With their engaging antics and fascinating personalities, it can be hard to stop with one cat. Many people who intended to be single cat owners end up with three, four or even more. This isn’t such a bad thing in my opinion — owning multiple cats can be hugely rewarding. The cats can give each other affection and entertainment when you’re not around, and goodness knows there are plenty of shelter cats waiting for loving homes. Still, owning multiple cats can come with challenges. One of these is getting your felines to accept each other without fussing or fighting.
How long does it take for cats to get along? Cats typically take from eight months to a year to get used to each other. Some are cordial if reserved with each other straight away but some initial fighting is common. Much depends on the cats’ temperaments, their introduction and the home situation.
Maybe you’re thinking of adding a new cat to your household — or maybe you’re already looking after multiple fractious kitties. Either way, you’ve arrived on this page because you have questions.
- How can you stop your cats from fighting?
- Will they eventually settle down?
- How can I stop one of my cats from bullying others?
- How should cats be introduced to maximize the chance they’ll get along?
Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place. We have the answers you’re looking for. Read on to find out everything you need to know about setting up a contented multi-cat household.
How long does it take for cats to get along?
This is one of those questions with no real set answer. I’ve had cats who were fairly social with each other right from the word go, as well as some who adopted an attitude of cordial loathing and quietly avoided each other for several months bar the occasional scrap. I’ve had others who fought tooth and nail at first until I almost despaired of getting them to live together. Cats can be very affectionate and loving towards other cats — but they can also be tremendously aggressive with each other if things aren’t going well.
A reasonable estimate would be between eight and 12 months of squabbling before your cats settle down and learn to get along. If your cats are particularly fractious this can be draining and tough to deal with. It’s worth giving your cats this time to see if they can learn to be around each other without fighting. Many people give up at the first sign of trouble and re-home one or more of their cats; sometimes this is necessary, of course, but in most cases, it’s simply disruptive and rather irresponsible. Unless one or both cats have a serious behavioral issue, reconciliation remains a possibility for at least the first year or so.
The thing to remember is that a cat is a territorial animal. They do form social bonds — in their feral state, cats generally live in loose colonies where there are interaction and mutual support between individuals — but maintain their own territory as well. This instinct remains important once they’re living in a human household. You can help keep the peace, and maybe establish a more convivial atmosphere, by ensuring that each cat gets to maintain her own territory.
Things to consider before you get an additional cat include the amount of space you have available. If you live in a very small apartment, it may be harder for your cats to get the personal space they need in order to get along. Another consideration is your current cat’s personality and history. If you have a cat who’s usually aggressive towards other cats and who doesn’t take well to change, you’re going to have a difficult time integrating another cat into space. If your current cat was ousted from her previous home due to aggression directed at other cats, don’t expect her to have reformed in the meantime.
Other factors affecting the successful integration of a new cat include the way your space is set up, the availability of separate equipment for each cat and the way you introduce the new cat into the environment. Cats can learn to get along but you need to give them the right sort of introduction and the proper context for their interactions. In the upcoming sections, we’ll discuss these in more detail.
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Introducing the cats
If you simply dump a new cat into your current cat’s space without making any adjustment, you’re setting your cats up for friction and aggression. Both cats will suddenly find themselves facing a strange animal; they will feel confused, frightened and threatened. Aggression is almost guaranteed and the cats may struggle to ever form a more positive relationship.
When you first bring your new cat home, you need to keep her separate from the other cat or cats in your household. Place her carrier in a separate room. Allow her to explore that room but don’t let her out for at least two or three days. This allows the new cat to smell the other cats in the house and get used to their presence.
After a couple of days of adjustment, you can start letting the cats interact through a barrier. Keep one of them in a cat box or place a baby gate or pet gate between them. I strongly recommend covering the pet gate or box at first so the cats don’t see each other for the first couple of meetings. It’s a really good idea for these meetings to occur at mealtimes — that way, both cats will associate each other’s smell with the pleasant experience of consuming food.
The next step is to raise the visual barrier between the cats and let them see each other. Again, this should happen at mealtime (feed the cats from separate dishes, don’t let them fight over food) and ideally, you should have a really, really good treat on hand to give each cat. This will create a strong positive association between being around the other cat and getting something nice to eat. Try a few more meetings like this; once the cats seem calm and not too suspicious, you can try removing the barrier.
Equipping the multi-cat home
Hopefully, your cats have now been introduced to one another in a way that lays the groundwork for positive interactions. Once they’re living in the same space, however, things can get more complicated. Remember that cats need a sense of having their own territory in order to feel secure.
One way that cats mark their territory is through urinating or defecating. In a domestic setting, that makes litter trays very important from a territorial perspective. If you only provide a single tray for both cats, you’ve effectively created a point of contention. As a rule of thumb, I would recommend a litter-box for each cat and one extra. This might seem like a lot, especially if you have more than a couple of cats, but it can really calm things down.
Cats usually need separate feeding dishes. I know some kitties get along just fine with a single bowl but in most cases, you should have a bowl for each cat. Feed the cats together if at all possible — this helps build good associations and improves the cats’ attitudes to each other.
I would also recommend multiple scratching poles. A tall, solid scratching pole is a vital piece of equipment for a cat owner. Because scratching is partially territorial, you should have at least one pole for each cat.
A well-equipped household should have plenty of interesting spaces for cats to explore and enjoy. The more stimulation you provide in the environment, the fewer fights you are likely to have. Cat trees, kitty habitats, perches — make sure your cats have plenty to do. Each cat should have a high perch somewhere that she can look down from, as well as a secluded hidey-hole where she can survey things at ground level while feeling safe. If there are only one high, comfortable spot and one low, cozy hideout, you can bet your cats will fight over them.
Toys and entertainment
Your cats need to stay entertained if you want them to refrain from fighting. You need to give them plenty of toys and make sure you spend time playing with them. At a bare minimum, I would say that a cat needs at least two 15-minute periods of active play per day. With more than one cat, you may need to play with them separately. My favorite toy for daily play sessions like this is a fishing-pole teaser. As the name suggests, this is a long, flexible pole with a bundle of feathers or another intriguing item tied to the end of a line. You can generate a lot of movement with a toy like this while sitting down, or at least not running around. If your cat doesn’t take to a conventional teaser toy you may need to get creative. When playing with a cat with sensory issues, I’ve found that a dollop of baby food or some other tasty substance on the end of a long spoon makes an effective teaser.
Your cats should have access to lots of toys they can chase, attack or manipulate. Motorized teaser toys can be a boon if you don’t have a lot of energy or you’re away for much of the day. Another good toy for cats, especially those who are food-motivated, is a treat ball. This is a plastic ball that you fill with dry kibble. The cat needs to roll the ball around to get the snacks.
The more distractions your cats have, the less likely they are to squabble. Your cats may never be the best of friends but with the right approach and a good environment, they can at least get on.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.