Three cats, one small apartment: too many?
July 20, 2016 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Considering adopting a foster kitten; already have two young cats; live in a 1-bedroom apartment. Cats and kitten get along well now; but is this asking for territorial trouble?

So, we've fallen for our foster kittens again this year and are considering adopting one of them. Partner is 100% for it; I love the little goober but have reservations about becoming a permanent three-cat household. Is three indoor cats in a small apartment going to cause undue stress to both our existing cats and the tentative newcat?

We live in a 1-bedroom apartment. Our existing sibling cats Jake and Jacqueline -- last years' failed fosters! -- have been good at sharing the space; they get along well, and have each established "gone away, don't disturb me" places to withdraw to that the other cat respects. The apartment has good running-around opportunities; we've provided lots of vertical space with cat trees and ramps and catwalks, which the cats use and enjoy; they have a balcony birdfeeder which keeps them rapt and chattering; and they get a lot of directed play.

Foster kittens Maisie and William have been out of quarantine and mingling with Jake and Jacqueline for about four weeks; they get along well with no signs of territorial squabbles. Jake and Maisie, the kitten we're considering adopting, in particular have formed a nice bond and often sleep curled up together. However: Jacqueline and Jake have both shown clear signs of "can't even with all this" stress when the kittens get too boisterous for too long: usually by pointedly withdrawing to one of their going-away places. They're also not getting as much play as normal because kittens keep interrupting.

So: is adding Maisie as a permanent third kitten-maturing-into-cat inviting territorial stress in future by squeezing three cats into a space that is too small for them? Or am I worrying unduly about a situation that the cats will work out perfectly well among themselves?

(Obligatory cat photos: Jake | Jacqueline | Jake and Jacqueline catwalking | Maisie | William | Maisie again | William and Maisie | Jake and Maisie snuggling | Jacqueline and Maisie birdwatching)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm only answering because you added pictures. I feel like whenever one has a chance to do good in the world, one should take it.

You have the opportunity to give animals a good life. Do it.*

*spoken as a woman who could not say no to her vet-in-training daughter who over the years brought home three special needs cats who all coexist just fine.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:06 AM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Honestly, it sounds like they are all getting along okay. The older cats know to withdraw when they are overwhelmed and they aren't being violent with each other.

For some cats, no amount of space is enough. I have always had at least 2 cats in at least 4 different cat combinations over the past 10 years, and if there was a problem, it was always because one cat didn't know how to cope when he or she was overwhelmed or unhappy. I had 2 cats in a 2BD 900 sq ft apartment who fought a lot; I moved those same cats into a 4BD 1200 sq ft house, and they still fight a lot. It's my male, he has aggression issues.

It sounds like all your cats like each other a lot. Feel blessed about that.
posted by possibilityleft at 8:11 AM on July 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Make sure you have enough litter boxes, only 1 box for 3 cats can be asking for trouble, that would be my only worry in a small space as the standard recommendation is to have one more box than you have cats. I'd make sure to at least have 2 so if someone stakes out a littler box as their territory you don't get accidents. Make sure you have lots of hidey holes, you can buy some cat den type beds, or just make them out of cardboard boxes.

As it sounds like they get along just fine, I think it could work as long as you stay proactive & monitor behaviours closely so you can nip any problems in the bud.
posted by wwax at 8:41 AM on July 20, 2016

Once again I will comment that cats are like Tribbles - once you have one, you have three.

Three cats in a one bedroom with 2 adults is really really tight quarters. YMMV. It's also really difficult if you want to move. I would not rent to you with three cats, I would accept two cats with good credit and job history and references.

It's not just another cat. You are taking on some real burdens that may impact you down the road in practical and material ways. Vacations, moving, vet bills, outside family obligations, etc.. Think carefully.
posted by jbenben at 8:43 AM on July 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

one human, four cats, large 1 bedroom space - all good here. (4 is the max though. I was fostering three kittens up until last week and was firmly in the WAY TOO MANY CATS territory.)

Since they already get along, you're probably good. Remember, kittens mellow out as they age. Crazy kitten antics will go down.
posted by INFJ at 8:54 AM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Crazy cat lady perspective: I think three is fine. I had three in a three room apartment without all the niceties that you're describing (catwalks? nice!) and they all managed to find their own places when they needed to, and clumped together when they didn't. Three seems to me to be the maximum, though. Maybe skip the fostering next year if you find them irresistible!
posted by clone boulevard at 8:56 AM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have three cats, have had up to four cats in a small space, and as long as you have a place to put an extra litter box it's fine.

The only issue is whether you will be looking to rent from a new landlord at any point in the future- many will accept two but three is "crazy cat lady" territory. The last place we rented with 3 cats we were SO lucky that the landlord (who lived in the upper part of the unit) was a crazy cat lady and had 4 cats of his own, so he certainly wouldn't judge.

But places rented out by a property management company? 2 cat max.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:25 AM on July 20, 2016

In my experience, three is very do-able, especially since the newcomer, Maisie, is still a kitten. There will be some hissing and swatting to teach Maisie about kitty boundaries, especially if she's in a Lets Pounce On Tails mood - but that's how cats communicate.

Things that will go a long, long way to ensuring a happy multi-cat-in-apartment household:

- Vertical space, vertical space, vertical space! Have at least one, preferably two or three, kitty condos, and make sure at least one is by a window. Kitty condos provide a combination of vertical space and hidey-holes, so that everybody has a place to climb, scratch, and hide.

- Enough litter boxes. Ideally you should have one for each cat plus one extra - BUT you can get away with fewer, as long as there are at least two AND that the boxes aren't enclosed. Enclosed cat boxes are great for keeping litter and smells contained, but bad for allowing more timid cats to be ambushed by bullies. Having enough litter boxes with room for quick escapes will prevent your cat(s) from choosing to use the bathmat, a corner of the closet, potted plants, etc. instead.

- Food and water stations that everyone can access: I have four cats, and two separate feeding stations to keep my dominant female from stealing her sister's food. Everyone has their own dish, but the girls eat entirely separately. I also have two separate water fountains.

The key for kitty harmony is to have enough resources - food, water, litter, vertical space - so that nobody has to compete for these resources.

Maisie is so cute!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:28 AM on July 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Personally, I think it would be preferable for both kittens to be adopted together--and soon, while they're at peak adoptability--unless they're starting to show signs that they don't like each other. A lot of organizations won't even adopt out singleton kittens any more, and even if that's not the official policy of the organization you're fostering for, it's still in all honesty the best practice. If there's another single kitten in the system that needs a buddy that William could be paired up with, that might be an option, but then you've got an uncertainty to that dynamic, as opposed to keeping him with the kitten buddy he's accustomed to. And I'm not certain that adoption into a situation with adult cat companions (even young adult cats, which would be Maisie's situation) is really the same thing as growing up with an age mate.
posted by drlith at 9:32 AM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Are you planning to continue fostering? If so, I would let Maisie and William go to new homes because Jake and Jacqueline have proved themselves to be the perfect Auntie/Uncle cats that will embrace many more rounds of foster kittens in need of role models. That dynamic is wonderful but is likely change with the addition of a third permanent resident.
posted by jamaro at 9:51 AM on July 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

I don't have another human in my one-bedroom, but I have three cats -- two were adopted as a bonded pair (littermates) and one adopted about 4 years later as a kitten. We live together in perfect harmony.

I do think that jamaro's advice is excellent, however.
posted by janey47 at 10:24 AM on July 20, 2016

I've had as many as four in a one-bedroom, but as Rosie Banks says, vertical space is the key, as well as multiple feeding stations and litterboxes. Just watch the "crossroads." If there's a bottleneck space, it can become a point of conflict, so adding escape routes (more vertical space) or hidey holes may become necessary.

Edited to add: the younger the cats, the easier it is. I think you'll be fine with two youngsters and a kitten.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 11:22 AM on July 20, 2016

I think you have to make a choice: adopt a third cat or fostering. It sounds like (if you want a third cat) Maisie is a good choice. She already gets along well with your older cats and you've proved that 3 cats in your space works. IMHO, adopting Maisie is a "good thing to do", adding to your cat family-wise, and I wouldn't look askance at you for doing that.

BUT, this is the 3rd cat you've added via failed fosters. I suggest that this pattern does not bode well for the future. 4th cats or 5th cats etc might be a problem. You have a big heart, so I think you should make a deal with yourself: adopt Maisie and no more cat fosters. I'm not judging you -- I'm not allowed to go to the SPCA without an escort myself -- and lo if I were to foster cats my goodness that would be a story with an obvious ending.

On preview, yeah what jamaro said, but maybe more strictly.
posted by dness2 at 11:58 AM on July 20, 2016

On preview, yeah what jamaro said, but maybe more strictly.

(I have seven cats. It's impossible for me to be strict on this topic, clearly. Learn from me and run before you have seven cats too).
posted by jamaro at 1:52 PM on July 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

We have two cats in a small 1 BR, and when the stray from the neighborhood tries to make her home indoors rather than just sneak in for food, the peace starts to fall apart. Just my experience, but three is too much for our 1 BR. But consider that the kitten will want more of their own territory once they're an adult.
posted by slidell at 3:45 PM on July 20, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you for all the responses; much to think about.

BUT, this is the 3rd cat you've added via failed fosters. I suggest that this pattern does not bode well for the future.

Yep; we're not cut out for the kitten-fostering lifestyle I think. It's too hard letting them go.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:06 PM on July 20, 2016

I had three cats (bonded sister pair and a cat I raised from a kitten when my aunt found him in the field) and two humans in a one bedroom apartment. It was really okay.

Litterboxes are obviously key - I have four and one of mine (I suspect) finds other places to pee sometimes. I also feed mine in three locations. Wet food always goes one place, good (grain-free) dry food in another, and garbage dry food in another. Each of my cats really only likes one of the three, but there's a little cross-contamination.

I was VERY close to a fourth cat recently. But my partner has two and two dogs, so when we live together, it will be five and two. That felt like enough.

Keep your sweet kitten. If you can manage to keep both, do it. But keep her. She's yours.
posted by guster4lovers at 7:11 PM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: A "mark resolved" update: we did adopt Maisie. William got adopted by his new family last week.

So far so good on three cat territory: they're getting along well (here's Jake and Maisie sharing a nap this morning), enjoying pouncing / chasing / wrestling games together, and all the catwalks have been thoroughly explored by Maisie who is an absolutely fearless climber. (Here she is atop the blocking-off-the-foyer barrier we built as a solution to this question.) Gonna have to build her some more stuff to climb.

And yes, definitely no more foster kittens for us.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:01 PM on August 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

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