Cats more likely to have behavioural problems when they live with other cats

A survey carried out by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) asked 520 veterinarians what they thought were the most important and pressing health and welfare issues suffered by cats who attended their clinics. And perhaps unsurprisingly, 41% of the veterinarians said that stress-related behavioural problems linked to cats living in multi-cat homes was the most outstanding issues they encountered. Conversely, they said that when cats live with dogs there are far fewer problems. They mentioned that issues under these circumstances occurred 7% of the time.

Multicat home increases the chances of spraying urine
Multicat home increases the chances of spraying urine. Photo: Pixabay.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

The survey makes you think, doesn’t it? Multi-cat homes are popular in many parts of the world. For me, “multi-cat” means three or more cats. Each person will have their own definition.

Dr. Justin Shotton, the president of the BVA, said that there are three main factors which dictate whether multi-cat homes are successful in terms of health and welfare of the cats involved.

Compatibility

She believes that the best compatibility between cats is between the two litter mates i.e. siblings. I know that siblings sometimes don’t get on when they become adults but it appears, and I would agree, that in general, the chances of siblings getting along when they are adults is higher than for unrelated cats.

Compatibility is vital to the success of a multi-cat home. Inadvertently, many cat owners adopt and introduce a new cat to a resident cat or resident cats without assessing compatibility. The resident cat becomes stressed because their home range has been invaded and the harmony and the home is suddenly broken. A modicum of harmony can be recreated through various means such as keeping them apart for a while and then gradually reintroducing them but this is hardly success. And sometimes cat owners don’t know the kind of stress that there cat or cats are suffering from until they see some symptoms such as over-grooming and of course agnostic behaviour between cats.

The multi-cat home. These ones look okay
The multi-cat home. These ones look okay. Montage: PoC. Pictures: public domain.

Availability and accessibility of resources

Where there is a lack of availability and accessibility of resources for cats in a multi-cat homes there will be stresses. I’m immediately reminded of Jackson Galaxy’s well-known statement that you should have one litter tray for each cat plus one more. That’s a way of reducing competition and stress. Sometimes you get dominant cats bullying more timid cats over access to the litter tray.

And access to resources means access to food, water, litter trays (as mentioned) and cat flaps. That is an interesting thought. Should you have more than one cat flap in a multi-cat home? Owners should certainly have multi-food bowls and water bowls in order to reduce competition.

Population density

Clearly, the more cats you have in a confined space the more likelihood there is of stresses due to competition for resources and because domestic cats like some space. Also, at heart, they are still solitary animals despite adapting to become sociable. Your typical solitary domestic cat might enjoy about 5 acres of home range. If you have 10 cats living in a relatively small apartment each individual cat has a dramatically shrunken home range which may be untenable for some individuals.

Clearly, a home with a single cat or a couple of cats with access to the outside is going to be far more harmonious. For the time being I am ignoring the possible dangers of going outside.

Cats' personal space - it is a requirement
Cats demand personal space like people. Photo in public domain.

Indications of stress

These have been well discussed on the Internet. They include frequent meowing, over-grooming, scratching, inappropriate urination and aggressiveness. I think it will be quite obvious to a cat caregiver if one or more of their cats is stressed in a multi-cat home.

Dogs and cats living together

Because dogs have different resources to cats and don’t have to share things such as food and water bowls it appears that cats living with dogs are less stressed than cats living with other cats. There must also be the home range factor. In the wild the wild cat ancestor will set up their home range distinct from the home ranges of other wild cats. And therefore there is an inherent feline competition. This sort of home range spatial competition does not exist between cats and dogs in the wild.

Multi-cat Household
Multi-cat Household. Feeding time. Photo by AlishaV

Survey results

We are told that the survey results will be presented to the British Veterinary Association at a live event in Birmingham today in a session sponsored by Mars Petcare.

Cats in multi-cat homes are indoor cats

The chances of the spread of contagious diseases in mult-cat homes are much higher than in single cat homes for obvious reasons. And is it fair to say that cats in multi-cat homes are always kept inside? The more cats you have in your home the more likelihood it is that you will keep them inside full-time because you simply can’t let them wander outside in those numbers. This is another reason why stresses can be built up.

More articles on multi-cat homes

3 thoughts on “Cats more likely to have behavioural problems when they live with other cats”

  1. Good article Mike but what is your opinion about Catnip. I’ve never given it to my cats but as a multi cat household where we do have who’s in charge arguments sometimes and then after seeing this video I’m thinking they might get along better if they could get stoned once in a while like people. Getting stoned does release tension, lol. This video made me laugh but is catnip really good for them or just a harmless weed?

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