Friday, 6 November 2009

More than one cat?

When Bella came to live with me, I’d really wanted to take on more than one cat, but she was on her own, and there weren’t any other suitable cats at Animals in Distress. In the three and a half years she’s lived with me she’s come to regard me as hers, and I know that she wouldn’t be happy to share me with another cat. That’s a shame, because she’s a cat who likes company. She’s not a quiet cat. Unless she’s sleeping she never stops talking and wants constant interaction, attention and company.

I’ve often thought she’d be so much happier with another cat to keep her company, and have been very tempted more than once. While I’m at Animals in Distress I find myself thinking “would you and Bella get on?” But the answer I always get is a big “No”. Shame.

Trouble is, I get to see it from the other side. At Animals in Distress there are cats that people have brought in for rehoming because they don’t get on with their other cats. Or people have homed cats only to bring them back a couple of weeks later, because they’re fighting with their existing cats.

Cats aren’t like dogs, they’re not pack animals, although they can be sociable - not the same thing though. In the wild they are very territorial, and don’t share their lives and space with other cats. It’s not as marked with domesticated cats, but they can, and do, get stressed if another cat lives too close to its space. Jealousy can also creep in if the humans spend more time with one than another. Having said that, there are breeds that are a little more sociable, and on the whole it tends to work if you have cats from the same litter. They’ve always lived together and have always known the other one to be close by. Even then though, that’s not always the case.

Many of the cats I go to look after while their families are away are in households with more than one cat. I’m always keen to understand how they get along, especially if they’ve come to live together at different times. It does vary. Some are actually quite friendly with each other, although they might have a little scrap from time to time. With others you can see that they’ve learnt to tolerate each other, but aren’t so happy about it, and then those where it’s out and out war.

It’s clearly not an exact science then. The most difficult situation I find is where they appear on the surface to get along - but watch out for behaviour. This can be a big clue as to whether things are as right as they seem. You’ll know the original cat well, so be very aware to how they might be changing, any bad habits developing. This is a manifestation of stress, and even though there might be no fighting going on, there is clearly still a problem. It’s always more difficult to tell with the new cat as you don’t know them so well, but still keep an eye on their behaviour, as the better you get to know them, the more you’ll pick up signals that things aren’t so good.

If you do decide to take on another cat, realise that it will take some time for them all to come to terms with each other and the change in the home. Don’t force introductions, and give them plenty of space. It’s a good idea to keep the new cat in its own room at the beginning, introducing him to your existing cat gradually, and make sure that both have separate places and boltholes they can call their own, away from each other. Don’t expect them to fall head over heels in love with each other; in some cases the best you can hope for is a grudging tolerance of the other.

If it’s not going to plan I’d say don’t give up too quickly – there are things that can be done. The answer isn’t always to take him back to the rescue centre or breeder; although in some circumstances ultimately that might be the right thing to do. First, get some help. Talk to your vet and ask to be referred to a cat behaviourist. Also, see if I can help too. I can tune in to animals to find out what’s going on, and perhaps it’s just a small matter of me talking to them to sort things out. Additionally Reiki can help to take the stress out of a situation and restore calmness. Once you know what the issue is, don’t forget that Bach Flower Remedies can help with a whole variety of emotionally based situations.

I’d still love for Bella to have a cat friend; however, I’ve resisted as I think there’s too much opportunity for it to be a problem for both of them. I work from home a lot so she probably gets to see me more than some cats see their families – but sometimes even that isn’t enough for her!! If you’re thinking about homing two cats from different families, or adding another to your brood, please think long and hard first. Be patient and realise it takes a lot of time; monitor behaviour and look out for signs that things aren’t right. Talk and listen to experts. And prepare for what you will do if things don’t quite work out.

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