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Problems with multiple cats? Or introducing a new cat?

Are you bringing a new cat home and want to introduce them successfully? Or perhaps your cats are at odds with each other? Either way, this guide should help you towards a more comfortable and calm home for your cats.

No matter what problem you are experiencing with your cat or cats, it is very important that you always make sure they are healthy.

Many behavioural problems are due to an underlying physical cause and lots of stress behaviours can come from pain and discomfort. It can be dental problems, joint problems, allergies, kidney and liver problems, hormone disorders, or even stomach and intestinal problems.

Chronic or acute stress in cats, such as feeling threatened in their territory, can also lead to physical problems.

It is of the utmost importance that you always rule this out before going in and making changes to the cat's environment as this can lead to further stress. 

If your cat is behaving out of the ordinary, you should always see a vet as the first step.

Be patient

When cats are brought together for the first time or buddies suddenly become at odds, it's easy to worry. Keep in mind that it can take days, weeks and sometimes even months before things get better again. Sometimes it will never be the same, but with patience on your part, cats can eventually learn to live together.

For cats, it is important that they feel safe in their territory.

Place food bowls in different places

Cats are not fundamentally herd animals and are not meant to share their territory with others. So it is not strange for them to react if another cat comes along.

When it comes to food, it is important that cats aren't forced to eat next to each other. It is recommended to have at least two food bowls per cat placed in different places in the home and at different heights and levels.

In the morning, it is good to measure what the cats are going to eat and then portion this out into the different bowls. This also applies to water bowls. You should have several bowls in several different places as well as you need to have at least one litter box per cat and one in addition to that. So, if you have two cats, you should have three different litter boxes. The boxes should not be next to each other, nor where they eat, drink or sleep.

Competition between cats

Cats have their own unique behaviour patterns and strengthen their social bonds in different ways. They also need distance from the social contact they have with other cats, people or other animals.

Play is a way to strengthen social contact with each other, with themselves and with their owners.

Cats usually don't live in any kind of hierarchy. Sometimes, however, they may compete for the best sleeping place or for their owner's attention. They have a certain tolerance with each other, but the tolerance is different for individual cats and if it is threatened, conflicts can arise.

Give your cat some space

It is important to give the cat the opportunity to have distance from anything that they might feel threatened by. Just like us humans, different cats have different needs. Cats, like many people, want to have a "bubble of their own" to crawl into when someone they don't know gets too close. 

If their 'bubble' is pushed too quickly, conflict often ensues. This often happens when two cats meet and are forced to resolve the situation on their own. 

Over time, your cats will get used to each other - but remember, it can take time and be patient.  

How to get your cats used to eachother

This can work when introducing a new cat, or if your cats have started fighting.

  • Start by keeping the cats separated. Make it cosy for everyone with different sleeping places, food and water bowls.
  • Get the cats used to each other scents by swapping some bedding. Make sure they associate each other's scents with something positive. Do this until the cats no longer react to each other's scents. During this time, they should still not see each other.
  • Your cats will smell each other through the bottom edge of the door. Give both their food, preferably something extra tasty, by the door. Don't start right at the edge, but let them gradually get closer to each other. Still they should not see each other. If they react strongly by grinding or similar, whatever stage you are in, you have to start over from where it worked best last time. 
  • If things are now going well and you notice that the cats are calm, you can try switching rooms. Still they should not see each other. 
  • When you notice that they are calm with each other's sounds and smells, you can put something, such as a gate, in the doorway. Hang a blanket or curtain over it so they still can't see each other. Open the door and leave only the bars in between for a few minutes but then close the door again. Repeat this perhaps 5-6 times per day and gradually extend the time.
  • Over time, allow the cats to look at each other for a longer period of time. When you notice that they are living as usual, when they have sniffed each other nose to nose and when they feel calm, you can start thinking about letting them meet.
  • Continue to let them associate each other with positive things, like getting treats or their favourite food near each other. At all times, it is important that you do not leave the cats alone together.

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