Three cats, two sisters and one stray, one new home: questions about best practice
December 8, 2012 12:15 PM   Subscribe

Mr Mutant & I are moving home soon, decamping to a larger home in the suburbs. We have what appears to us to be a complicated cat family strategy and need advice as follows.

Suzi and Banshee, fixed sisters, about five years old, have lived with us since they were kittens. They have only known one home, our current flat.

Tom Tom, a fixed stray that adopted us last winter when Mutant saw him in the snow and started feeding the cat, has lived with us full time since June 2012. He'll be moving too.

Complications? The two sisters have been acting aggressive towards Tom Tom ever since he adopted us. He is the largest cat in the household but rather runs under the sink than fight. They appear to have developed an upstairs / downstairs tense peace, where Tom Tom rules the lower floors of our existing flat and the two sisters stay upstairs as often as possible although we do try to feed all cats in the same room.

We are hoping to move them all in one go and we are looking for advice on how to get maximum kitty bonding in the new house and hopefully resolve the tension/agression we assume is territorial. Options under discussion include:

1) Putting all three cats in one room and letting them bond over a common problem (new digs); this is Mr Mutant's favourite but may end in tears if not implemented right?

2) Re-establishing the upstairs / downstairs division and hoping they bond over the common problem. That would not be preferable

3) Just dropping them off in the lobby of new home and letting them find their own peace but it is probably better to gradually extend their territory.

Any other ideas/advice? They do not seem to respond to Feliway but I will have a go with that in the new house anyway. All of the cats are indoor only. Thanks in advance.
posted by Mrs Mutant to Pets & Animals (12 answers total)
Best answer: Moving is very stressful for cats in general, and it's going to be doubly stressful for your cats because they already don't get along. I think that both dumping them together and ignoring the problem are both pretty bad ideas that will result in things getting worse rather than better.

Take this opportunity to introduce the three of them properly. Start by locking Tom Tom in a room. Give him and the sisters a blanket to lay on. Switch the blankets after a couple of days, so they can get used to each other's smells in a safe way.

Once they are all acting normally, set up a see-through barrier (a couple of baby gates would work well) to allow them to see/smell each other without being able to interact. Continue this for at least a week.

Once everything remains calm when they encounter one another, allow short periods of supervised interaction. At the first sign of aggression, put Tom Tom back in the room.

This may take a month or more because cats can be so stubborn, but after all this you should have peace. Also, make sure you have enough litterboxes in the house that they aren't forced to use each others.
posted by zug at 12:34 PM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had a three cat situation just like yours--two siblings I'd had since their kittenhood (both black cats like yours), and a stray who presented himself for adoption. When I moved them all to a new house, I set them up in separate rooms for a few days, then they just worked it out themselves, finding spaces to claim. My situation worked out better than I could have hoped for and they all bonded, but it took time, around 6 months. They didn't fight, but there was hissing and self-imposed isolation before things settled down. My former stray, Tiger, is a particularly sweet and patient guy.
posted by feste at 12:35 PM on December 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

When my boyfriend and I moved in together, he had two cats and I had one, and they didn't meet before we moved. Our move was complicated by it being from two separate apartments in Boston to one apartment in San Francisco. A long plane ride, new general environment, and new combined household? We feared the very worst.

It turned out that everything was remarkably fine. We suspect that it being stressful new territory for all of them leveled the playing field; it was no man's land and everyone was out of their routine and comfort zone, so there was no basis for territorial squabbles. There were a few tussles and some spite pooping but they settled in within a week; although never the best of friends, they would share the couch and a litterbox. It seems possible that your kitties will do the same! Good luck.
posted by jesourie at 1:27 PM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also had a similar situation, with two older cats, littermates I'd had since they were kittens, and a third cat who had been a foster kitten (found by a neighbor) that failed to foster out. Before I moved, there was a mostly upstairs/downstairs sort of of detente, where the new cat mostly stayed downstairs and the other two went wherever they liked. The new cat was just getting to the point of occasionally coming upstairs when I moved. For context, early on there were a few months where she took refuge under a couch because the bigger of the other two apparently thought she was food. (It took me a while to realize that she wasn't always able to get to the litter box, so I boosted the couch up on blocks and put another litter box under there.)

After the move, however, it seems like it was a big reset, and all three cats were fine with being in the same space. It still took a few years before they got *really* comfortable with each other, and there's still a bit of standoffishness, but it seems the collective freak-out of a plane flight and a new house (with PADDLE FANS OH GOD WHAT THE HELL THE CEILING IS MOVING among other terrors) overwhelmed whatever inter-feline arguments. And now, everyone sleeps on the bed with me, each in their own favorite spot, and they live happily ever after in a hairball-laden paradise. (fuckin cats.)
posted by rmd1023 at 1:29 PM on December 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

You want to get yourselves a couple of Feliway plug-ins. They dispense an artificial pheromone that has cat-calming qualities (and that humans can't smell). It's helped a lot whenever I've needed to move with cats or introduce new cats.

Sometimes cats just keep to separate territories - I have two females and a male; while Neville is a sweetie pie and gets on with both girls, Daenerys is The Queen and Anastasia is timid, so they keep to separate territories. It helps a lot to be sure that there are enough litter boxes and feeding stations to go around so that the more dominant cat(s) don't bully the subordinate cat away from the litterbox or food (which Dany absolutely would do if she could).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:09 PM on December 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your replies. This is making us very hopeful the move will help our cats to bond at some point. We are still keen to know exactly what you did in the first few days. Keep them separate, rotate blankets and rooms or keep them together and increase the space over time. I like the baby gates idea but that is not an option right now. Cheers.
posted by Mrs Mutant at 3:15 AM on December 9, 2012

We tried keeping them separate at first. We initially planned to keep my cat in one room for the first day/overnight while his two explored the rest of the space, and then we were going to reverse the arrangement and let my cat out while his two stayed in the same room my cat had been in.

Let's just say they refused--when my cat was contained in a single room, he paced and howled while the other two stood in front of the door bristling. We tried a switch and his cats turned on each other immediately, something they'd never done before. So we just shrugged and opened the door and let them mingle at their own pace without restriction to any part of the space. They kept well clear of each other while exploring, and eventually just found spots to sleep. We never made any further special arrangements and just let them do their own thing. They came to share the couch amicably (not with us, of course, preferring to take up the entire couch with their own sprawl and not leave us any space).

We did feed my cat in a different spot than his two for the first couple of days, just to avoid confrontation at dinner time. When all three willingly came running into the kitchen at the sound of the can opening, we fed them together. We always had only one litterbox, and while my cat did poop on the floor once or twice (he is a champion spite pooper) they used the same box without incident by the third day of coexistence.
posted by jesourie at 2:10 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I did nothing special with my 3--the twins were in one room, Tiger was in another. After a couple of days, I let the 2 kitties out. Tiger was having his own issues because I had snatched him from his outside territory at my old place and locked him in a little room in the new house. Even after the door to his room was opened, he hid for a few weeks, and only relaxed after several months. The twins were afraid of him, hissing when he got too close, but he had other, bigger worries. I took his food up to him when he was hiding, but eventually he learned to come downstairs to eat.

I agree with rmd1023, that moving is a reset. I think cats are more concerned with the new space, at first, and there is new territory to explore. I wouldn't give much time to managing things. I realize now that I wasted too much energy worrying about the move, and disaster-scenarioing the fallout.

My method for bonding involved an electric blanket on the couch. Everyone shares the space.
posted by feste at 3:04 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Day 1 in the new house. No sign yet of a big reset. Tom Tom the male cat is hiding in the living room while the other two seem to own the rest of the house. All doors are open to all cats.
posted by Mrs Mutant at 3:20 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Day 2 in the new house. It is funny how Banshee is guarding the stairs to make sure the upstairs remains tom free. Tom Tom meanwhile is settling in the living room. We did have all the residents of the house in one room peaceful together this morning so there does seem to be some progress.
posted by Mrs Mutant at 5:56 AM on January 13, 2013

Thanks for the updates. Tom Tom looks like a great cat--I love his cute face!
posted by feste at 12:17 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Week 3 in the new house. Still tension in the house but I was surprised to have all three cats looking at me today in the kitchen peacefully like they were expecting something good. So concentrating all feeding in the kitchen appears to be helping although Tom Tom could still use some help to keep the Queen "B" Cat off his case. Suz meanwhile has discovered exactly how the sun rotates on every window sill for maximum kitty sun bathing...
posted by Mrs Mutant at 2:35 PM on February 4, 2013

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