The moment I knew for sure that I was moving out of my parents’ house, I started making plans to get a cat. I’d wanted one for years, but my mum, dad and sister are all dog people. In fact their intense (and quite frankly worrying) hatred of cats made it impossible to even bring the topic up for discussion.
Luckily my two new housemates - good friends who I’d known since high school - were much more amenable to the idea, and so I got in touch with someone online who was looking to rehome a litter of kittens. We arranged a visit, and I knew I wanted Tetris the second I saw her. In a surprising turn of events, one of my housemates also fell in love with a kitten - Sam - and we eventually brought both of them home.
For a while, everything was lovely. The kittens spent hours every day playing together and it was adorable and hilarious to watch. Then after a few months, Mr Bones and I decided to move in together. Obviously, this meant Tetris would be coming with me while Sam stayed behind. So Tetris wouldn’t be lonely without her brother, Mr Bones and I looked into getting another kitten, and a short while later Louis came to live with us.
That’s where the problems started. This time the interaction between the two cats was neither adorable nor hilarious. There was hissing. There was growling. There was blood, both human and feline. I was completely thrown - never for a moment had I thought that Tetris wouldn’t get on with another cat. I spent the first few days after Louis arrived in an almost constant state of hysteria, frightened for the safety of every member of our household.
Thankfully, within a week or so things calmed down, and now both cats are generally tolerant of each other. Looking back, though, I can see that Mr Bones and I made a lot of mistakes which went a long way towards making the cats’ initial meeting less than pleasant. But instead of regretting the past, I’m using this wonderful opportunity from Sarah to provide advice on how to make your home suitable for more than one cat. Here are five things I wish I’d known...
1. If you want more than one kitten, try to get them from the same litter.The main reason that Tetris got on with Sam better than she gets on with Louis is simply that she and Sam are related. Cats have an incredible sense of smell, and they’re much more likely to bond with a cat that has a similar scent. If you’re thinking of adopting two or more kittens, you’ll fare much better if you get them at the same time, from the same litter. Not only will they already be used to each other, but a familiar face will help them to adjust much more quickly to a new home.
2. Introduce cats to each other slowly.If you’re bringing a new cat into a house that already has one, just throwing them in together and hoping for the best is asking for disaster. Just like humans, cats find the adjustment to living with a stranger stressful, and it’s much easier on them if the process is a slow one. If you can, leave an old item of clothing with the breeder or cat home a few weeks before adoption. Ask them to put it in your new cat’s sleeping area for a few days, then bring it home and leave it around for your existing cat to sniff. This way they’ll be used to the scent of their new housemate before they ever clap eyes on them. It’s also a good idea to invest in a stress-reducing pheromone diffuser like Feliway a few weeks before the move.
Once you do bring your new kitty home, it’s advisable to start them off in separate rooms and increase their interactions gradually over a few days until you’re sure they’re calm around each other. Some cats are quicker to adapt than others, but hopefully taking baby steps will help to assure even the diva-est of cats that nothing bad is happening.
3. Make sure they’re not competing for resources.
4. Allow a little favouritism.As much as they’re stereotyped to be independent and aloof, cats are actually hugely affectionate and loyal, and most will think humans are awesome unless experience tells them otherwise. Often a cat will attach themselves to a particular person and spend most of their time with them. Because Mr Bones and I didn’t live together when I got Tetris, she grew up thinking of me as ‘her’ human, and to this day I’m the one she follows around. As a result, when we brought Louis home Tetris became incredibly possessive and would attack him every time he so much as looked in my direction. Understandably, Louis started to gravitate towards Mr Bones. I was upset about this at first, but it’s just another part of cats’ territorial nature. If your existing cat loves being around you, expect a new cat to favour another person in the house. And while you should absolutely show your cats an equal amount of love, try to accept the fact that they might not do the same. Because as tempting as it might be to keep both cats all to yourself, sharing you is going to be difficult for them.
5. Be prepared for the occasional scrap.Hard as you might try to ensure your cats live in a harmonious environment, the fact remains that they’re sometimes going to fight. Anything can start them off - a loud noise, a stray outside the window, a visit to the vet - and even though it’s upsetting to watch, most of the time you’ve just got to let them have it out. The vast majority of cats won’t intentionally cause serious damage to each other (especially if one of them is a kitten), and most altercations are either a form of play or some ear-boxing to assert dominance. If it’s getting particularly nasty, by all means intervene with a blanket or a spritz of water, but most scuffles will fizzle out by themselves.
Of course, I’m not saying that this advice will work for all cats, and if you find yourself dealing with miserable mogs who tear into each other several times a day, it might be time to rethink your living situation. But I’ve found these tips to be massively useful, and I reckon if you follow them, your chances of maintaining a healthy, happy multi-cat household are pretty high.
Little Bones is the pen name of a crazy cat lady who lives in Cardiff with her husband. She writes about beauty and lifestyle over at The Little Bones Blog.