Multiple and Separate Resources are the Key to Happiness in the Multicat Household


“One cat just leads to another.” It’s not surprising that those words came from Ernest Hemingway, especially after a visit to his home in Key West, Florida. Hemingway, aside from being known as a world-renowned writer, was a cat-lover and brought a 6-toed cat named Snowball into his Key West home. To this day, some 45 descendants of Snowball still roam the home and its grounds seeming not to be bothered by the tourists poking and milling about. Many cats thrive in the company of other cats, especially if they have grown up among other cats as in the case of the Hemingway cats. And when there is more than one cat, you can’t help but notice the feline structure that exists.

Understanding the way that cats live in groups is critical to a successful multi-cat household.  When we understand these important social structures, we can set up the indoor environment to create least amount of stress and conflict.  A low stress environment to the goal for us all, right?

For cats that live in groups, indoors or outdoors, the food source defines the nature of the group.  Cats are solitary hunters.  While they may live in groups, they hunt and eat alone.  You may see your cats peacefully partaking in dinner for two at the cat bowl.  Lucky you!  This is rare and is a sign that your cats may be a bonded pair.  In fact, the food source is a major source of stress in the multicat household.  When there is only one location for food in the house the cats that are rank higher control access to the food source and can make life very stressful for the lower ranking cats.   

In multi-cat households, domestic cats stick to a hierarchical structure. Even indoor-only cats have both hierarchy and territories. In neutered or spayed ‘families,’ the feline buddy system is not limited to closely related cats, and gender preferences seem to be less important. There are many different relationships that form, ranging from bonded pairs (BFFs), to complete avoidance.  Cats prefer to manage conflict by avoiding each other. For example, it’s not uncommon for two cats to live in the same house and never cross into each other’s territory. When cats that do not get along are forced to be in the same space (for food or litter box, for example), conflict arises and can escalate into physical fights.

When a new cat enters the household, disruptions may occur when he establishes a new territory for himself. This often causes resident cats to fine-tune their own boundaries, sometimes by fierce force. Additionally, when a cat in the household dies or leaves, her old territory will be taken over by another cat, generally the next one down in the hierarchy.

Behaviors also change when cats assume higher spots in the hierarchy. Aside from feeling like a great big kitty hug, do you know what it means when your cat greets you by rubbing his or her body against your legs? Congratulations! Your cat is telling you that you rank higher than him or her in the household hierarchy. Wouldn’t it be nice if children always understood and acknowledged this hierarchy? Seriously, when your cat rubs against you he is actually blending his scent with yours as a means of reinforcing his attachment with you. Ahhhh, so sweet! In fact, social status can be determined by how often certain cats rub against each other. Cats higher on the social totem pole are rubbed against often by their lower-ranking counterparts. Now that you know a little bit about feline social hierarchy understanding behavior issues that may arise with your own less-than-purrrfect companions may not seem all that puzzling.

Now you have a window into the way your cats see the world and how they manage in groups.  When you see the world they way your cats do, it is clear that multiple and separate resources are the key to creating and maintaining harmony in the multicat household!

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