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According to the ‘Law of Cats’: The more cats you own, the more likely they are to fight.
This might seem unduly pessimistic, but the truth is cats are generally solitary creatures with social tendencies. Most cats are happy as loners – they enjoy being the only-cat and demanding affection on their terms.
Why Cats Don’t Fight
The independent nature of cats can lead to tension when a group of cats live together under the same roof. Most of the time peace breaks out because hopefully there is plenty of everything to go round — affection, food, hidey-holes, and litter boxes.
Cats are immensely civilized and will tolerate other cats they accept as belonging to their group. They have sophisticated ways of preserving their purr-sonal space, and utilise not just spatial territory (i.e. this sofa belongs to me), but temporal territory (i.e. this sofa is mine in the morning, but yours in the afternoon).
Cats go to these lengths because, believe it or not, they don’t want to fight. To fight risks being injured, and in the wild an injured cat is less likely to survive. Thus, cats have built up an intimidating array of warning signs which include fluffing their tales up like toilet brushes, hissing, spitting, and showing their impressive fangs. But, the truth remains they’d far rather not come to blows.
When the Fur Flies
If the evidence of fur flying in your home goes against what’s written above, then know the scales have tipped towards feline tension. That carefully balanced chi can be disturbed for any number of reasons. Here are a few of the common triggers.
- Strange Smell: Ever had a cat come back from the vet to be hissed at by his best feline friend? What happened here is the cat came home smelling of disinfectant and strange people, rather than the familiar kitty your other cat knows and loves. Strange smells make it more difficult for cats to recognise friend from foe, which leads to upset and tension. (Answer: Keep the home-coming cat in a separate room for a couple of days.)
- New Cat: Introducing a new pet is equivalent to an earthquake in the detailed street map of who gets on with whom. The new cat is competition for resources such as food and your affection, and will be firmly put in their place. (Answer: Try a gradual introduction with scent handshakes, instead of the confrontational sink-or-swim approach.)
- Limited Resources: Competition between cats is like a red rag to a bull. Nothing makes cats stick up for themselves more than a shortage of food or litter boxes. (Answer: Make sure each cat has their own bowls and box, and you share your affection equally.)
As well as flash points, the fur may fly because of underlying behavioural issues, such as:
- Mock Predation: The bored cat will find an outlet for their energy. This might be scratching furniture or chasing their housemates. This latter is especially fun if the chasee runs away, which ratchets up the chasing instinct another notch. (Answer: Provide plenty of play opportunities for the cat to chase toys or laser beams and burn off excess energy.)
- The Passive: Aggressive Cat: This is the cat that’s top-dog and monopolises key spots such as the cat flap or food area. This cat intimidates his housemates and delights in causing a ruckus as it proves he’s in charge. (Answer: Divide and conquer. Provide alternative routes for the other cats to bypass him, plus plenty of hidey-holes, and put food in lots of locations around the home.)
Help your Cats to Live in Harmony
Your master plan is to have your cats live in harmony and stop the fighting, so here’s how to achieve this:
1. Use Scent to Unify the Group
Introduce new cats gradually, keeping them in a separate room, and swapping scent backwards and forwards in a ‘scent handshake’. If you have a particularly troublesome cat that picks on your existing cats, then consider separating him for a few days and reintroducing in this manner.
The synthetic facial pheromone, Feliway, helps by sending out a soothing message. It subliminally reassures cats and tells them everything is OK, which helps reduce the background level of tension to make fights less likely.
3. Provide a 3D space
If the cats can avoid one another when moving round the house this avoids conflict. Do this by making the most of vertical space as well as the horizontal. Provide a cat-super-highway with accessible shelving to help them negotiate a room. Make use of high cat towers so they can get up off the floor and away from trouble.
4. Bolt Holes
Cats don’t want to fight, and given a choice prefer to hide. Providing plenty of cardboard boxes allows a scaredy-cat to go to ground rather than run – which means less opportunity for other cats to give chase.
5. Plentiful Resources
Make sure each cat has their own dinner service and en suite facilities. Spread these resources around the house so that no one cat can dominate them.
6. Plenty of Play
Make a point of playing with each cat for at least 10 minutes, twice a day. Providing an outlet for that excess energy does wonders.
And finally, know that you are a ‘resource’. Some cats get jealous over the time and attention you spend on the other cats. Ironically, the jealous cat is liable to be antsy, and you scald their bad behaviour – which only adds to their tension.
Instead, make a concentrated effort to give undivided attention to each cat in turn. And when one cats picks on another, instead of telling them off, take time to work out what it is that’s irritating them and make the appropriate changes to achieve a truly harmonious home.
Are cat fights a problem in your home? How do you help your cats live together harmoniously?
Callie had this every problem, that is why she came to live with us. She prefers to be the only cat in the household.
Cinco and Manna have their arguments, but overall they get along well. There have been very few times where I have felt that they’ve needed to be separated. As with any 2 creatures that live together under the same roof, occasionally, there will be disagreements. I love your suggestions. Giving cats alternative ways to deal with stress can defuse a lot of tense situations.
Sweet Purrfections says
I’ve discovered that Truffle usually needs interactive play from me when she begins to harass Brulee. Luckily, they don’t get into major fights, but Truffle has come away with a mouthful of fur at times.
We just have one cat, but I was away this weekend visiting my sister. She adopted a second cat more than six months ago, and the new cat is very aggressive to the first cat. My sister has taken a lot of time to let them used to each other gradually, but she still can’t let them be together. I’m going to suggest that pheromone to her.
What a wonderfully informative post! Our one adopted (neighborhood abandoned) cat brought home a stray feral kitten. They were inseparable at first, mimicking each other, spooning. They had moments of sparring, too! Sadly, we lost Smokie, but Binx, the feral kitty she brought home is still with us – fully rehabilitated, vetted, and adopted! I’ll keep this great post bookmarked for future use!
having three house kitties we get plenty of fights. Luckly they seem to respond to the “stop that” command. We have multiple rooms with 3D climing so allow them to get up and away if needed. I’ve never noticed them fighting except from how you described it “Mock Predation” so it seems I should play with them more!!! Good article! Glad you shared.
christycaplan (@christycaplan) says
This is so important, I think shelters and rescues should cross post so they can help potential adopters with multiple cats!
Sherri Telenko says
Interesting tips. My cat hates other cats and (when younger) did not avoid fights. When she visits (or is babysat while I travel) at my mother’s, she has to be kept apart from my mother’s cat because both will attack each other without hesitation.
Cathy Armato says
That is so interesting that cats would rather not fight if given a choice, I like the analogy of a wild cat not wanting to fight because it can cause injury, decreasing chances of survival. These are great tips to avoid cat fights – sharing.
Talent Hounds says
These are good tips. I had several rescues a few years ago but lots of space and things to do and resources for them. We did not have issues but now our neighbours cats do not get along and posture/snap at each other in our yard if they cross paths.
This is a great and informative post, thank you! My two females don’t fight, per se, but they definitely don’t get along. The younger of the two is a bit of a bully and chases her around.
M. K. Clinton says
My cats got along really well. My two males used to get on the kitchen table and rare up on the hind legs and “box” with each other. It was in fun though. I never had a cat fight. Whew!
Fur Everywhere says
I am lucky in that Carmine and Lita usually get along pretty well. Even when Jewel joined the house, all the kitties did well with one another. These are great tips for keeping kitties from fighting.
This is a helpful article for multi-cat families. I am always impressed when I visit a shelter where they have around 40 cats in one space. Sometimes a quick spat breaks out, but usually all is peaceful. There are plenty of shelf space, baskets, furniture and floor space for the cats to hang out. Litter boxes are outside in an enclosed catio.
Tenacious Little Terrier says
Mr. N is pretty easy going with other dogs for the most part and he handled living with foster dogs. There was one foster dog he couldn’t stand though.
We used to have two cats when I was a kid. They would sometimes get into fights. I also volunteered at a rescue that had a cat room. A bunch of cats where in there together, but I never saw a fight break out. They had a ton of cat towers and cat porch so that they could look outside.
Purrrrfectly written! People often want to treat and train their cats like dogs, but they have entirely different social structures! The prime reason cats lash out is stress, and every one of these tips hits the mark on how to reduce that stress.
Great post! I’ve never had the pleasure of owning more than one cat at a time. I had one growing up, but now live with my fiance who is allergic to cats. Instead I live vicariously through my sister, who has an adorable 8 month old kitten. She doesn’t have plans to get another anytime soon, but I’ll be sure to share this post with her for future reference.
Smart tips! It’s heartbreaking when our animals don’t get along, and it can be so scary.
Great post! I need to share this to someone I know who lives in a studio and wants to add a 3rd cat. Cat fights can be so scary and prevention is so important! We have lots of cat trees and different areas for ours to hide, use pheromones and we have plenty of resources available for them.
I had no idea having a cat was so complicated. Now that I have just Cosmo, my life is so very simple and easy. He’s a breeze. I shouldn’t be surprised by the steps we have to go through to make our fur kids happy and comfortable; I take steps for my dogs.
Cosmo lives upstairs and he and I hang out together in our room (where I work). He’s the perfect cat. I was tempted to get another, but he seems to be shining as a solo cat.
Cat Lady Conf (@CatLadyConf) says
I have only one cat, so this is not a problem nowadays. But in the past, when I was still a teenager living with my parents we had a male cat and I decided to bring in a female kitty (both outdoor cats). After a few weeks the male just went away and never came back. We looked for him for weeks, but unfortunately never found him.
Binga is a tortie with excess energy, and when she gets bored from not getting enough playtime, she beats up on Boodie. She stopped when I first moved in because I was a nonstop active kitten, and I helped her burn off some of her energy – now it is up to my human to pick up the slack!
Sometimes Cats Herd You says
This is such good information. So many people really do think that their cats are just doomed to fight, but it’s not true at all. We’ll be sharing this!