a tabby cat and a black and white cat lie next to each other on a bed

Multi cat households

  • Cats are naturally solitary animals and are often happy without the company of their own species. They are territorial animals who don’t like conflict with other cats.
  • Related cats tend to get on better than those who aren’t family, so getting littermates is best if you want more than one cat
  • Provide one litter tray per cat, plus one more, to keep all your cats happy
  • Introducing a new cat to an existing cat in the household takes time and patience – but don’t worry, we have advice for this!

Domesticated cats are descendants of African wild cats and although their social structure has changed slightly during domestication, most of today’s moggies maintain many of their predecessor’s natural instincts. Unlike social species such as humans, dogs, rabbits and rats, cats are naturally solitary predators and are often content without the company of their own species. But these animals have adapted to live in our modern world and, given the right circumstances and plentiful resources, cats can often co-exist peacefully with their own kind and some may even become good friends.

Related cats tend to get on better than those that are not, so if you want to have more than one cat, then it’s a good idea to take on littermates. However, to ensure their relationship is as harmonious as possible, you'll still need to make sure your home is set up in a way that will keep them happy. If you want to introduce a new cat to an existing cat in the home, then it’s important to do this carefully and slowly to let them get used to each other.

Getting a cat when you already have one (or more)

It is really difficult to tell whether a cat (usually a solitary animal) will be happy to live happily alongside another cat joining their household. There are some questions you can ask yourself that will help guide you to the right decision for your existing cat, but following a careful introduction process will help them get off on the right paw.

  • How does your existing cat get on with others in the neighbourhood? If your cat doesn’t like other cats coming into their space and they become anxious or aggressive when this happens, this could be a sign that they wouldn’t accept sharing their home with another cat. Some breeds are best suited to being only-cats, such as Bengals.
  • Neutered cats tend to get along much better than those which are not neutered because of the lack of hormones
  • Related cats get on better than cats from outside the family line
  • Cats can suffer from stress, so if your existing cat is unwell it’s not the best time to get a new one
  • Younger cats are more likely to accepts new feline members of the household than older pusses
  • Is your home of a size that can allow each cat their own space where they can get away from other cats in the home if they wish?

When a cat who has lived with another cat dies, it is common for owners to want to get another cat so their remaining cat isn’t lonely. Cats have unique social needs which means they may not feel the need for another companion, even if they have lived peacefully alongside another cat for many years. They may not bond with a new cat at all. If you wish to get another cat we recommend giving your surviving cat time to adapt to life without their companion and avoid getting a new cat or kitten straight away. Getting a new cat soon after the death of another cat could cause your pet even more stress. For more information about cat grief, read our advice here.


How do I know if my cats like each other?

Cats with a close bond will usually display obvious signs that they consider themselves to be part of the same ‘social group’. These signs might include grooming each other, rubbing their bodies together and sleeping or lying right next to each other. They may greet each other regularly by touching noses or by a small meow as they pass.

two black and white kittens sit next to each other and look directly at the camera
Related cats get on better than cats who aren't family, so if you'd like more than one its a good idea to get littermates

How do I know if my cats aren’t getting along?

As cats are not social in the same way that people or dogs are, they have a limited way of communicating their feelings. 
Tension between cats living together isn’t very obvious, so it’s important to be aware of some of the more subtle behaviours that may indicate a lack of harmony. These may include:
•    over-grooming
•    over-eating or under-eating
•    hiding
•    avoiding the other cat/cats
•    changes in character such as not wanting to play as much or seek as much attention from you
•    soiling and/or urine spraying around the home

You may also notice that one cat might block another from accessing important resources such as cat flaps, walkways, litter trays and food. 

Although most cats would prefer to avoid serious fighting, you may see some hissing, yowling or chasing. Some cats will get into fights if they feel that there is no other option and it’s important to seek help if this is the case as cat scratches and bites can be serious.


Keeping cats happy in a multi cat household

Cats do not instinctively enjoy sharing important resources with each other and when they are put in a situation where they have to do so, it can result in unnecessary stress and conflict. The good news is that small adjustments can often make a big difference to the way cats feel about living together. These tips should help them – and you – live a harmonious life:

Food

  • Feed your cats separately in different areas. Aside from not wanting to share, most cats do not like to eat in the presence of other felines.
  • If your cats are a healthy weight consider leaving food down permanently for them as most are very good at self-regulating their diet. If this isn’t possible, for example if one cat needs to be on a particular diet and the other(s) does not, split their normal daily allowance into smaller, more frequent meals to give the impression that food is in abundance.

Water

  • Given the option, most cats drink in a different location to where they are fed. This is why we often see them drinking from puddles, our own glasses of water, or the tap. Provide several water bowls around the house, allowing your cats to choose where to drink from. 
  • Cats often prefer wide, shallow bowls filled to the brim so they can drink while keeping an eye on their surroundings. Ceramic bowls are often favoured over plastic.

Litter trays

  • Cats can feel very vulnerable when toileting and this is especially true of cats in homes where more than one cat lives. Having to share litter trays is stressful for most cats and may be a cause of stress-related cystitis.
  • Providing a variety of trays (both open and hooded) in different, easily accessible and quiet locations around the home will really help – the general rule of thumb is one per cat, plus an extra tray. Most cats will prefer fine gravel/sand textures to dig in and it is important to remove wet/soiled litter regularly.
  • If you are concerned that your cat is having difficulty toileting, it’s essential you contact your vet immediately as an obstruction can be very dangerous

    Human interaction and play

    • Having time to play and be groomed by you while other cats are out of the room can be very beneficial, especially for more nervous or shy cats
    • It’s important that you make some time for this if they enjoy it, particularly if they hold back when the more confident cat is around

    Safe sleeping places/retreats

    • Cats spend a great deal of their time resting or sleeping, and it’s important that they feel safe when doing so. They will often choose high places to retreat to, especially if they are feeling vulnerable.
    • Making sure such spaces like this are available when needed (such as the top of a wardrobe or inside a cupboard) will help give them a sense of space and safety. Cat scratching posts with different platforms are also good for this.

    Pheromones

    • The use of plug-ins and sprays such as Feliway and Felifriend release pheromones that can help make a cat feel more secure and content
    • Using these in a multi cat household can be effective at reducing stress and conflict between cats
    — Page last updated 27/08/2019

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