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How to Reduce Conflict in a Multi-Cat Household

cats on kitchen counter


When you’re a cat lover, you might find it challenging to stop after just one cat. But, introducing a new cat (or two) to your current finicky feline can often be a bit challenging itself. After all, cats usually like to be the center of attention, and suddenly having another cat around can be a bit jarring.

Since many cats thrive on being number one in the household, having several cats can potentially cause some cat spats. At the very least it can make some cats develop some rather unpleasant behaviors, whether it’s simply being more solitary, destructive, or even aggressive. However, you can do several things to help all of your furry friends adjust and learn to at least tolerate, if not like each other.

Tips for Keeping the Peace in a Multi-Cat Household

The best thing you can do if you plan to have multiple cats is to take your time and prepare. When you first bring home cat number two, it’s not something you want to just do on a whim. In fact, you’re pretty much asking for trouble if you do. So, give yourself time to prepare your cat and your home for your new arrival.

Each Cat Needs Their Own Territory

It’s important that pets have their own space. This is undoubtedly one of the top priorities if you want to reduce conflict in a multi-cat household. Basically, everybody with whiskers, fur, and a desire to rule (so every single cat) gets their own space. Whether you have a huge house or a small apartment, setting up individual zones for each of your cats is a must.

Cats need to know they have a safe place to retreat to and enjoy some alone time. Just as critical, cats need to understand there's no need to fight for their food or belongings. Therefore, make sure each of your cats has their own stuff too.

A good rule of thumb is one of everything for each cat plus one more. So, if you have two cats, you need three food bowls. Three cats? Spread four cat condos around your home. 

In addition to having the proper ratio of things to cats, space items out appropriately. Also, allow enough room for cats to get to and from their zones. When your cats know there's more than enough to go around, they're less likely to cause conflict.

It's also helpful to set up some hideaways and cat perches at various heights. Just make sure each spot fits one cat at a time to avoid any crowding issues.

cats on stairs

What to Do If Your Cats Start Fighting

Some signs that a cat is getting aggressive can be obvious like hissing, swatting, and biting. But, also staring intently at the other cat or trying to block them from their territory can be signs of aggression too.

If you witness your cats fighting, the quickest way to stop them is to to make a loud noise (bang on a pan or keep a jar full of coins handy that you can shake) to distract them. You can also try using toys as a distraction (laser pointers or hanging feather toys work well). If none of those tactics work, you can attempt to get in between them with a pillow or blanket, but only do this if you feel you can do so without getting hurt yourself. Remember, do not hit your cat. This can ruin any trust you have with them.

Once you get them to stop fighting, quickly separate them — for a while. When cats are fighting, the best thing for them is to have some alone time in their own private space. 

After some time has passed, gradually reintroduce the cats by following the steps below for cat introductions. If fighting is constant and getting worse, it might be necessary to consult with a behavioral trainer.

Introduce Cats Slowly

Even if your cats are uncharacteristically easy-going and cooperative creatures, you need to take the introduction period slowly. 

Cats are by nature territorial, and a sudden addition of a feline roommate is bound to put your cat on the defensive. Also, if one cat tends to be more dominant, it can trigger a fear response in your other cat, leading to fights. This can happen with new cats as well as those that have lived together for a while already.

Here are a few tips on how to introduce (and re-introduce in the case of after a catfight) your cats slowly:

  • Start with the sense of smell. Before your cats even see each other, you can introduce them by smell. Give each cat a blanket or something else with the other cat's scent. Let them investigate by sniffing, pawing, etc.
  • Keep things separate in the beginning. During the first couple of weeks, keep the cats in different rooms. If bringing home a newbie, let your current cat have their usual reign, but block off one room for the new cat. You can even switch the room up every few days, letting your cat investigate the new arrival's former digs. Plus, your cats will smell each other's scents on you as well.
  • Feed them at the same time on opposite sides of a door. The cats will smell and hear each other as they enjoy a positive experience, eating. Now it's finally time for your cats to see each other. 
  • Switch out the door for a screen or glass. After a few days of eating on opposite sides of a door, try the same thing through a glass or screen door. Now your kitties get to spy on each other while engaging in a positive activity.

Keep Initial Meetings Short

After your cats seem to be okay with the idea of being together, try a face-to-face meeting. Keep the first sessions short and sweet, bringing each cat back to their own territory afterward. Then, it's all a matter of letting things unfold slowly over time.

Try Calming Diffusers

Calming diffusers contain oils that mimic a cat's natural pheromones that typically tell them things are okay. Therefore, spreading these diffusers throughout your home, especially where your cats spend the most time, can help ease your pets' anxiety and stress.

Share the Love

Once your cats start hanging around with you in the same space, monitor your affection. Be aware of showing too much attention to one cat over another. Love them equally and split your time with each cat evenly.

Introducing a Kitten to Your Cat 

If you're adopting a kitten, it's essential to be extra vigilant and cautious with your new fragile addition to the family. 

Following the above tips is important, but when it's time to let the cats see each other, use a carrier first. Put the kitten in a crate in the center of a room and let your cat check things out. 

They can see and sniff each other, and the little kitten stays safe. As your cats behave nicely, reward them positively with praise and tasty treats.

Are Your Cats Stressing Each Other Out?

Once your home turns into a multi-cat household, it's critical for you to stay observant. Monitor all your cats' behaviors to assess how they're handling the new arrangement and determine how your cats are feeling.

Signs Your Cats Are Stressed

Here are a few signs your cats might be stressed out:

  • Marking territory, spraying urine, or pooping outside their litter box
  • Vocalizing more than usual
  • Scratching things they aren't supposed to—like destroying drapes, carpet, etc.
  • Physical manifestations like diarrhea, loss of appetite, or inactivity
  • Grooming to excess
  • Trying to cause conflict or start fights
  • Withdrawing or hiding

If you notice your cats doing any of these things or just acting strangely, it's best to see the vet. It's always vital to rule out any potential health problems first.

What to Do If Your Cats Are Anxious

If everything checks out at the vet, it's time to help calm your furry friends. As previously mentioned, calming diffusers can help. But something to help distract your cats while calming them is also an excellent idea.

Using something like the Neat-Lik Mat can provide an enjoyable way for your cats to calm themselves and get some all-important mental stimulation.

Helping condition your existing cat to the new arrival through positive associations can also help. If your cat gets very anxious, you might want to discuss the possibilities of anti-anxiety medications with your vet.

Just Give it Some Time

Remember — good things come to those who wait. Don't lose faith if your cats aren't besties after a week. It probably took you way longer than a week to find your best friend or significant other, so don't expect your cats to fall in love immediately either. If you follow these tips we've given you, hopefully with some time your cats will come to love one another and live in harmony.

For more helpful tips, check out the rest of our blog. We're always adding engaging, valuable content so you can be an informed and amazing pet parent.

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