Multi-cat homes: what to think about

Owning a cat is such a pleasure, it's not hard to understand why some people want to rehome many of them. Although this is a very generous thing to do, it is also important to think about your existing cat’s needs and wellbeing before considering the introduction of a new cat.

Cats are solitary hunters by nature and do not naturally live in structured social groups. However, they’re also very adaptable and having more than one unrelated cat in the same household can and often does work. Each cat will need their own space, so it’s a good idea to consider the following before bringing another cat into your family:

  • the size of property that you have, and the space available to each individual cat
  • the amount of cats living in your neighbourhood
  • whether the cats are related
  • their age, gender and temperament
  • their previous experience with other cats
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Are the cats related?

Cats usually get on best within a related group, for example mum and kittens or siblings from the same litter.  The dynamics of a multi-cat household or a large group of unrelated cats are constantly changing. In a home with many cats, some cats may form smaller groups within the household and try to avoid the other cats.

Think about your cats’ resources

Cats will compete for resources that are essential for them to survive and thrive – water, food, toileting areas, high resting places, scratching facilities, places to enter and exit rooms, places to hide, toys, and social time with their humans. If a group of cats needs to share these resources, it will almost certainly encourage disputes between different cats, and arguments will cause high anxiety levels.

The cats’ emotional welfare is the most important thing, so with a little time, effort and money you can change your home environment to give your cats the resources they need. The benefits of this are:

  • Fewer parasites such as worms and fleas, and a slower spread if a cat does become infected
  • Less transmission of diseases between the cats
  • Less fighting
  • Fewer medical issues relating to stress, like urinary retention, constipation, over-grooming or eating disorders
  • Cats with a more relaxed temperament who are easier to look after
  • Cats who are less likely to redirect their aggression (e.g. attacking you) or develop unwanted behavioural problems
  • Cats who feel less pressured to mark out their territory – so they are less likely to spray, urinate and defecate in inappropriate places

How to provide enough food and water

There should be one food bowl per cat in the household, and each cat’s feeding area should be in a separate part of the house. Cats are solitary hunters and like to eat alone.

Provide a separate water bowl for each cat, plus one extra, and place these in different areas around the house. The water bowls should be away from the food and litter trays as cats do not like to drink water near to where they have eaten or toileted. They may also stop drinking altogether if another cat is stopping their access to water.  Try to position the water bowls so that your cats can drink from any side of it – so they can see if another cat is approaching. 

How many litter trays?

Like water bowls, the general rule for litter trays is one per cat plus one extra. Even if your cats don’t use the extra tray, it is always worth having it just in case. Some cats may block another cat’s access to a litter tray, so providing slightly more than they need may help prevent this. 

You can use covered litter trays and open litter trays, and a variety of different types of litter. We would recommend a transparent covered tray – that way your cat has some protection but also has a clear view of what’s coming. Remember to put litter trays in quiet areas of the house, away from full length windows, doorways and cat flaps. They should also be placed well away from each other, but make sure that they are easily accessible.

High resting places

Providing a variety of high resting places around the house can give each cat their own place to observe their territory from up high. Cats seek high up areas when they feel anxious, so make sure these resting areas are well above the ground and provide a way for older, less agile cats to get to them.

Suitable places may be shelves, bookcases, tops of wardrobes or cupboards, or tall scratching posts with a platform at the top. Try not to draw attention to your cat if they’re in a high resting place, as they may want to stay inconspicuous.

The importance of scratching posts

Scratching is a natural behaviour for a cat and also gives them a way to mark their territory, both visually and with the scent glands between the pads in their paws. Scratching is an alternative to spraying for marking a cat’s territory, so the more scratching posts you have, especially at entrances and exits within the home and near beds, the less likely your cats are to spray.

Scratching posts are also necessary for your cats’ health – scratching conditions their claws and provides exercise. You can provide a range of different scratching areas, both vertical and horizontal, and these needn’t cost a lot of money. Carpet samples, doormats, disposable cardboard scratchers and standard post scratchers are all equally suitable.

Place the scratching devices in prominent areas, usually entrances and exits to each room. A scratching post will not be used if it is tucked away. Make sure they’re sturdy enough to take your cat’s weight and that some of the scratchers are tall enough for your cats to really stretch up while they scratch. You can encourage your cats to use the scratching areas by placing dry catnip on them.

Hiding places and beds

Create plenty of quiet, dark, warm, comfortable places where your cats can feel safe. Anything from a box under the bed to a space in the bottom of a wardrobe will do. Or an igloo style bed or cat carrier with the door taken off, placed in a little-used area of the house. 

Other beds should be placed around the house, some up high.  Beds that have a source of heat like radiator beds or heat pads are even better, but make sure there are enough to go round to avoid conflict.

Your time is a resource too

Some cats find it important to spend time with their owners, and they often crave attention from you. You should try to spend quality time with each cat you own, giving them one to one attention on their terms.

Find out what kind of attention each cat enjoys. Is it play? Being groomed? Just being near you? Some cats will actively seek attention often, which may make less outgoing cats withdraw from their owners.

Plenty of toys

Provide a variety of toys for your cats. Some of the best toys available are the fishing rod variety – these allow your cats to play without coming too close. Many cats enjoy playing by themselves with mice or ball toys, others prefer their owner to initiate play.

To keep the toys exciting and novel, hold some back and rotate them on a daily basis. Try to interact and play with each cat on a one to one basis, with no other cats present, so they can truly get into the game without having to worry about starting a conflict situation.

Provide safe plants

Most cats love exploring vegetation or chewing on grass. Not all household plants are safe for cats – in fact some can be highly toxic – but you can buy fresh catnip, cat grass or cat mint to grow inside the house in pots. All of these are perfectly safe. Plants are a great way to keep your cat fulfilled – but as always, make sure you have enough to go around.

Install multiple cat flaps

Most people only give their cats one entrance and exit to their home, usually via a cat flap. Unfortunately, this can give one cat the ability to guard the cat flap and intimidate the other cats – the others will become too scared to use it.

If you can, install two or more cat flaps in different parts of the house. For example the front door, the back door and the side door. Alternatively, leave windows open upstairs, especially if there is a flat roof your cats can use to reach them.

Potential problems with multiple cats

Large groups of cats are generally easier to keep when they are young adolescents or kittens. It’s often when they reach social maturity that problems occur. As each cat reaches adulthood they may begin to struggle to share their territory with other socially mature cats.

Even other cats in the neighbourhood can upset an otherwise harmonious balance in your home – regardless of whether your cats go outside or live an indoor-only life. Scent, sights and sounds can all make an indoor cat feel just as insecure as a cat that goes out. In fact, sometimes it’s worse for an indoor cat to see other cats visiting their garden, as an indoor cat has no way to scent mark their outdoor territory or to chase the other cats off.

How many cats are in your neighbourhood?

If there are already a lot of cats in your neighbourhood, avoid taking on a new cat in your own home. If you have many cats visiting your garden, try to make it more secure to keep the marauders out. Pet-safe products can deter cats from coming into your garden, but you should only use these if your own cats live solely indoors – otherwise they may end up reluctant to access their own garden.

If your cats are unhappy or are suffering from behavioural issues, then please start by trying out all the tips above. If the problems still continue then please call or contact our Pet Support team.