The image of the cat as a lone wolf has long been outdated. Many cat lovers know that cats can fully appreciate feline company. Indeed, kittens and house cats shouldn't be kept alone indoors. So it's off to the animal shelter or breeder to adopt a second (or third) cat, right? However, bear in mind that the “multi-cat household” project doesn't always turn out to be as easy as anticipated.
So you want the best for your cat and to find it a companion as soon as possible. Still, we humans aren't guaranteed to like everyone we meet – not even people of the same age or from the same little town. We've often put up with weeks of solitude at primary school until forming close friendships. It certainly wasn't always love at first sight either – sometimes it took a few attempts for us to click with our best friends. The same applies for cats: they aren't identical and have different characters, experiences and tastes. If you're looking for a second, third or even fourth cat, make sure to tread carefully in order to spare yourself and your cats a huge amount of stress!
Are cats lone wolves?
You may have already heard it be said that cats are “lone wolves”, but what exactly does than mean? Small cats like the African and European wildcat predominantly live alone, because the size of their average prey is more a snack than a complete meal. A mouse or a young bird can't be shared between several pack members – no cat group would be full from such small prey. As a result, cats hunt, slay and devour their prey in solitude. Since hunting accounts for a large part of feline life, wild cats live alone for most of the year. Despite this, small cats also have very social qualities. For instance, European wildcats, close relatives of our domestic cats, bring up their young in a maternally organised community.
By the way, even larger wildcats like jaguars, lynxes and tigers hunt in solitude. The lion is the only big cat that hunts and lives in a pack!
Contact with humans has only slightly changed the cat's character, with it remaining an independent little hunter at heart. Nevertheless, its living conditions have transformed. This isn't just true of domestic cats, but also strays and semi-wild cats, which either live wild or with human support through feeding spots. They are generally used to human society, as they often encounter each other near these feeding points. As long as sufficient resources such as food and space are available, problems rarely occur. Still, cats don't become pack animals even in this temporary community. The “lone hunters” don't organise themselves like a pack of wolves or subordinate to an alpha leader. In contrast, the hierarchy of a cat group is linked to time and place: cat A is in charge in the mornings, cat B in the afternoons – and cat C is in charge of the southern side.
What does that mean in practical terms?
Even if some cats are more dominant and others more submissive, the social structure of a feline group is considerably more complex than that of a dog pack. You should therefore tread carefully if you wish to forge friendships between cats and should refrain from spontaneous purchases. A few general parameters help socialisation succeed!
The most important thing is to ensure that sufficient resources are available to avoid cat fights breaking out in the harmonious feline community. In practical terms, this means avoiding competition over food or the right to occupy a place of rest. A large, well-aired and clean litter tray should be available for each cat. This also applies to the attention of the human owners. If these basic requirements are fulfilled, there's no major reason why getting a second cat shouldn't work.
As a minimum, each cat needs the following:
Have all the requirements been met? Perfect – now the search for the ideal second or third cat can commence!
In general, the saying „Birds of a feather flock together“ applies to cats too. Active cats will get on the nerves of their more tranquil counterparts, whilst temperamental cats bond with cats of a similar character. There are of course exceptions: aggressive or poorly socialised cats often won't be happy with a similar cat, especially not if the other is equally as feisty or insecure...
If you're looking for company for your chilled-out cat, you're best advised to keep your eyes peeled for another sedate feline. More active animals love having a companion to play and frolic around with!
Young cats are lively, like to keep occupied and get bored quickly – if they do, they usually come up with bad ideas... Kittens are generally more flexible than older cats and are more gentle in their approach to other cats, meaning that they often find integration easier than senior cats. If you're looking to give a second cat a home, it's often easier for another young gun to accompany the kitten who is already settled there.
Senior cats are calmer than their younger counterparts and more set in terms of character. An older, tranquil cat will form a friendship with a cat of similar character much quicker than with a hyperactive kitten. However, please bear in mind that cats are creatures of habit. If the cat has lived alone with you for 10 years or more and shows no explicit signs of wanting a companion, bringing another cat into the household could do more harm than good...
The question of breed crops up next. It goes without saying that the decision on which second cat to go for shouldn't be based on aesthetic criteria. Nevertheless, cats of the same breed are often very similar in terms of character, especially if they come from the same breeder or are even related. Sibling cats harmonise incredibly well, since they are of similar temperament and have grown up in the same environment. It doesn't get any better than that! Should you decide afterwards to make one of your cat's siblings or cousins part of your family, you should bear in mind that the two animals are strangers to one another. The fact that they are close relatives and form part of the same breed makes the integration process easier, but there's no guarantee that they will get on!
How many cats do I really want?
There's no perfect number of cats, by the way, as the dynamic of the feline group itself is much more important. Take for instance a kitten intended to keep your senior cat company; in general, the older cat will get annoyed by the kitten's ham-fisted attempts at rapprochement. Whilst bringing together two kittens does lead to more hustle and bustle, it also gives them the opportunity to keep each other occupied and frolic around, climb and play together without having to involve the older cat. Observe the dynamic in your feline group and give some consideration to what you aim for in taking on another cat: do you want to bring tranquility to the group or are you looking for a playmate for a specific cat? For the former it helps to seek out a calmer personality, whilst for the latter the “birds of a feather flock together” principle applies.
Now we get down to the real nitty gritty. The perfect second or third cat has been picked out and will be moving in to your home shortly. As with us humans, the first impression tends to be worth its weight in gold – especially considering that animals react much more instinctively than humans. Integrating several cats requires good preparation. Tread carefully, because errors made in haste could permanently damage the relationship between the animals!
The first task is setting up your home to be a suitable multi-cat household. This isn't fundamentally that different from a suitable household for one cat, but it offers everything in multiple versions to prevent fights breaking out over resources, as we have already discussed. Sufficient feeding bowls and places to scratch away and relax are a must. With regard to litter boxes, you should ideally play it safe and provide one box per cat plus an extra. Errors in resource planning could cause many problems when keeping several cats. The correct plan of action is a real necessity and will save you and your cat a lot of stress!
When the new cat moves in, you should keep both animals separate at first. Try to keep each cat in a separate room, both equipped with a litter box, scratching tree and all the necessities. This allows the new cat to get used to you, your family and the new environment, without being unsettled at the same time by a cat that already knows the ropes.
For the next stage, you should utilise the power of smell to get your cats acquainted with one another. Take toys, cushions and blankets from one room to another. Stroke Cat 1 with a damp flannel and then place it in Cat 2's basket. These subtle messages help them to get used to the other cat's scent, since cats show very sensitive reactions to smell. Once the scent of the new cat has been assimilated in your household's general aroma, integration will essentially be much easier.
Forging friendship – initial contact
Now it's time for actual contact. As a rule, both animals will still be much more nervous than you are. The established cat will be confronted with an intruder in its territory, whilst the new cat is faced with a completely new environment, unknown people and the feline housemaster. Try to keep yourself calm and not to surprise or harry one of the cats in any way. Give them both space – neither should be shut in a cat carrier or restrained. Instead, you should offer them the chance to retreat. In general, contact with an unfamiliar feline counterpart should be no problem for well socialised cats with good mental health. Depending on the experience and character of the cats in question, they might give each other a friendly sniff or just completely ignore each other. A few hisses or a paw raised in warning is fully normal, as is an agitatedly bushy tail.
If the new cat has already spent a few days in a separate room, the established cat probably has some idea of what's going on. Open the door, make sure both animals have the chance to potentially retreat and check that the new cat doesn't feel trapped being kept in a separate room. The same applies when when you let the new cat loose from its cat carrier in the other cat's domain. The new arrival will most likely roam free before the other cat has had chance to overcome its aversion to the cat carrier.
Let your cats determine how things progress. Take a step back and observe the group from a distance. By doing so, you give the cats that already live with you the chance to calmly sniff away at the newcomer without feeling pressured. Give the cats time and only get involved in case of emergency.
If problems occur
An example of an emergency is if one of the cats reacts aggressively. This will most likely be the established cat, who intends to protect its territory from the intruder. All the same, fearful or aggressive-natured newcomers could also prove feisty. There are different levels: hissing and a paw raised in warning are acceptable, but if a physical confrontation breaks out, you need to get involved! To keep yourself out of the line of fire and avoid potential injuries, making a noise such as a loud hand clap or cry of “No!” helps the cats to stop for a moment or even turn and run.
This is a stressful situation for both cats, so don't punish or threaten either of them. Instead, make your approach and first of all separate them. Give them one to two days to calm down and then set up the next attempt at contact in a less direct manner. For instance, one possibility is trying the next integration attempt at mealtime. Both will be more relaxed and will probably first be occupied with their food before realising that the other cat hasn't taken advantage of the situation.
If direct contact passes off without any problems, there's nothing else standing in the way of a beautiful feline friendship!
If it doesn't work
So you've spent weeks introducing the cats to one another, separating them again and then trying all over again but there are still problems? Maybe the cats appear to live together in harmony, but one is showing behavioural problems such as leaving urine marks, not sleeping or being aggressive? Here you could use the help of your vet or an animal behaviour therapist. Sometimes pheromone sprayers such as Feliway provide a solution, but other times a bit more help is required.
We wish you all the best for life in a multi-cat household!