Are you able to look after lots of cats? Do you fail to cope sometimes? Or are you unconcerned? Looking after a group of cats brings extra responsibilities and demands, which may be beyond the capabilities and motivation of their human caretaker.
Perhaps some cat lovers either drift into looking after lots of cats or they do so by choice but end up struggling or worse. They may have been unaware of the heightened potential of cats becoming sick through transmitted contagious diseases.
I remember an article I wrote years ago about the herpes virus which stated that the virus is an ever-present threat in multi-cat environments. And a lady who bought Persians from a breeder discovered that the herpes virus, being highly contagious, is a constant problem for breeders. There is a major potential risk in breeding and boarding catteries.
I am referring to herpes virus because it is contagious. There are many other contagious diseases. Then there are parasites. These transmit from one cat to another via, in the case of the tapeworm, the common cat flea.
However, if the group of cats is stable, meaning no newcomers and there is sufficient room for the group, the risk is relatively low or lowered. Screening of newcomers, immunisations, quarantining and isolation of new arrivals are probably essential in minimising the risk of contagious diseases. Clearly a multi-cat caretaker needs to know quite a bit about feline diseases in order to take correct and balanced decisions. And they need to know how to treat ill cats, to a certain extent, in order to save on outgoings but this requires real skill and supervision from a vet as and when, I’d have thought.
Dee, a valued contributor to PoC looks after many cats and it was her idea that I wrote on this subject.
“I think that it might be helpful to people experiencing or thinking about caring for multiple cats, whether domesticated or feral, to be aware of some of the huge stressors that come with the territory…..In one of my feral colonies, two cats appeared to have URI’s. That means that ALL had to be trapped, taken in, and treated. Let’s not forget all mites, ear and scabies, as well as ringworm.”
What Dee is saying needs to be stated. People who love cats may sometimes lose sight of the practicalities and burdens.
The biggest problem is contagious diseases. The other major problem is cats getting along in groups. There is no guarantee that they will. Stresses can build up in subservient cats. Stress suppresses the immune system. This makes the potential for catching a contagious disease a greater problem.
There can be some quite subtle intimidation going on which may not be picked up by the caretaker. Psychological fights can occur over the use of litter trays and food bowls. Each cat should have their own but is this always practical? It is harder to keep litter trays clean but a cat should not have to defecate in a tray which contains the excreta of another cat as it may be stressful. Certainly there should be food bowls for each cat. Unrelated cats sharing a bowl will time share the bowl.
Feral cat groups are not like household groups. Feral cat colonies evolve and grow organically; the cats are often related which leads to a more settled hierarchy or mutual arrangement whereas new adult, unrelated cats are often introduced into the multi-cat home resulting in threats to territory etc..
Inappropriate behavior such as urine marking by a cat in a multi-cat environment may be due to social interaction stresses which are more likely to occur in group of cats which is unstable.
However, neutering (altering – fixing) calms the cat and makes him more accepting of others in multi-cat environments. The caretaker has to think about how to introduce a new arrival into the group.
Is the human caretaker considering vertical spaces and hiding places, both of which are very useful when cats live in groups? They allow cats to de-stress if there is antagonism between some cats.
There is just a lot more to think about when managing a group of cats. Contagious diseases have to be prevented because once they have taken hold you can get chaos. There have been several instances of cat shelters being shut down temporarily to eradicate a disease, one of which is extremely contagious: ringworm. The cat owner can help spread this one and perpetuate it within the home. This is another example of the things that need to be considered.
Cat lovers should think hard before branching out to looking after several cats and more.