By Dr. Becker
Are you sharing your home with kitty combatants? Feuding felines? Clashing cats?
If so, you’re not alone. Many multi-cat households face similar issues. Some feline roomies simply don’t like each other, but there are lots of other potential reasons for catfights, and fortunately, there are things you can do to inspire your furry companions toward a more peaceful coexistence.
Take Stock of Your Cats’ Indoor Environment
Provide multiple food and water bowls for your cats, in separate locations. Some cats will go to great lengths to “resource guard” food and drink in a multi-cat household, making every shared meal or sip of water a competition. Since a resource guarder can only protect one bowl of food or water at a time, the other kitties can eat and drink in peace at one of the other feeding stations you’ve set up for them.
Also set up multiple litter box stations. A good rule of thumb is one box per cat, plus one more. Many housecats will NOT share their bathroom, and fights can break out quickly at the litter box, sending your more timid or peace-loving kitties to your closet floor or some other off-limits location to relieve themselves.
Offer lots of scratching surfaces for your cats – one for each cat at a minimum. Kitties scratch not only to sharpen their claws, but also to stretch, and to “mark” territory. There should be both vertical and horizontal surfaces, as many cats prefer one or the other. Also consider experimenting with different textured surfaces that offer a bit of variety.
Also make sure each of your cats has his own out-of-the-way resting spot. It could be the top of a cat tree, or a crate (with the door left open), or a little comfy spot on a closet shelf. If you notice one of your cats likes to hide or nap in a certain spot, consider outfitting the area with a soft cat bed or blanket. It’s extremely important that each of your kitties has at least one private area he can retreat to.
Provide lots of toys that appeal to your cats’ prey instinct, and make sure to include interactive ones that you can play with, with your cat. Also consider investing in a “catio,” which is an outdoor enclosure that allows kitties to get all the benefits of being outdoors, while keeping them safe from harm.
Consider providing multiple perches for your cats at eye level or higher. Many cats are drawn to high roosts because they feel safe from predators and can keep an eye on activities and intruders at ground level. You can provide access to high spaces in your home such as high closet shelves or plant ledges, or you can buy traditional cat furniture like cat trees, or you can get creative and design your own custom kitty perches. Try to provide at least a perch or two near windows so your cats can bird watch and keep an eye on neighborhood activities.
Focus on Diet, Exercise, and Regular Wellness Exams
The right nutrition is the foundation on which your pets’ good health is built, so offer your kitties a balanced, species-appropriate diet. Well-nourished, healthy cats are less likely to develop medical or emotional issues that result in inappropriate behavior.
Make sure your cats are well exercised. Many housecats today don’t get the physical activity they require to be optimally healthy. Under-exercised, under-stimulated cats can accumulate pent-up energy that takes the form of hostility toward other felines in the household. Use toys to interact with your cats, get them moving, and deepen the bond you share with them.
View any change in a cat’s personality or conduct as a sign of a possible medical issue, as cats tend to change their behavior when they are sick or in pain. If one of your kitties is hurting or ill, it can make her irritable and more likely to lash out at other cats in the household. It’s important to report sudden behavior changes to your veterinarian, and make sure to take your cats for twice yearly wellness exams, especially as they get older.
Sometimes, fighting between cats can be the result of misdirected aggression. You may have a cat that is angry or frustrated for reasons that have nothing to do with the other cats in the household, but they end up being the targets of his aggression. If you notice one cat in particular lashing out at the other cats (or often, just one other cat), try to figure out what might have precipitated the behavior. It may be a situation you can mitigate. For example, if one of your cats hates having his nails clipped (not that any cat loves it), and he expresses his frustration by going after another cat in the household right after nail trimming sessions, you can try clipping his nails in a separate room and leaving him there alone afterwards until he’s no longer feeling irritated and feisty.
Consider using natural products like those from Bach, Spirit Essences, or OptiBalancePet to help your cats manage stressful feelings and events in their lives. I also have success using homeopathic remedies that fit each cat’s personality and symptom pattern to help reduce emotional responses.
In more than a few cases of feline territorial aggression, no matter the diligence of the pet owner, the problem is irresolvable. In such cases, it’s healthiest for everyone involved to either rehome one of the kitties, or if you can manage it, permanently separate them under your own roof.