When living with cat, how many is too many?
Because feline social behavior varies, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Adult male barn cats, for example, preferred to live alone, whereas females preferred to live in matrilineal communities of no more than ten.
Cats are extremely territorial animals. Indoor-only cats’ territory is limited by the size of the home, though some restrict themselves even further to specific areas within the home. A free-roaming cat’s territory is defined by his or her personality, access to food and shelter, and sexual status. Males cover a larger area than females and form loose colonies with several female colonies.
This Land is My Land
Scratching, spraying, and otherwise scent-marking their faces, chins, feet, and tails with glands found on their faces, chins, feet, and tails, felines stake their claims. Cats’ marking behavior may increase if they notice a change in their environment, such as the arrival of a new cat, a new visitor, or a new piece of furniture. While not a “keep out” sign, marking appears to provide the marker with a sense of security in a shared space.
Territories can overlap, and the more assertive cat usually gets first dibs on prime times. In a multi-cat household, for example, the same cat may claim the window ledge whenever the sun is in the right position, or the bed pillow when the lights go out every night. Other cats can go to those places at different times, but if they try to go at the best time, a squabble usually ensues until the more assertive cat wins.
A new feline invading a cat’s territory can cause social frustration in a variety of ways. Dr. Bonnie Beaver writes in “Feline Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians” that “signs of social stress range from aggression to catalepsy” (W.B. Saunders Company, 1992). (Slowing down) House soiling, insufficient grooming, excessive grooming, overeating, anorexia, diarrhea, constipation, social withdrawal, vomiting, and chronic piloerection (hair standing on end)” are all signs of immunosuppression.
In a multi-cat household, it is not uncommon to hear the occasional hiss and swat, but you may discover that two of your cats have had more than a simple falling out. In severe cases of social aggression, where one cat takes an enormous dislike to another and constantly tries to run the “pariah” off, hounding him whenever he attempts to leave the hiding place, finding a new home for the “pariah” is often the kindest thing to do.
Introducing new cats into the household should not be taken lightly. Pet owners frequently try to rush the process, expecting friendship to happen overnight. Allow at least two weeks of social isolation from other cats in the house (but not from human family members) before introducing a new addition to resident felines. This routine allows the resident cat or cats to become accustomed to the odor of another cat on their territory without having to confront the newcomer physically. For more complicated introductions, cattery cages or screened doors may be required. These will allow cats to eat almost next to each other while remaining safe from each other.
Long introductions can be less stressful if you remember:
- Consider adopting littermates or adults from the same household if you don’t already have a cat but know you want two.
- Consider a three- to eight-month-old kitten if you already have a young or middle-aged cat. Introductions are usually easier when bringing in a sexually immature and physically smaller cat.
- Look for a cat who stayed with his or her littermates until he or she was nine to ten weeks old, if possible. These cats are far more cat-friendly than orphaned cats or cats with limited experience with other cats.
- Avoid bringing in adult males until they are neutered to avoid spraying issues.
While not all cats are social by nature, many thrive within their own species. Making a deliberate choice is one tried and true method for achieving feline harmony.
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