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?