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TWO CATS IN ONE HOME IS OK -- IF DONE PROPERLY

Here's a riddle for you: How is it that more families have dogs than have cats, but cats outnumber dogs as pets?

The answer: Many families have more than one cat.

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 40.6 percent of U.S. households in 2002 reported having at least one dog, while cats ruled in 35.3 percent of households. (Some families of course, have both.) But cats were by far the most popular pet, according to the same trade group, which reported 2002 figures of 77.7 million pet cats to 65 million pet dogs.

Problem is, in a lot of those multi-feline families, relations between cats are a bit strained. And when cats aren't happy, nobody's happy. The noise of cats grumbling threats at each other or engaging in frequent rumbles can get on one's nerves and even mean trips to the veterinarian. And the litter-box problems that can be a part of such turf wars can turn an entire house into a toilet.

Living with more than one cat doesn't have to be so contentious. The trick to domestic harmony for cohabiting felines is to introduce -- or reintroduce -- them slowly and carefully.

If you don't have a cat yet and know you'll eventually want two, it's easiest to adopt two kittens at the same time. Kittens don't have the sense of territory that grown cats have and will settle down together into a new home nicely. Second-best: Adopt two adult cats at the same time, so neither has a head start on the other when it comes to claiming territory.

But even a solitary adult cat can learn to enjoy living with a companion. Since the worst territorial spats are between cats who aren't spayed or neutered, your chances for peaceful co-existence are many times greater if the cats are both altered before any introductions are planned.

Prepare a room for your new cat, with food and water bowls, and a litter box and scratching post that needn't be shared. This room will be your new pet's home turf while the two cats get used to each other's existence.

Take your new cat to your veterinarian first, to be checked for parasites such as ear mites and contagious diseases such as feline leukemia. When you're sure your new pet is healthy, the introductions can begin.

Bring the cat home in a carrier and set him in the room you've prepared. Let your resident cat discover the caged animal, and don't be discouraged by initial hisses. When the new cat is alone in the room, close the door and let him out of the carrier. If he doesn't want to leave the carrier at first, let him be. Just leave the carrier door open and the cat alone.

Maintain each cat separately for a week or so -- with lots of love and play for both -- and then on a day when you're around to observe, leave the door to the new cat's room open. Above all: Don't force them together. Territory negotiations between cats can be drawn-out and delicate, and you must let them work it out on their own, ignoring the hisses and glares.

Eventually you can encourage them both to play with you, using a cat "fishing pole" or a toy on a string. And slowly feed them in ever-closer proximity.

If you already have two cats who don't get along, treat them as if they've both just arrived. Give them their each their own quarters and let them slowly work out their territorial disputes. But do remember: Some cats will never get along. For these, separate quarters such as one upstairs, one downstairs, may need to become a permanent arrangement.