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Ask the Vet: Merging Cat Families

Are you fed up with a feline that stopped using the litter box? Concerned for a cat who’s sleeping a lot? Or, not sure if what your kitty does is normal? These are all questions you should ask a veterinarian. Dr. Liz Bales is here to answer your kitty questions about health, wellness, and behavior!

Moving day - cat and cardboard boxes

Hi Dr.Liz,

My girlfriend and I have two male cats and we’re planning to live together. What is the best way to let both cats get along. We were postponing moving together for the last 3 months because we adore both cats.

Thanks in advance.
Nicolas

Hi Nicolas!
Well, cohabitating can be bliss for people and for cats…but it takes some careful consideration, planning and patience.  

Your cats can start getting to know each other long before the move.  Cats rely on scent and chemical messengers to communicate.  When we understand how these work, we can try to use these messages to make cats feel safe. Do your cats have a favorite resting spot with comfy bedding?  You can take this bedding and swap it between the two houses.  That way, each cat has a chance to get to know the smell of the other in a non-threatening way.  You could swap this bedding between the two residences weekly while you prepare for the move.

Speaking of chemical messangers, there is a bottled cat pheromone called Feliway that releases a calming cat messenger into the environment.  This can help cats feel calm and less threatened.

When the move finally happens, it is best to take a long time to fully integrate the cats.  Pick a room in the new house for the moved cat to set up camp with the door closed and give resident cat free run of the house.  Make sure that each cat has a comfortable set up in their space with litter boxes of their liking, plenty of resting/hiding places, water (preferably in a different location than the food source) and food.  Make sure each cat has enough daily human interaction in their private space.  

Let the cats get to know each other for a long time under the door between the two rooms where they are now.  You can continue do the same trick of Feliway and switching bedding.  After a few weeks, the cats should be adjusted to each other under these conditions and it is time to progress.  

The next step would be to stack baby gates from floor to ceiling between the two rooms.  Let the cats get to know each other through that separation for 10 minutes or less at a time.  If you see the cats exhibiting stress, end the session.  Gradually increase the sessions until they are comfortable with each other and you feel safe putting them together.

When you fully integrate the two cats, set them up for long-term success.  Make sure that you have a least 3 litter boxes (in separate locations), multiple water sources in separate locations than the food, multiple resting places (cat trees etc), and multiple scratching posts.

Finally, cats are instinctively solitary hunters that should spend much of their waking hours hunting for their food.  Providing them with this outlet solves a lot of conflict on its own. I strongly recommend The NoBowl Feeding System for each cat.  This helps keeps cats happy hunting and not competing for food resources, which leads to stress and fights.  

That is a big answer!  Let me know if I can help to clarify anything and good luck!  I wish you, your partner and your cats cohabitating bliss!

For more cat health and wellness information, check out my website at www.TheCatvocate.com and LIKE me on Facebook by clicking here.

FullSizeRenderDr. Liz Bales, The Catvocate, is a practicing veterinarian with 15 years of experience. Dr. Bales has a strong interest in feline wellness and behavior. She believes that by understanding the natural state of the cat we can create an indoor environment where cats  thrive and our bond with them grows.

Dr. Bales is interested in your questions and concerns about your cat!  Leave your question in a comment below and Dr. Bales just might answer your question next!

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Jean

    Nov 23, 2016 at 4:24 am

    I recently moved and am waiting until I am unpacked and settled before I bring my 2 older cats here. My housemate has 3 younger semi-feral cats. At first my cats will probably stay in my room, but eventually have the run of the house. How can I keep my very tame cats safe from her cats? Should I use the Feliway and switched bedding trick? Any advice you can give me would be appreciated. Btw, my cats are 9 and 13, while her cats are 3 and 5. I have cat trees, scratching posts , and litter boxes ready for the move.

  2. Sarah

    Jan 4, 2017 at 9:18 am

    My mother’s cat refuses to use the litter box. She’s the only cat. We’ve used different litters and pheromones. Nothing works

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