Cat vs. Cat: Keeping Peace When You Have More Than One Cat

Cat vs. Cat: Keeping Peace When You Have More Than One Cat

by Pam Johnson-Bennett

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Overview

The best book available on managing multi-cat households, now in an expanded and updated edition.

America's favorite cat expert and award-winning author shows how adding another cat to your home does not have to be the start of a kitty apocalypse. Although cats are often misunderstood as natural loners, you can readily introduce new members to your family, and keep the fur from flying. Johnson-Bennett shows how to plan, set up, and maintain a home environment that will help multiple cats—and their owners—live in peace. Cat vs. Cat will help readers understand the importance of territory, the specialized communication cats use to establish relationships and hierarchies, and how to interpret the so-called "bad behavior" that leads so many owners to needless frustration. Offering a wealth of information on how to diffuse tension, prevent squabbles and ambushes, blend two families, or help the elder kitty in your family, Cat vs. Cat is a welcome resource for both seasoned and prospective guardians of cat families large and small.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525507239
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/01/2020
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 340,725
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Pam Johnson-Bennett is one of the most popular and sought-after cat behavior experts in the world. She has a private cat-consulting practice in Nashville, appears on Animal Planet UK and Canada, and lectures on cat behavior at veterinary and animal welfare conferences around the world. She's been featured on CNN, Fox News Channel, CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox & Friends, Animal Planet Radio, and many more shows. Print profiles include Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Real Simple, Better Homes & Gardens, Woman's World, Newsweek, Prevention, USA Today, Family Circle, Complete Woman, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, USA Weekend, Washington Post, and Parade. She was VP of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and founded the IAABC Cat Division. Pam served on the American Humane Association's Advisory Board on Animal Behavior and Training. She lives in Nashville, TN.

Read an Excerpt

1

 

The Feline Social Structure

 

You may look at your multicat household as one happy family; you love your cats equally and feel there shouldn't be any reason for fighting or squabbling. In reality, though, your cats don't view each other as equals, nor should they. Whether you have two cats or twenty, there is a bit of a pecking order. It may bother you to think that a few cats might have higher status than others, but some form of a hierarchy is necessary in feline society. In a free-roaming environment, it prevents overcrowding of the colony and gives cats a sense of order and security.

 

It used to be that cats weren't thought of as being social animals, especially when compared to their canine counterparts. Even today, many people imagine that their cats are solitary, even antisocial, but they're misinterpreting what they see. Cats are solitary hunters, and they're looking out for themselves. They capture only prey large enough for one meal. Watching them on the prowl, many people incorrectly label them as solitary animals in all aspects of their lives.

 

Another behavior that adds to cats' mistakenly labeled reputation as asocial is their territorial instinct and their attitude toward newcomers. We recognize dogs as social creatures-pack animals-because existing canine households will often easily accept a new puppy. When cat parents think of adding another cat, visions of hissing, scratching, fights, and, in general, disaster come to mind. This hardly inspires one to label cats as social. But it can work, so long as you go about it in a way that makes sense to the cats involved. It's important to understand and then work out territorial issues before putting two cats together; if you do, they can become friends and develop a long-term relationship. Cats can readily adapt to living in groups, and although they may still maintain some preferred personal areas, many enjoy companionship and benefit from group living. It just takes a little finesse.

 

The social structure is complex and easy to misunderstand. It's built around resource availability. The need for food and other resources often outweighs the desire to fight. Cats will coexist in closer proximity to one another near a common food source or shelter. Even in those situations, most cats may avoid each other and "live alone" in a group. Between the independent ferals and the dependent indoor cats you'll find free-roaming cats: ferals who interact minimally, and owned cats who have access to the outdoors.

 

The most common social relationship is between a female cat and her kittens. With indoor cats, kittens are generally separated from the mother too early by people wanting to adopt them out (kittens should be kept with the mother and littermates for twelve weeks). In free-roaming environments, kittens usually stay with the mother longer. Female kittens, once they leave the mother, will generally stay within the same area, whereas males will travel farther.

 

In feral colonies, far from being antisocial, related females are often so closely bonded that they may nurse each other's kittens as well as help raise them. This benefits the mothers who are not as strong, so all the kittens have a better chance at survival. Females commonly move their kittens often if they fear attacks from males or outside predators. Females will also band together to help defend against aggressive males who pose a threat, or any other potential danger to their kittens. In free-roaming cats, long-term bonds aren't formed between mating partners. There's nothing romantic about sex in the feline world. It's all about survival.

 

In multicat homes you'll see a spectrum of different social behaviors; the cats may only tolerate one another, or some cats may form very close bonds. Much of this will depend on how well the cats were socialized as kittens, how they were introduced to each other, their distinct personalities, their allotted spaces and their understanding of the territorial divisions, and how the cat parent has set up resource availability and has handled squabbles.

 

In a cat colony, unfamiliar cats are typically driven away, but if a cat keeps returning, he may work his way in and eventually be accepted. This is a slow process and mirrors the way a new cat entering an established multicat household may be accepted. Just as in the outdoor cat colony, the introduction of a new cat into your home must be gradual in order to increase the odds of acceptance.

 

Avoiding conflict is a major concern in a feral colony and also in your multicat home. It's important to pay attention so you can minimize the fighting/aggression period and also make sure all your cats are safe and don't harm one another as they're being introduced. Cats are very sensitive to feeling threatened, which may not only result in an obvious display of aggression but may cause cats to withdraw and remain chronically stressed. Ongoing stress or conflict can lead to illness. The body isn't designed to stay in the stress response (fight/flight) long-term.

 

In a multicat home, just as in an outdoor colony, cats form unique relationships with each other. Certain cats may develop close bonds. They may frequently engage in allogrooming, rubbing, sleeping close together, tail-up greetings, and tail entwining. When cats are closely bonded, it's not unusual to see one act as a pillow for the other when sleeping. With other cats in the group, there may be friendly relationships but not as close.

 

Often, one cat may lick the head of another cat as an invitation to play. This might be welcomed and result in a game of chase or play wrestling, but sometimes it's ill timed and results in a swat to the nose of the initiator. This is how the cats begin to learn each other's play signals.

 

When two familiar cats approach each other in a friendly environment or in an area where there are no turf disputes, they will start with nose-to-nose sniffing, head rubbing, and possibly licking the face and ears. Anal sniffing follows. If the cats are not so friendly, then the exchange will end at nose sniffing.

 

When your cat jumps in your lap, goes nose-to-nose with you, and then turns to present his backside, you may have considered this distasteful, but it's very polite in terms of feline social etiquette, and you should feel complimented (though you don't have to respond in kind!). Another often misinterpreted behavior is when a cat lounges with his back toward you. What he's really saying in both situations is that he trusts you. Scratching is appreciated then.

 

Status and Hierarchy

 

Although there is a general hierarchy in your cat household, it's not a pecking order forever set in stone. The hierarchy is dynamic and subtly shifts and moves. When a hierarchy is well established, the security and familiarity of knowing where they stand allows the cats to coexist peacefully. But in some households the delicate hierarchy remains in balance only by a whisker. One or two cats may rule the roost, usually simultaneously but with turf areas worked out so they don't step on each other's paws, so to speak. Subtle shifts in status can occur, depending on who is in the room and what events are taking place.

 

Think of the hierarchy as the rungs on a ladder. The highest-ranking cat sits on top. In a perfect world, each new cat added to the household would take his place at the next highest available rung. Oh, if only it could be that simple, there wouldn't be so many battles. Unfortunately, though, a new cat may be more assertive and might attempt to knock another cat off an attractive rung. As you can imagine, that never sits well with the existing cat community, and suddenly the rungs on the ladder get a bit shaky. If you're going from one cat to two, your resident cat may willingly step aside from the top rung (it's easy to be top cat when there are no other cats in the house). He may feel more comfortable taking a lower status if the new cat is more confident.

 

The rungs of an actual ladder are evenly spaced, but the rungs on the feline hierarchy ladder aren't. Some cats may be relatively close in status, so their rungs may just be a whisker's width apart. Other cats may be separated by very wide gaps. This unevenness in the spaces is one reason why the hierarchy may hit bumps in the road. The competition between two cats close in rank may routinely ignite the anxiety of one, and they will be more likely to engage in physical confrontation. A middle-ranking cat may repeatedly pick on a very low-ranking cat, especially if he has been the target of the cats above him. Since he doesn't feel confident enough to stand up to the more senior cats, he turns his frustrations on a cat beneath him.

 

A major role of being the higher-ranking cat is to ensure priority when it comes to resources such as the food bowl, litter box, favorite resting areas, etc. Of course, it's not always guaranteed that the higher-ranking cat will gain that priority access if one or more subordinate cats decide to challenge. Just as in the human world, life doesn't always go according to plan.

 

There are traditional signals and behaviors that help communicate subordinate status and higher-ranking position. Some are so subtle you may easily miss them. For example, a subordinate cat will often look away and avoid direct eye contact with the higher-ranking cat. He will also turn his body more sideways when the other cat is near; he may crouch and attempt to appear nonthreatening. It's normal to see a subordinate cat give way on a path to allow the higher-ranking cat to pass.

 

A higher-ranking cat may use direct stares, straighten and stiffen his legs, and have his body forward facing.

 

Status in each group-living environment is unique, based on the personalities of each cat and how they work out their time-sharing in the environment. Your neighbor's multicat household may have more issues than your household even though you may have more cats. Every situation has its own set of circumstances.

 

The hierarchy within a multicat household may appear flexible in that one cat may rule a certain room, while another cat may claim dibs on another location, such as the kitchen, where the food bowls are located. When it comes to any kind of hierarchy, don't think in terms of an overall dominant or alpha cat and don't think of the rungs of the ladder as being stiff and unmovable. The arrangement cats work out has more to do with how they do their territorial negotiations and their choices of what resources/territories matter to each of them.

 

Scrutiny of your environment can provide clues about the relationships between your cats and their status. For example, height can play a role in status. I'm not referring to how tall a cat may be, but rather the ability to access and control higher elevations in the home. The cat who controls the elevated locations in a room-tabletops, tops of bookshelves, or dedicated cat-climbing furniture-may likely develop the higher status. The higher perch provides the cat with the ability to oversee his area and demonstrates his status to subordinates. It may also help reduce conflict, because the cat may choose to go to his perch to show indifference and status rather than engage in active aggression.

 

The physical position of the cats as they enter a room may also provide clues as to who is in charge in that area or at that time. For example, two cats enter the room and one walks toward the middle of the space while the other walks along the perimeter. The one occupying the center of the room may give a direct stare to the perimeter cat. The perimeter cat avoids direct eye contact. The center cat most likely has control of that room.

 

In a tense environment, cats who are less prone to anxiety tend to be higher ranking. This stands to reason, because when the group faces a stressful situation, it needs leaders who are calmer and more able to react appropriately for the benefit of the colony. A higher-ranking cat in your household may not necessarily be the one who displays the most aggression, but the calmest cat of the bunch.

 

Cats close in status are more likely to engage in an actual physical confrontation. These cats may be on the middle rungs of the status ladder. A clearly higher-ranking cat may show indifference and walk away from a tense situation or groom himself. Acting indifferent can appear more intimidating. It works to his advantage not to display weakness.

 

Higher-ranking cats may posture instead of entering into actual aggressive confrontations. Posturing is an important precursor to any potentially aggressive encounter. Guarding choice areas is a common example. A high-ranking cat may block the pathway to the litter box or food bowl or might stay in the litter box longer and be the first one to use it after it has been cleaned.

 

Higher-ranking cats frequently claim the prime areas of a territory. For some cats that may be the cat parent's bed. For others, it could be the soft chair by the fireplace or the window that overlooks the outdoor bird feeder.

 

Sometimes, when a number of cats share a territory, you'll find one who becomes a pariah. This is the lowest-ranking cat, who stays far away from the others. The pariah lives on the perimeter of the territory, walks low to the ground, and will usually growl when in the vicinity of another cat. You may find him slinking to the feeding station to grab leftovers long after the other cats have eaten. It's important to provide safe retreats for the lowest-ranking cat and places where he can access resources without fear of attack.

 

How a cat interacts with you doesn't influence his rank in the feline group. A higher-ranking cat, however, may display some of the same status-related behavior toward a human as he would another cat-he might stare you in the eye, rub against your leg or arm, and then back away as a challenge or exhibit mouthing (the cat puts his teeth on you but doesn't apply any pressure).

 

What determines a cat's place in the hierarchy? There are many factors, such as age, size, confidence, sexual maturity, social maturity, number of cats, whether the cat had littermates and how they interacted, health, the availability of food-the list goes on. It's dynamic and complex.

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