Cats are amazing pets for a lot of different reasons. They're independent, they're quiet (well some of them are), and they're often content to lounge about in a comfortable sunbeam rather than cause any trouble for the neighbors.
One fascinating fact about cats is that they have developed a reputation as solitary creatures. On the one hand, many large wildcats – from which domestic housecats are descended – are depicted as solitary animals. On the other hand, the "pride of lions" is also a common image. What's going on?
The truth is, cats can be perfectly happy when they're solitary and allowed free control over their domain, but they can also be social animals, bonding closely with their pet parents, human siblings, and/or with other cats.
So, do cats like other cats? The answer is: it depends.
Anyone with multiple cats can attest to their different purrsonalities. Some many be bonded and inseparable while others can’t even be in the same room without a hiss and a swat.
Like us humans, each cat has their own individual likes and dislikes and it’s important to identify those traits in order to ensure they are happy and safe in their environment.
Let's talk about some of the factors that can affectinter-purrr-sonal relationships in a multi-cat household environment and some steps you can take to ensure everyone gets along!
If you are looking for more cat behavior guides, make sure not to miss the read more section at the bottom or search our blog by topic. Spoiler alert, our blog is packed with resources.
Much like children and many of us adults, cats like to have their own space, their own resources, and their own territory.
If you have more than one cat, making them share resources can lead to tussles even between cats of the same family group.
What does each cat need to have for itself?
Food and water bowls. Even the most closely bonded cats still often prefer to have their own source of food and water. Since cats are usually competitive predators, they tend to be defensive of their resources. If you feed your cats out of the same bowl, one cat may emerge as the dominant feline and will bully the other away from the bowls. Not only should they have their own bowls, but they should also be in different locations.
A litter box. The general rule of thumb is to have a number of litter boxes equal to the number of cats you have, plus one extra. You want one "neutral" litter box as a backup available to whatever cat needs it, and then a dedicated box for each individual cat. Often, in a multi-cat household, if one cat is going where it shouldn't, it's because the box is being defended, and they can't get in and do their business in peace.
Carriers. I discussed this topic in detail in my post about training a cat to accept cat carriers. In general, you want a carrier for each cat, even if you take them to the vet separately. When emergencies occur, you’ll want to have enough carriers on hand to safely contain your fur baby. Using one large carrier and putting everyone inside is likely to cause fighting when stress levels are high.
Attention. This may seem pretty obvious, but you should also ration out your attention to each cat in a way they are most comfortable with. If your cats are territorial and one of them is domineering, you should make time to go to the non-dominant safe space and play with them there, so they still get affection and build their confidence.
A safe space. As territorial animals, even with a bonded pair, your cats should have a place they can call their own. This safe space for your cat can be as simple as a closet where one likes to retreat or a hidey-hole where they can feel defended and comfortable. Each cat should have a place it can go when they need a break.
A common piece of advice – especially with kittens - is to adopt two instead of one, but that usually applies primarily to getting two littermates rather than just one cat. Picking up two random strays from the ASPCA may be harder to get them to bond with each other.
A single kitten is more likely to wreak havoc on your house as they look for ways to entertain themselves. While this is still possible with two kittens, having a playmate tends to reduce the need for outside stimulation.
"Studies have shown families who adopt two kittens from the same litter are far more likely to keep those cats in their home long-term than families adopting a single kitten." – VCA Hospitals.
Learning Your Cat's Attitudes
Cats are creatures of habit and routine, so they will initially be skeptical of any disruption, including introducing a new cat. However, whether or not your cat can tolerate another feline depends on a lot of different factors.
Is your cat young or old? Younger cats are much more likely to be accepting of a new cat, especially if that other cat is also young. An older cat that spends most of the day sleeping likely won’t appreciate a kitten binging off the walls and constantly trying to play.
Are the cats related? Cats are much more accepting of one another when they're from the same family lines.
Generally, it's best to adopt a second cat if that second cat is a littermate or a niece/nephew, rather than a cat from a completely different line. A great alternative is to talk to a rescue that keeps multiple adults in the same foster home. They will already to be acclimated to one another.
Is your kitty strongly bonded to you? If your fur baby is a clingy or needy cat and can't seem to go more than an hour without visiting you for some attention, they may be resentful of another cat taking up your attention and affection.
Likewise, if your cat has separation or situational anxiety, adopting another cat may not help (though, if they bond, it might help a lot.)
One of the best tests, though, is how your cat reacts to other cats in the neighborhood. If strays or neighborhood outdoor cats come too close, does your cat look upon them with curiosity, or do they puff up and hiss or yowl?
Do they tussle if your cat is also an outdoor cat? The more defensive and aggressive your cat is, the less likely they are to tolerate adopting a new cat.
How to Tell if Your Cats Don't Get Along
While it's pretty obvious if your cats hiss and swipe at each other whenever they pass by or if they get into yowling and claws-out fights, there are other signs of cats that don't get along that might be harder to recognize.
The truth is cats that don't get along and are forced to be in the same area might not be obviously antagonistic.
These signs include:
Over-grooming. A domineering cat might forcibly groom another as a way of forcing submission; overgrooming cats can result in thinned fur or bald patches in extreme cases, though that's generally pretty rare. A stressed cat may also overgroom their own body as they use their licking as a soothing mechanism.
Over-eating. One cat may stuff itself as a way to prevent the other cat from stealing its resources. My angel Moosie cat was known to do this with his brother. When left to his own devises he would push his brother out of the way to eat his food, then go back to his own bowl to have a second serving.
Under-eating. Stressed cats might not have much of an appetite, or one cat might bully the other away from food, preventing them from eating properly and getting too skinny.
Hiding and avoidance. One cat may hide from the other and avoid them, and because they tend to be penalized or attacked when they're out, they'll be less likely to seek your affection or lounge in the open.
Poor litter box usage. A bully can prevent another cat from using "their" litter box, and a stressed cat may miss the litter box or go in places that are inappropriate. Spraying may also happen if your cats are in conflict and want to mark their territories (this is a much more common issue with intact males.
Growling and or hissing. These behaviors are often a defense mechanism cats use to warn off another cat. While a little grumpiness here and there is nothing to worry about, regular territorial behaviors are a sign of a bigger issue.
Full-on fighting, with yowling, hissing, and swiping at each other, is often quite rare. This is because active conflict and injury can be devastating in the wild, so cats tend to be more conflict-avoidant.
If you have one kitty attacking another, it’s important to keep them separated until a solution can be reached.
Keep in mind, as well, that the smaller your dwelling (and the greater the density of housing in the area), the more likely your cats are to feel cramped and stressed.
Two bonded, loving cats can live just fine in a small apartment, but two cats that are in occasional conflict will need more space to themselves.
The housing density is important primarily because of sounds and smells that we can't detect (but cats can), can travel more than you might think.
An apartment complex with many cat owners can lead to a surprisingly stressful environment in ways we normally wouldn't notice. For a territorial cat, another in the window across from yours could be a problem.
How to Introduce a Second Cat into Your Household
Adopting a new kitty is an exciting time, and you might be tempted to rush home with your new family member and put everyone together immediately.
Perhaps you know your fur babies love other animals, but this may not be true for your new kitty. They are entering a new space with new smells and it can be a stressful time until they adjust.
So, for the best chance of success, if you do introduce a second cat into your household, you'll want to take things slowly.
Step 1: Start by picking a location in your house that can be closed off and that your existing cat doesn't frequently visit. This will be the "home base" for your new cat. You want the new cat to be isolated and safe, and you don't want to take a critical piece of real estate away from your existing cat to do it.
Step 2: After a day or two of your new cat living in this closed room, swap bedding between the two cats - this helps them get used to each other's scents without any aggressive interactions.
Step 3: Begin feeding your cats and playing with them near the closed door, so they can hear and experience one another. Use high-value treats to reward investigation of the door without hissing or aggression.
Step 4: Once the cats are used to this, you can move to visual introductions. Use a baby gate or two or some other barrier the cats can see through but can't pass through, so they can associate sight with the smells and sounds they've been hearing. Continue to reward them with high value treats and play when they get along.
Step 5: Start introducing your new cat into the spaces of the existing cat. Remember, they both need their safe spaces to retreat to, and you should keep an eye on them whenever you introduce them to make sure they aren't showing signs of stress or aggression.
If all goes well, this process might take a few weeks to fully introduce a new cat. If your existing cat is standoffish or used to being solitary, it may take even longer.
Throughout this, you'll need a lot of care and supervision, so this is very much not something to attempt if you need to leave your cats home alone for hours at a time.
Check out this cute 3.5 min video on cosmos and Sasha. It took them 30 days to get acclimated to each other.
Not all cats are going to get along, even with patience and time. Have a back-up plan in case this happens. Before you bring a new kitty home, ask the rescue about their personality.
Do they get to roam with other cats? How do they respond? Did they come from a home with no other pets? The answers can all be indicators on the likelihood of success in your home.
If you have an adult cat that is used to being alone and you know they might not adjust well to another cat, a great alternative is called foster-to- adopt. Many rescues offer this option.
Foster-to-adopt is a great way to find out if one cat is a good fit for your family prior to committing to adoption.
When you foster-to-adopt, you can take the new kitty home for a short, pre-determined period of time and see if s/he gets along with your current kitty. If it’s not a good fit the rescue will take the kitty back with no issue.
How Many Cats is Too Many (or Too Few) in a Multi-Cat Household?
Some people say it's cruel to keep only a single cat, especially if you work all day and spend a lot of time away from home.
Cats do need a lot of enrichment, and many pet parents can provide that. If you find your kitty is begging for more attention than you can give, a second cat maybe able to ease the social burden, if and only if they get along and bond.
Two cats is usually a good place to start. If you can adopt them at the same time, either as a bonded pair or as littermates, you'll be in a good place.
The two times I’ve adopted, I’ve done so in pairs. The first were my boys - from different litters but being fostered together. The second time I adopted my girls, same situation – different litters, same rescue. I wouldn’t change a thing about these decisions.
I know some of us want to take every cat home with us, but in addition to considering how any current fur babies might respond, there are some additional things to consider.
Finances. Caring for a cat can be expensive, with vet bills, food, litter, treats, and enrichment, and more. You want your cats to have everything they need, and you should be taking cats to the vet regularly, so you need to make sure you can afford each cat you have.
Space. A general rule of thumb is that each cat needs their own space, so you should never have more cats than your house has rooms. Often, "half the rooms" is a good benchmark.
Cats to humans. Some people prefer to never have more animals than there are humans in the home. This is more preference than necessity, though, and depends a lot on how much care and attention humans can give to their pets.
Time commitment. More cats mean more litter boxes to clean, more bowls to fill and clean, and more time for playing. While going from one cat to two isn’t a huge difference time wise, I can tell you going from two to four is!
Local laws and regulations. Some areas have rules or laws against "animal hoarding," and if you adopt too many cats, you run the risk of having them taken away. Nobody wants that! If you live in a rental, you should always check with your landlord to ensure pets are allowed.
Remember, each cat is unique and will respond differently to having a new kitty in their house.
I know stories of older cats immediately taking to their new kitten sibling, and unfortunately far too many single cat homes hating their new roommate. If you decide to bring a new kitty home, remember to take it slow and assess along the way the quality of life each kitty has in their home.
How have you handled a multi-cat household? Have you adopted bonded pairs or introduced a new cat to an older feline? Tell me all about it in the comments! Bonus points if you have adorable pictures of your fuzzy friends. I can't wait to hear your stories!
One more thing, if you are feeling like getting a little special something for your fur baby that is unique, made right here in the USA (or anywhere but in China), 100% pup and cat safe, USDA certified organic and brought to you by a US company, check out Toe Beansonline pet supplies store!
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K Marie Alto
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 30K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).