Our board certified behaviorist extraordinaire Dr. Leslie Sinn in the next 2 blogs will address some VERY common problems cat owners face with their cats – Inter-Cat Aggression & Inappropriate Scratching!
Clients often hope to have cats who enjoy one another’s companionship and live peacefully, but often, that’s not the way it works. Much to the human family members dismay. This week she reviews what you can do to restore, or create, some calm within your home if you have one or two or more cats who have a bit of a “catitude”!
Make sure to check back next week for another post about – POSTS. What cat’s prefer, and how to keep “Mr. or Mrs. Kitty” from using your furniture for their scratching!
Why do cat owners remind me of an old Lay’s potato chip ad? Because no one can stop at just one… 31% of the households in the US have cats and the average pet cat owner has 2.1 cats (AVMA 2012). We all have visions of happy kitty cohabitation, but in many homes, that simply is not the case.
For a long time cats were described as asocial loners that aren’t capable of cohabitating with other cats. We now know this isn’t the case. However, cats most certainly have specific social rules and species-specific ways of handling conflict that can be at odds with our human households. How does cat society work? What are the rules??
Let’s take a look:
Cat society is a matriarchal society meaning it is based on female bloodlines and bonding. It isn’t uncommon for related females to share space, resources and even kitten rearing duties. Males fight and defend access to territory and/or resources (food, water, shelter, access to the queens) with their defended territory overlapping that of one or many females. Unresolved conflict within a group is dealt with by dispersal. The loser or pariah cat moves away searching for a less fought over place to live.
This is where cat society and human wishes collide. We pick random cats because they are cute, or have a nice personality or because we feel sorry for them and then throw them all together telling them they’ll be great friends-the cats aren’t buying it!
Remember we said female cats tend to get along, yes, but as a general rule they are related females: aunts, daughters, grandmothers. Not just a random group thrown together based on human whim. We also said that male cats are prone to be territorial and fiercely guard their resources. That can be a war zone if the “territory” is an 800 sq. ft. apartment. Recall as well that the way a loser cat handles conflict is by dispersal-they leave the area. Hard to do if you are confined to a house!
So what is a cat lover to do? The best bet is to set yourself and your cats up for success by trying to be mindful of cat society rules:
-when you pick out your cats try to think like a cat-pick two related females or a male and female cat. It isn’t a guarantee but it may reduce the likelihood of fighting.
-provide multiple resources in multiple locations to reduce conflict (food, perches, hiding spots, litter boxes, water) and, no, two litter boxes side by side don’t count! The resources need to be in different rooms and preferably available on each floor of the house.
-when you add a new cat to the household, do so SLOWLY. Your new family member should be quarantined both for health and behavioral reasons to a separate room with a solid door. The cats can be allowed to sniff at each other under the door but not have physical contact. The newbie can be fed on one side of the door while the rest of the clan is fed on the other side. Gradually move the bowls closer and closer to the each side of the door ONLY if you are not seeing any evidence of aggression (no hissing or reluctance to approach). Exchange towels or blankets between the newbie and the established cats to begin to develop a community scent. Swap out who is confined and who has access to the main part of the house THEN and only then begin to allow your newcomer to come out and do so only under direct supervision. When you are gone, everyone needs to be secured in their own space. The introduction should take place gradually over a period of about 4 weeks.
If you don’t follow the above cat rules, how likely are you to have a problem? Your chances are pretty high. Approximately 50-60% of cat owners reported aggression when trying to introduce a new cat into their home. Moral of the story, follow cat rules, move slowly and improve your chances of happily integrating your new friend into your home because we all know that none of us wants to stop with just one!
Dr. Leslie Sinn, DACVB
To contact Dr. Sinn for help with your pets or learn more about Behavior Solutions for Pets –
Please visit https://www.behaviorsolutions.guru
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