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The Stress of Multi Cat Households

December 12, 2013
by Karin Christopher, DVM
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I came into the care of two healthy and very loving 9 year-old-cats about 2 months ago as their owner had gotten engaged, moved to Germany and was to return near the end of this month to retrieve them and take them back to Germany.  She needed another person with her in order to travel with them on the plane and this was to be her fiancé.  During her time Germany she has discovered a few things:

  1. There are no screens on the windows and they live in a 6th story apartment.
  2. The cats highly dislike travel and it would be about 20 hours of travel time.
  3. The owner herself is very nervous about the stress related to their travel.
  4. She is finding it financially and bureaucratically very challenging to get the cats to Germany from the U.S. (many new international paperwork hoops to jump through).

Can you see where this is going…?  Did I mention that I already have two cats, and a dog, and three young children?  One cat is 17 years old and afraid of his own shadow (he came that way), the other one is young and can hold her own but it’s no secret that this is very stressful for everyone involved.   I was immediately reminded of all of the conversations that I have had with clients trying to work out feline stress behavior problems at home: inappropriate urination, spraying urine, fighting, etc.  Here’s what I’ve done to accommodate the additions to our household and I believe we have reached some manageable code of conduct:

  1. There are 5 litter boxes (1 more than the number of cats) in the house and at least one on each level.
  2. Feliway (a synthetic calming pheromone) is our new home “deodorizer.”
  3. Any time a cat sprays (urinates on a vertical surface/wall) it is immediately cleaned with an enzymatic cleaner which has made a world of difference.   I love Anti-Icky-Poo.  The spraying has subsided by the way.
  4. The cats are kept mostly separated, especially during feeding time as this is when most of the fighting occurs.  The more separation, the better they are.
  5. I give treats when the cats are in the same room to provide positive reinforcement for tolerating each other.
  6. I vacuum A LOT more in order to pick up the piled tufts of hair from those unfortunate fights that leave me wondering if I will need to drag one, or two, of the cats into the clinic.

I’m humbled by the work it takes to manage cats that just don’t get along.  The fact is, if they are not taken back to Germany they will need to find another home other than mine.  It is known that some cats are friends, and some never will be.   If you know of a good home without any dogs or cats…please let me know!

Karin Christopher, DVM