There are many good reasons to bring home multiple kittens rather than just one. Here are some tips to make the transition to a multi-cat household as smooth as possible.
Owners of multiple cats generally agree that it is about as easy to provide for two as for one. In addition, two cats can be company to each other when their owner is gone. “The vast majority of American households with cats have more than one,” says Karen Overall, VMD, PhD, DACVB, and professor at the University of Pennsylvania. According to Overall, several factors should figure into your decision on whether or not to bring a new cat home.
- Breed—Some cats are more compatible than others. But the breed, according to Dr. Overall, isn’t as important as how the owners feel about a certain type of cat and how well it may get along with the existing pets. “If you prefer one cat because it’s more cuddly, you’ll give off cues that will affect the other cats,” Dr. Overall says.
- Age—The age of the additional cat is important. “Social maturity in cats occurs between the ages of 2 and 4 years,” she says. Sometimes a mature cat is easier, in the long run, to incorporate into the existing household of pets, because you’re familiar with what an adult personality is like. The boundless energy of kittens can be irritating to an older feline. But, on the other hand, sometimes a youngster can stimulate play in an otherwise sedentary cat, promoting weight control and youthfulness.
- Gender—Dr. Overall finds that cats tend to prefer members of their own sex. “In the wild, cats will have a natural matrilineal social hierarchy,” Dr. Overall says. “Groups of related females hang out together from the time they’re born until the time they die,” she says. Males also tend to prefer the company of other males, but she emphasizes that unneutered animals of either sex will always upset the balance of a household.
- The trouble with three cats —A new cat can be a welcome addition, but it can also be tricky, especially with three or more. “Trios in cats can be unstable,” says Dr. Overall. “Three cats can become two against one. If you have two getting along and add one, there’s more potential for conflict,” she says.
Two common battles involve food and litter. Stressed cats may urinate or defecate outside the litter box. “Escalating litter box issues will oftentimes come to a head when a new kitten comes into the house,” Dr. Overall says. In a large house, keep a litter box on each level, especially for very young kittens. “We recommend one more litter box than you have cats,” says Dr. Overall.
Your Cat’s Competitive Eating
The other problem area is food. Some cats refuse to share, and others will eat competitively, which can result in an unhealthy weight gain. The answer? Try feeding all cats from separate dishes. Better yet, feed them in separate rooms.
“Generally,” says Dr. Overall, “if you can get cats to eat out of separate dishes, but where they can see each other without reaction, you’ll be able to get them to live together peacefully about 95 percent of the time.”
Some cats will “stalk” each other. They may hide behind the litter pan or food area, waiting to ambush their unsuspecting victim. This can create an atmosphere of tremendous anxiety for all resident animals. Extra litter pans help, as will using open boxes and providing “safe” dining rooms where each cat can eat by itself without interference.
“Supervision is essential,” says Dr. Overall, “to make sure nobody gets hurt.”
She warns that a kitten plunked down beside a resident cat who has never seen the new kitten before is most likely to get scratched in the process.
Dr. Overall also suggests reminding your children to pay lots of attention to the established cats. Extra affection will help reassure them that they’re all still loved. And along those same lines, it’s important to help children understand that everyone may not get along initially. It takes time for everyone to adjust and feel at ease.
“Usually within a week or two, everyone is feeling much more at home and comfortable,” Dr. Overall says. “A little hissing and spitting is OK, and nothing to really worry about.”
If your cats are experiencing two weeks of constant conflict, a very unhappy cat might need help in the form of medication. If you think that step could be in order, consult your veterinarian, who can prescribe the best medication to calm your cats.