Multi-cat Households – Who Owns What?

You probably have been there – or know someone who has. ‘Oh, we’ll just adopt this one cat.’ And then six months later ‘Maybe they’d like a friend, right? It’s so nice to have someone to play with, after all.’

And before you know it, your house is covered in hair, covered in cats and covered in awesome.

However, cats are..different from us when it comes to living in groups. And even if you introduced them gradually to each other, your clowder still needs to find their groove.

 Multi-cats: who owns what

 

To Hierarchy Or Not To Hierarchy

While we still don’t fully understand how exactly they find their groove, there is a certain pattern that cats employ.

From what we can tell, they have a type of… flexible hierarchy.

For example, cat A may have dips on the food bowl. And cat C may just be queen of the window sill, as that is their priority and favourite spot. Meanwhile, cat B may be second in line to the food bowl, be last regarding the window sill, yet rule the bedroom.

Basically, whoever wants it more tends to get their way. 

They also have – to us – rather crude interpersonal skills. They usually prefer to employ personal, one-on-one contracts with each other, also known as ‘time-sharing’.

Basically, they avoid conflict by doing something like this:

‘Hey, how about you take this spot in the morning?

I’ll come on over in the afternoon when you’re off for your walk anyways. That way we don’t even have to see each other’s face, cool?’

This allows them to share space even if they don’t particularly get along. Conflict can be really costly when everyone has claws and fangs, so avoiding it at all costs is in everyone’s best interest.

 

Standing Alone

While cats absolutely can make friends and likely care deeply for others, there is no such thing as pack protection.

There is no leader, no cooperation, no organisation and no deferring to others – in any situation. Though, you’ll find more assertive and influential personalities within a group, of course.

However, safe from queens babysitting each other’s kittens while they hunt, cats tend to stand alone.

Therefore, territory and who owns what when is everything. Especially when you live in tight quarters together. In a way, it’s more of a roommate situation rather than a patriarchal family situation – which dogs, for instance, employ.

So now, what happens when you have too many roommates in one house? Or, what happens if one of the roommates takes over the place without any regard for the others?

Exactly – things turn (passive) aggressive, in a fight for your right to personal space.

 

Territorial Issues

Territorial issues are a typical problem for multi-cat households.

You see, according to research, most male cats need on average 4-5 rooms to themselves. Meanwhile,  most female cats need 1-2 rooms to themselves, depending on the personalities and interpersonal relationships involved. This is, of course, a generalisation about the species itself, and can differ when considering the needs of the specific individuals involved.

Still, you as the guardian may just find yourself with a spraying war on your hands. Say a dominant cat just goes around aggressively marking everything as theirs.  In response, a more insecure cat may start spraying as well, in an attempt to carve out their own little spot – without risking direct confrontation.

The Boredom Factor

But that’s not the only way things can go wrong.

When, for instance, boredom and territorial stress meet, it can turn into a serious mess.

This is especially true for indoor cats. We’re especially talking about those that have nothing else to do all day but pick on their fellow cats. They’ll go so far as guarding the ‘litter box room’ if the litter boxes are grouped together. Or, they might even sit on top of covered litter boxes to jump onto the unsuspecting cat using it when they exit the box. My Luna did this to Prin in my household, causing a heap of trouble.

That cat, of course, will be looking for a safer place with more escape routes after that – often someone’s bed or sofa.

For this reason, it is always a good idea to have at least 1 litter box per cat + 1 *and* to keep those litter boxes at least in 2 different locations, uncovered,  so that guarding and surprising fellow cats becomes almost impossible.

And sometimes, they’ll go outright aggressive and try to drive out any cat that invades their territory. WWIII might just take place in your bedroom or living room. And a re-introduction might just be warranted, in this case.

 

‘Faking’ Enough Territory To Go Around

So how do we avoid – or even fix – this?

Well, let’s look at how we can increase the territory available and alleviate some of the stress. Yes, you heard me – we’re going to be *adding* onto your home – vertically.

You see, one of the things you can do is add high hides.

Cats see a place in 3D, so you can add a 3D dimension to your place by giving them wall space to climb on, things to sit on and snoozing spots on windowsill.

Especially timid cats love a high hide as it provides a place to watch all the action from the relative safety of the sidelines. With multiple-cat households, adding different ‘levels’  can help alleviate tension. When not everyone is on the same rung, it comes off as less threatening.

So why is that?

Cat Territory

 

The Sofa Exercise

Well, think of an empty room.

Now add 3 cats to that room.

Even if it it is a  big room, those cats – with nowhere to hide and nowhere to go – will be pressing themselves against the walls and floors, avoiding each others gaze in a desperate attempt to avoid conflict.

Now, add a sofa to that same room.Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)

Suddenly, there are three levels to sit on – the back, the armrest and the seat (and as a bonus: don’t forget the floor and the option to *hide* behind the sofa!). Even though the room is bigger than just the sofa, you’re likely to find the cats all three on or around that sofa, especially if they’re familiar with each other.

They can now divide up that sofa. Everyone gets their own spot, instantly easing the tension. The levels provide an added security that this is theirs and the other level is someone else’s, basically.

 

Resources For All

If their owners then claim the sofa, however, the cats’ll need their own furniture to do the same with – cat trees, scratching posts, shelving to go from one side to the room to the other, you name it.

Putting a big, stable cat tree in the family room where all the activity takes place is, for instance, an excellent idea as a feline alternative for the sofa.

You may even find that your house has been split up into ‘zones’ that are assigned to different cats.

If you have cats that don’t exactly get along, it might be wise to make sure that the communal resources – food, water and litter boxes – aren’t squarely placed into one cat’s territory, but spread out. Or, at least placed in neutral pathways with multiple escape routes, so that everyone can actually use them without fear of retaliation.

 

As you can tell, running a multi-cat household where everyone feels comfortable and safe can be a bit of a tricky situation, but it can also be a lot of fun.

That said, if you find yourself completely in over your head and your cats and you are unhappy, it is certainly worth it to hire yourself a cat behaviourist – for everyone’s sake. This kind of situation can be utterly complex to deal with, especially if things have been going on for a while.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for more tips and tricks to keep the peace and optimise your lives, check out The First-Aid Kit For Guardians. It’s a free resource available to those that join our email list.

It contains all the basics for a happy feline home!