How to Keep the Peace Among Household Cats

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Anytime we’ve applied to adopt a dog, we’ve been asked to bring our current dog to the shelter to make sure that the two would get along. This type of introduction isn’t practical when it comes to adding a new cat to a multi-cat household. Instead, shelter and rescue group staff ask lots of questions about the temperament of the cats already in the home to help make a good match.

Because cats can be territorial, it’s impossible to predict how groups of cats will get along once living in the same home. And while cats with aggression problems might never be friends, with time and commitment from owners, problems between cats can be resolved according to experts at the Animal Welfare Association of New Jersey (AWANJ). Depending on the severity of the problems, families may need to seek the assistance of a veterinarian and/or animal behaviorist to restore peace to the household.

Lynn Cancro, founder and president of Caring About the Strays (C.A.T.S.) rescue group in New Jersey, believes that how well cats get along in a multi-cat household very much depends on the manner in which they were introduced to one another.

“Introducing cats is a science—you can’t just bring a new cat into a home where you already have a cat or cats and expect they will all just get along,” said Cancro, who has been introducing rescued cats to one another for more than 20 years. ”The original cats see the home as their territory and now all of a sudden a stranger has entered their space.”

This sudden introduction can create a lot of unrest in the household. In fact, the cats may never get along for the rest of their lives. So, it’s essential to allow whatever time is necessary for cats to acclimate to one another.

“That could take a few days or a few weeks but it’s really important not to rush the process,” Cancro said. “Starting out with the proper introductions will help keep the peace in the household in the long run.”

Four Cats SleepingIntroducing cats slowly to one another will lead to a peaceful household in the long run.   Image credit: Thinkstock

Cancro offers the following tips when introducing cats:

  • Bring the new cat into the home in a carrier and settle the cat into a safe room separate from the resident cats.
  • Take a dry washcloth and wipe the new cat down in scented areas such as his cheeks. Then rub the other cats in the household with the new cat’s scent. Repeat the process with the resident cats’ scents and rub those onto the new cat. The purpose of this is to allow the cats to become familiar with one another’s scents in a non-threatening way.
  • Put towels under all of the cats and switch them around every few days to continue helping the casts to adjust to the new cat’s scent. Eventually, the cats will get curious and start playing footsies under the door of the new cat’s room.
  • If all is going smoothly, the next step is to put the new cat in a carrier and take him into the room where the other cats are hanging out (this could be done with all of the resident cats or one cat at a time, depending on how the cats are reacting). Alternately, you could allow the resident cats to come into the new cat’s room but always keeping the new cat in his carrier for safety.
  • Be sure to show lots of affection to the resident cats during these introductions so that they don’t feel like they are being replaced by the newcomer.

It’s safe to let the cats meet face-to-face when there’s no more hissing or aggressive behavior and when they seem relaxed and curious about one another. It’s important that human family members remain relaxed during cat introductions.

“At C.A.T.S., I’m always setting the tone and I believe the cats pick up on that,” Cancro said. “When I bring in a new rescue, I tell our resident cats that they are all here for the same reason—to find loving homes—and they have to get along with one another.”

How to maintain peace among household cats

Since it’s possible that one cat in a multi-cat household might be a bully, it’s important to:

  • Disperse food bowls, water dishes and litterboxes throughout the house. This allows all cats to eat, drink and use a litterbox in peace.
  • In her blog “Keeping the Peace in a Multi-cat Household,” Dr. Lorie Huston advises providing at least one litterbox for each cat in the household, plus one extra. Failing to provide enough litterboxes, she writes, may result not only in confrontations but also unwanted behaviors such as peeing or pooping outside the litterbox.
  • Huston also recommends a scratching post for each cat and a selection of vertical and horizontal surfaces.
  • Cancro stresses the importance of providing numerous private spaces so that each cat can retreat if he/she needs some quiet time.