When we decided to adopt a kitten, my fiancé and I waltzed into PAWS Chicago expecting to trot out with one new adorable addition to our family. However, after we got to talking to the cat folks there, they said we’d be smarter people and better parents if we adopted two kittens. (Hm, don’t mind if we do!) This is because having a playmate improves socialization, and socialization makes for confident, happy kitties—as long as they get along.
We’re lucky; our cats get along pretty well. The main reason? They consider themselves part of the same social group. We know this because they willingly mix and share scents (Jacques will sleep on the same chair Foxy just napped on), groom each other (Foxy will lick Jacques’s ears to get him nice and clean) and eat meals together in peace (neither Foxy nor Jacques hoards food from the other).
This isn’t to say they’re constantly rolling out the red carpet for each other. They aren’t littermates, but for all intents and purposes, they’re bro and sis, which means bickering and roughhousing. They’ll wrestle and chase each other down the hallway (much to the chagrin of our downstairs neighbors). Playtime crosses the line when Jacques (who is bigger) sits on Foxy and nips at her. This is when we step in. Here’s how to get cats to get along.
1. Define the problem
For us, the problem is playtime getting too rough. It’s all fun and games until Jacques yanks a tuft of Foxy’s fur! As the ASPCA puts it, cats should seamlessly exchange roles in a game for it to be healthy. I chase, then you chase. When a game stops being reciprocal, it’s a problem.
For others, problems may look different. Felines who don’t consider themselves members of the same social group or who were introduced to each other later in life may have more intense issues between them. The biggest indicator your cats aren’t getting along is aggression in one or both (or all). Hissing, swatting, biting and crouching in fear are all signs of aggression between cats. Growls are not uncommon.
Some of the remedies below for cats who don’t get along may unearth the cause of their bad behavior. If you’re still stuck or feel the problem is beyond your control, the ASPCA encourages you to reach out to someone trained to handle it. Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs or ACAABs) can work some major magic.
2. Spay and neuter your cats
Aggression, especially in males, is much more intense and unpredictable in males who haven’t been neutered. This is a good idea anyway for population control!
3. Increase resources for your cats
Resources are things like food bowls, beds, perches, hiding spots and toys. Fighting over territories (beds, perches) and food (bowls, actual food) means your cats don’t feel ownership over their turf. Cat are introverts; each needs its own stuff. As PAWS states, cats are social but territorial beings. They need their designated space! When a cat feels like its own boss in a zone of your home, it can confidently interact with others.
The Okaw Veterinary Clinic’s Dr. Sally J. Foote advises experimenting with at least a six-foot distance between resources for cats who don’t get along. This means placing bowls six feet apart during meals (no free feeding or communal bowls!) and moving each animal’s chosen bed or favorite blanket at least six feet away from each other.
4. Stop fights
Clawing and hissing don’t get anyone anywhere. Separate cats if they’re fighting (maybe toss on some winter gloves first?) and keep them separated until each cools down (take note of body language to determine how relaxed they are). Letting them fight will only increase aggression.
5. Give your cats space
After a spat, let your cats spend some alone time in their respective territories. Avoid coddling or reprimanding.
6. Separate cats if needed
When things get really bad (or when introducing a new cat to an existing feline household), it’s recommended to keep the cats separated for a good long while. Jackson Galaxy, cat guru and goatee daredevil, advises owners not to let overly aggressive cats see each other for a few days (or weeks, depending on how bad things get). Take steps during this time to slowly introduce—or reintroduce—the kitties to each other by sharing their scents (giving Jacques’s favorite blanket to Foxy, for instance) and feeding each other on opposite sides of the same door (to establish the fact that there’s another cat around, but they don’t have to face each other just yet).
7. Reward good behavior
If you walk into a room and see your cats cuddling together, grooming each other or hanging out peacefully side by side, give them some treats! Let them know you approve of this good behavior.
8. Try pheromone diffusers
All-natural pheromone sprays and diffusers are formulated to calm stressed out cats and promote positive interactions in multi-cat households. This is a great starting place because it’s fairly simple and may be the tiny shove your cats need to realize they’re friends, not foes.
9. Maintain a consistent lifestyle
Cats love a schedule and sticking to it. Mess with routine too much, and they may become frustrated with you and take it out on each other.
10. Play with your cats
Again, cats are social creatures! They need more action than birdwatching and napping (those are crucial too, though). Human playtime is super important to a cat’s socialization and health. Interactive toys and wands are good exercise for them mentally and physically, not to mention it boosts the emotional bond between you two. Plus, when they play with you, they burn energy that could otherwise build up and burst out against other cats. It also prevents them from attacking each other out of sheer boredom.
Honestly, in researching this article, I realized the moments when Jacques and Foxy get most aggressive with each other are just after dinner, when they’re bored and I’m whittling away at my Netflix queue. It’s up to me to be a little more involved and a little more proactive about playtime to prevent the next hiss or nip.