Harmony and Dissonance

Author: Lora Schuldt, DVM

June 26, 2014

Why do some cats adore each other while others can’t pass each other without swatting or hissing? Why are these often the same two cats, alternating between affection and aggression? These are common questions in multiple cat households, which represent more than half of all homes with pet cats. There are solutions for improving the social dynamics among cohabitating cats, and a harmonious feline household often needs to start with proper introductions.

Dr. Suzanne Hetts, a veterinary behaviorist, provides tips on helping cats co-exist. She emphasizes how important it is to introduce a new cat to an existing cat extremely slowly, never allowing animosity to build. Because cats are not naturally social with other cats in the way dogs are, a new cat is certainly not initially seen as a new playmate but rather a competitor. This can lead to fear, anxiety, and aggression in one or both cats.

Intercat aggression that occurs in cats that have lived together for a while can still be corrected in many cases by reducing competition for resources. Resources are things such as climbing trees, sleeping perches, scratching posts, food and water bowls, and hiding spots. At least one set of such resources should be given for each cat, and more is better. This is also true for litter boxes (behaviorists generally recommend that there is one litter box per cat plus one additional box). This way no individual cat is forced to share, which is not a natural behavior for most cats anyway. Abundant resources can allow a more solitary cat to meet his or her needs without conflict, and this reduces social tension.

Some cats are very happy to snuggle together, groom each other, and they may show very little conflict. This can be related to providing a good environment, matching of the cat’s social needs, and the overall health of the cats. A sedentary 17-year-old kitty is likely to become more irritable and sedentary if asked to share a home with a rambunctious kitten. This would be like asking your bridge-playing grandmother to stay at home all day with only your 7-year-old son and his X-Box!

Other ways to reduce tension among cats in your home include making sure no cat is experiencing stress from illness or chronic pain. If there has been an unexpected shift in the household dynamic, sometimes a health problem in one or more of the cats is to blame. If the cats are healthy, adding playtime or using a pheromone such as Feliway can also aid in creating comfortable intercat relationships.

If you have two or more cats, make sure to take advantage of our summer special for multiple cat appointments. While we know they won’t thank you for it, we are here to help achieve health and happiness for each one!