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Multi-Cat Homes and Considerations

Many owners are unaware that too many cats in one home without the right resources can cause stress to the animals.

Cats like to feel in control and having to share space or resources with other residents or intruders is very distressing for them – chronic stress can result in disease including idiopathic cystitis. 

Cats can enjoy the company of others but owners need to understand what can be done to create an environment that provides the best chances of harmony.

As they are not naturally tolerant of each other, it’s not advisable to have more than five cats in one household. They are more likely to be friendly to other cats they have grown up with; therefore it makes sense to get two kittens from the same litter. This way they can learn, entertain and exercise each other and be more confident.

Also, households with several cats must have sufficient space so they can spend time apart and avoid each other if they wish. 

Resources are very important to cats, these include:

  • Bowls
  • Water
  • Beds
  • Litter-trays
  • Vantage points
  • Hiding places
  • Access points
  • Hunting grounds
  • Scratching posts
  • Warm spots

Always ensure you provide as many food and water bowls and litter trays as there are cats – plus one extra. For example, if there are two cats in your home there should be three water and food bowls and three litter trays positioned around the house.

Although this can be a challenge due to lack of space, food and water should be separated by half a room’s distance away from food and water.

Drinkwell Pet Fountains are effective in encouraging cats to drink and can assist with the management of idiopathic cystitis which is a common symptom of stress in multi-cat households. 

Allowing access to the outdoors provides cats with an opportunity to exercise, explore, and engage in their natural behaviour and to escape the potentially stressful environment in the home. It can, however, expose them to harm from people, other animals and traffic.

Assess potential hazards

Therefore you really need to assess the risks as well as the benefits before allowing them outside. Multiple cats also need multiple entry and exit points, as a dominant cat may stand guard, preventing subordinate cats from having free access to the garden or home.

If your cat is allowed outside, it’s sensible to use a selective entry cat flap, which also prevents intruding cats from entering the ‘core territory’ of the home.

Cats are also at greater risk of becoming involved in fights with other cats or road traffic accidents if allowed out at nights and so should be kept in from dusk until dawn.  Some cat flaps, such as the Petporte Smart Flap® have timers or light sensors which automatically keep cats in at night.

If the risk of harm is very high, you should consider if your cat should either live its life indoors or have its access outside limited.

Large outdoor enclosures are available as are containment systems, which use electronic collars and boundary wires, such as the PetSafe® Deluxe In-Ground Cat Fence.

The resident cat could share access to a restricted outdoor area, or one could be let out at a time.

Things to enrich a cat’s indoor environment

When cats have limited or no outside access, owners obviously have an increased obligation to provide a stimulating environment for their pet in the restricted outdoor area or inside the home.

Many items are available to enrich a cat’s environment but, for a multi-cat household, the following should be considered;

  • Grow grass on a windowsill for them to eat to assist with elimination of fur-balls
  • Scent stimulation e.g. Catnip toys
  • Provide fresh air by meshing over windows
  • Provide interactive toys such as fishing rods to enable predatory play
  • Additional warm spots such as the PetSafe Universal Pet Bed Warmer
  • Cat towers and hammocks

The need for a core territory

All cats need a comfortable ‘core territory’ that is safe from intruders, however it may be necessary to provide subservient cats their own area within the home where they can escape a dominant cat.

This can be achieved by using selective entry cat flaps on internal doors providing some cats with their own rooms. In these rooms, the cat must naturally have its own set of its own resources though.

Veterinary professionals have identified multi-cat households as the biggest risk to a cat’s well-being. If owners of multiple cats wish to enhance their cats’ environment, they should provide their pets with more facilities such as heated beds, food bowls, and water fountains.

David Chamberlain BVetMed., MRCVS.
Veterinary Consultant to PetSafe®