to be ambushed by other cats. You should have at least the same amount of boxes in your house as you have cats. Having even more is preferred, and they must be set up throughout the house evenly—some of them covering the most crowded areas and some set up in quiet locations. Get large, open boxes and clean them frequently. Always make sure there is enough litter in the box. If the elimination outside of the box occurs, take it very seriously and find out why it happened.
  5. Provide as many scratching posts as you can. Scratching serves many purposes. It is not only about getting rid of dead nails, but scratching also lets a cat mark its territory. The latter means that your cat needs to scratch things in certain locations, not only in one corner. Remember, scratching is a form of communication between your cats, and if this opportunity is given, they will surely understand one another better and will get along better. Add scratching posts, pads and cat trees in as many locations as you can; usually two to three per each room will be enough, if they are placed in appropriate locations. The best practice is to place scratching posts near furniture your cats are already scratching on. You can find more about correct scratching post placement here.
  6. Provide enough other “resources.” As with litter boxes and scratching locations above, it’s also very important to provide enough napping locations, feeding stations (if you free-feed your cats), water bowls, toys and other objects. The more accessible these are to your cats, the less tension it creates—and the easier it is for your cats to choose when to interact and when to avoid one another.
  7. Learn your cats’ body language. This will let you know when your cats are aggressive and when they are relaxed, which will help you to stop possible aggression between your cats even before any fur flies. You can find about signs of aggression in cats here.

    Cat realxing
    Your cat’s body can tell you a lot about his mood. Photo by Alessandro Valli.
  8. Intercept possible aggression outbreaks in advance. Can you notice what happens before one of your cats is going to attack or ambush another one? It is best if you are able to interfere before anything occurs. You can redirect the attention of an attacking cat to a toy, or you can move yourself in between the cats without making any fuss about it—just pretend you intended to walk there. You can make a short, sudden noise to startle your cats’ attention and then take advantage of this moment to change the scenario, or you can pick up the offensive cat and, without saying a word, remove it from the room.
  9. Don’t let cats “sort it out themselves.” If your cats get into a fight, you have to interrupt it. Leaving fighting cats may lead to serious injuries and further aggression between two animals. How do you stop a cat fight? You can toss an object in between them, startle them with a sudden noise, squirt water or, if you are brave enough, you can physically remove the more offensive cat by picking him up and taking him away. After that, leave both cats separated for some time. You can also consider a complete reintroduction of both animals.
  10. Sophisticated cat
    Do you know what your cat is like? Photo by Tomas Quinones.

    Respect your cats’ different temperaments. The fact that one of your cats may not be as active as others does not mean you must by all means change it. Just like people, cats also have different temperaments. Of course, you can build confidence in shy cats and you can reduce aggressiveness in dominant ones—but after all, if your cat is reluctant to communicate, explore or take part in social life, never push him. Encourage—yes. Push—nope.

  11. Spay and neuter your cats. Single-cat household or not, there are always many good reasons to spay a cat. But when many cats live under the same roof, spaying helps to minimize urine spraying and aggression between individuals.
  12. Take your cats to the vet regularly. Even if everything seems okay with your cats, you should bring them to a veterinarian for checkups at least annually. It will stop any unnoticed problem before it grows big, and it will help to keep up with vaccinations. Having healthy cats is a key to having harmony in your home. Pain, discomfort, stress, fear and mood changes due to a health problem are common causes of aggression in cats. Find here how to make vet visits less of a pain for your cats.

    Cat investigating pet carrier
    Do you take your cats to the vet regularly? Photo by Robert Couse-Baker.
  13. Do not punish your cats for misbehaving. There may be several reasons why punishing a cat may backfire. A cat who is just scolded by his owner may become a target for bullying by other cats. A cat who is punished may redirect his aggression toward other cats. Scolding and yelling creates stress in cats—not only in those that are yelled at, but in every cat in the household. Last, but not least, punishment does not work very well in solving behavior problems. Oh, and punishing is cruel, too.
  14. Orange cat eating dry food
    The only thing that tells you whether you feed too much or too little is whether your cat puts on or loses weight. Photo by Karlis Dambrans, CC BY 2.0.

    Feed your cats in meals. There are several drawbacks to leaving a cat’s food available at all times, but if you have several cats under your roof, it gives them unnecessary competition for food, and you are in a bad position to determine how much each cat eats and when one cat’s food consumption habits may suddenly change.

  15. Feed your cats from separate bowls. While you might think that sharing makes your cats best buddies, feeding from separate bowls can work magic on to their relationship. Food is the most important resource for cats, and in many households, problems arise when cats are forced to share it and protect it from one another. By adding more bowls, or even feeding your cats in separate rooms, you will reduce their tension.
  16. Mix your cats’ scents. Each cat in feral and natural colonies not only has its own individual smell, but together they also share a common “group scent.” It distinguishes the colony from others, and helps cats to identify whether an individual belongs to the particular group. Mixing scents is easy. Brush your cats one after another with the same comb. You do not need to do it for a long time—just a few minutes each, focusing on cheeks, chin and forehead, because this is where their pheromone-producing scent glands are located. Regular petting works great, too. If you keep up this habit, your cats will pick it up and start to groom one another. This is something only cats that share mutual trust do.
  17. Don’t rush through adding new cats. If you have more than one cat, you are very likely to add new one sooner or later. We know it. But do not rush through an introduction, no matter how hard you want them to greet each other sooner. If cats are introduced properly, they won’t associate one another with negative experiences and will be less likely to act aggressively. Introduction is better done by keeping your cats separate at first, and then making short introductions from distance, gradually making them longer and letting the cats approach closer. You can find more information about introducing cats here.

    Two cats greeting each other.
    Introducing new cats properly is a key to maintaining harmony in your home. Photo by bnilsen.

When you put everything from the above together, you will reveal our final tip, which is: “Limit possible causes of your cats’ stress.” Stress is a common cause of aggression spurts in all animals, including humans. You might have experienced it yourself, as you become grumpy to your close ones when dealing (or not dealing very well) with stress. Same goes for your cats.

Common causes of stress in cats are new experiences, changes in environment or routine, owners’ stress, fear of objects, noises and other pets. You can read more about stress in cats here. If you are able to limit your cats’ stress in your household, you are one step closer to creating a happy and purring house with two, three, five or even more cats.