This article was written by our Training and Behavior Department Specialist, Stephanie Rodgers, CPDT.
Managing a multi-cat household can be a challenge. The more cats living in an average-size living environment, the more difficult it may be.
Cats have a need for a surprisingly large area of living space in order to be mentally and emotionally content. Common problems may be aggression between cats, not using the litterbox or a pet that is fearful and constantly hiding.
Dividing the real estate in your home is very important. Each of your pets should have his own feeding area, resting area, toys and litterbox. If your cat does not have to share his resources, he will be less likely to become territorial.
Introducing a Cat
Taking your time when introducing a new pet is critical. Never force cats in your household to interact with each other. Let them proceed at their own pace. A spare room that can be closed off will work well as a safe place for your pet if they must be temporarily separated.
Providing an interactive and entertaining environment for your cat will help to decrease boredom and stimulate exercise. Cats that are mentally and physically satisfied will feel less compelled to search for entertainment and you will find they are getting into less trouble.
If You Have Squabbles
If you have cats that are fighting on a regular basis, the most important thing is to manage the environment. The social structure of cats will fluctuate; stable hierarchies are not formed as they are with dogs. Fights that are permitted to continue will only get worse because cats that fight learn this behavior and will use it more quickly in dealing with conflicts.
Don’t let it become habit! Your cats should not be left to “work it out on their own.”
Separate cats into different areas of the house while working on modifying the behavior. This will lower the level of tension and help your pets feel less threatened. Several hours or days of separation may be necessary, depending on the severity of the agitated behavior and re-introduction should be gradual.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Use positive reinforcement with food treats and verbal praise when cats are interacting appropriately. Cats that have a history of fighting with each other may never become friends and may just tolerate each other. Some highly territorial cats may do better as the only cat in the household.
Never punish cats for fighting. In most cases, this will only increase the aggression. Instead, redirect your cats when you see one of them targeting another (stalking). Get his attention focused on something else, such as a favorite toy or treat. Learn your cat’s body language and try to anticipate when disagreements may develop, and avoid activities that may trigger an over-aroused response in your pets.
Breaking Up a Fight
If a fight has already begun, interrupt it as soon as possible with a clap of your hand or a loud “HEY,” or use a spray bottle of water or a can of compressed air. (NOTE: This is not a “training” technique and should only be used to separate cats that have already begun to fight.) Do not attempt to pick up or separate your cats; this could easily result in an injury to yourself.
Once separated, your cats should be isolated from each other so that they have time to calm down.
If your cats aren’t cohabiting well, using these tools and techniques should help keep the peace in your multi-cat household. Making the effort will be well worth it!
Call and ask!
If you have any concerns or problems regarding your animal’s health or behavior, please don’t hesitate to call us at 954.266.6851. You can also checkout our behavior handouts from our behavior and training page.
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