What will make our cats get along?
June 25, 2012 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Three cats in one house. One having trouble integregating.

My girlfriend and I moved in at the beginning of June. At that time, we moved my one cat and her two cats in all at once. My cat is a 16 year old female. My girlfriend has a 10 year old male and a 6 year old female.

At first, all the cats were hiding and getting their bearings. My girlfriend's cats are now roaming through the house freely. My cat, however, has staked out the dining room as her turf and stays there for the most part. We had all the cats using one litterbox until my cat began peeing all over my girlfriend's possessions that were in the dining room and in the kitchen. She now has her own box in her turf.

How can I help my cat get friendlier with these new kitties? My cat's always been surly, but I want her to come and cuddle with me in the master bedroom like she used to.
posted by reenum to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you have two litterboxes. Conventional wisdom is one per cat plus one; so, maybe try adding two more. It won't hurt, and it might help.

I've also heard excellent things about Feliway.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:58 AM on June 25, 2012

Try some behavioural psychology, i.e., associate the time when the cats are all together as a positive time. Do this by feeding them, giving them treats, and playing with them while they are together in the same room.

Having multiple litter boxes was also a good idea. One litterbox per cat spread throughout the house is ideal.
posted by angelaas525 at 11:00 AM on June 25, 2012

One more thing. If they will not be in the same room together, you can gradually move their food bowls closer together. That way they will become familiar and more comfortable with one another's scents and behaviours.
posted by angelaas525 at 11:02 AM on June 25, 2012

Eeek yes, definitely keep the 2 litterboxes and add one more if you can find a spot for it. The fact that your cat was peeing on things before she got her own box suggests that she's been feeling a lot of territorial anxiety, which is utterly and completely normal for a cat who has just been introduced to 2 other cats (and "since the beginning of June" is NOT a long time in cat terms -- many cats, especially as they get older, become quiet set in their ways and slow to adapt to new housemates). So at the very least, you can relax in knowing that your cat is behaving in an utterly typical feline way, given the circumstances. There's nothing wrong with her and nothing wrong with your girlfriend's cats based on how they've been acting.

As for visiting you in the master bedroom -- she might actually appreciate it if you made your room HER room as well. Put her litterbox in the master bathroom and keep the door to the bedroom shut for a while and hang out with her in there. Don't force her to interact with the other cats -- many cats end up getting along better if they can sniff each other under a door for a while. Putting them all together in a big new space at once and be overwhelming for everyone and time and patience can go a long way.
posted by aecorwin at 11:06 AM on June 25, 2012

I learned a lot from Jackson Galaxy's show My Cat From Hell. There are full episodes online dealing with similar issues and he has tips on his website. It might help to check him out.

Jackson Galaxy's website
My Cat From Hell on Animal Planet
posted by angelaas525 at 11:08 AM on June 25, 2012

Response by poster: More notes, based on feedback:

My girlfriend's two cats are used to sharing a litterbox, and haven't shown any signs of not being able to share.

We have the cats' food bowls on either side of a hutch in the kitchen. In fact, my cat will raid the other cats' food regularly.

Finally, my cat is openly aggressive towards the other 2 cats. She hisses and growls every time one of them steps into her turf.
posted by reenum at 11:11 AM on June 25, 2012

Feliway, feliway, feliway! We had a household of two cats who were ready to kill each other.. I mean that literally. I was worried that one would end up dead, they were so vicious with each other. 1400 square foot house x two Feliway plug-ins x three months (new plug-ins each month) = two cats who adore each other more than any cats I've ever owned.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:15 AM on June 25, 2012

I haven't found Feliway to be effective. I've tried both the spray and the room diffuser. While using them, one of my cats swatted the other and it ended up having to have its eye removed...so be cautious when using it.
posted by angelaas525 at 11:20 AM on June 25, 2012

Couple questiosn:

- does your cat interact with your girlfriend, and what does that look like?

- did you "introduce" the cats?
posted by sm1tten at 11:37 AM on June 25, 2012

Re. litterbox sharing: if your girlfriend's 2 cats are fine sharing a box, they might remain fine with it...but you still need to have at least 2 boxes long term. Don't expect all 3 of them to start sharing a box eventually. Litterboxes are extremely significant territory for cats and having more than one box is absolutely the best way to help prevent anyone from getting mad and going on an angst-peeing spree. Better to have multiple boxes that are being used than one box being used part of the time. Better to have a litterbox in an inconvenient location than cat pee on the floor or bed. Etc.

Re. "openly aggressive": if all you're seeing is hissing and growling, you're very lucky! That's not "aggression", it's communication. Your cat is warning the others and telling them in no uncertain terms to respect her space. When my older cat first moved in with the 3 younger ones there were some nights when I got no sleep either because she was scrapping violently with one of the boys or because she was banging furiously on the door of the bedroom I shut her into so nobody would get hurt. 2 years later all 4 kitties in my house are largely civil to one another, but believe me, hissing and growling are the LOW end of the "surly" scale and your cat actually sounds like she's very well-adjusted and is being quite patient with the situation.

That said, if you haven't already, one thing you can do to make everyone feel better and less insecure is to increase the number of territory "landmarks" and also the amount of vertical space the cats have access to. A tall cat tree near a window is ideal, and also make sure to have multiple scratching posts and/or pads throughout the house. My guys have one cat tree, one "main" scratching post (in the kitchen), and a few cardboard scratcher pads (they're cheap at Trader Joe's) scattered throughout the house. This gives them all something to "own" and mark visually (with claws) and can go a long way toward establishing harmonious relations.
posted by aecorwin at 11:42 AM on June 25, 2012

Is there any way your cat could get her own room for a few months, with a door that closes? Maybe even your bedroom (with her own wonderful litter box to forestall accidents - and this will only work if she likes your girlfriend)?

It sounds like she's scared, and her entire world has been taken away. She's a cat, a female cat, and not a young one at that. She's going to need somewhere to get comfortable for at least a month where nobody else will even look at her or her stuff. Then she can start meeting the other kitties.

Also - Feliway is good, but there's a new pheromone collar/spray on the market made by Sentry that mimics the pheromone mother cats emit to comfort kittens. I've seen it work very, very well on two different ornery adult cats now, one a feral who was terrified. It seems to only be available at PetSmart around here - Sentry's web site has "how to buy" info. Get it!

Another way, believe it or not, to build cats' confidence is to spend individual play time, even teaching them tricks. It's really easy to teach cats if they like treats, even older cats. Check out the book "Clicker Training for Cats". Your cat will feel more secure because a) her bond with you will be reinforced, and b) she'll be exerting some control over her food supply (i.e., doing something which causes you to dispense a treat).

Make sure she's eating enough :)
posted by amtho at 12:07 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To answer how my cat gets along with my GF: she tolerates being petted for a few minutes here and there, but also lashes out and attacks at the drop of a hat.
posted by reenum at 3:20 PM on June 25, 2012

There should be at least three litterboxes, and they should be cleaned out regularly. I know the rule is four for three cats, but sometimes that's just not practical, and we've managed to make do with three. If two cats are used to sharing, it shouldn't be a problem. Make sure that they're placed so that "ambushes" are prevented, however--having a clear vantage point will prevent litterbox anxiety.

All cats should have a safe place where they can retreat when necessary--under a bed, on a shelf, in a cardboard box or paper shopping bag. Our cats have favorite places that are theirs alone.

I've dispensed with the formal introduction method after trying it a couple times and finding that it just didn't help in either case. There will be growling and hissing for a while no matter what--my alpha female and my little calico took at least a year to really learn to tolerate each other. What has helped is spending special alone time with the cat who was adjusting the least well to the new circumstances, treats for everyone when they seem to be getting along, and liberal applications of catnip, which has made everyone love each other temporarily (or at least stop hating each other while they're stoned out of their little kitty minds). My calico kitty would prefer to be an only kitty (and, ideally, surgically attached to me all the time) but all three of them sleep on the bed with us together without fighting, so I consider that a success.
posted by tully_monster at 7:18 PM on June 25, 2012

Oh, and: our cats usually start out eating from certain bowls, but end up switching around. The alpha female (she's just turned 17) ALWAYS eats first and nudges our black male cat, who is twice her size, out of the way when she wants to eat from his dish. So I wouldn't sweat it if they're raiding each others' bowls, as long as they're all getting enough to eat. It's a pecking order thing.
posted by tully_monster at 7:28 PM on June 25, 2012

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