Your cat relies on scent to communicate with other cats and to better understand and navigate her environment. Her nose not only leads her to food, but it also warns her of predators, making it one of the most vital survival tools she has.
Cats who share multi-cat households often create a group scent (meaning the cats begin to smell like one another) by rubbing up against each other, grooming, or napping together. This group scent allows the cats to bond with less territorial aggression and co-exist in a more peaceful and friendly home.
Conversely, multi-cat homes without an established group scent are breeding grounds for turmoil and aggression, ultimately squelching any hope for a smooth-running and stress-free environment. In a worst case scenario, cats who don’t feel like part of the same group will lash out in varying degrees of hostility, tension, and violence. At best, cats that lack an established group scent will merely avoid each other and keep their distance, never bonding.
Many feral colonies and multi-cat households are lucky to have what cat behaviourists have dubbed the “social facilitator” cat. This cat routinely carries each individual cat’s scent to the rest by systematically grooming and rubbing up against each cat. The social facilitator single-handedly creates the group scent and is responsible for aiding positive social behavior between cats. Unfortunately, if the social facilitator is removed, due to re-homing, death, illness, etc., the critical group scent will be lost and you will notice tension and fighting between formerly amicable cats.
Cat owners sometimes act as social facilitators without even knowing it by using the same brush to groom all of the cats in a household. This is a great way to create the social glue in your multi-cat household, as long as your cats enjoy being brushed and will remain calm when sniffing a brush that smells like another cat. It’s easy to do, and only takes a few minutes per day.
Before brushing, let your cat smell the brush that contains the opposing cat’s scent and pay close attention to her response. Don’t brush her if you are met with any sort of negative response, such as hissing, growling, or pulling away. If she responds negatively, pair the scented brush with treats or wet food to create a positive association with the scent. You may need to do this for several days before she has no negative response. You may proceed with brushing once her response is positive or neutral. To keep things positive (once you have already gotten a non-distracted positive or neutral response), try brushing her while she is eating food or distracted by toys.
Brush your cats on the head, neck, shoulders, and sides along the rib cage, as these are the areas they would groom and rub up against each other if they were creating the group scent themselves. For this technique, avoid areas that contain less friendly scents, such as the back legs and tail. Brush each cat 2 – 3 times per day, for only 4-10 strokes for each cat per session, rotating the brushing order of cats each time for maximum scent dispersal.
In my career as a cat behaviorist, I have seen hundreds of cases in which formally un-bonded cats eventually begin to groom and rub up against each other (as opposed to fighting or ignoring each other) after a group scent is created. If your cats aren’t taking the initiative to create their own group scent, don’t hesitate to step in and help the process along. By becoming the facilitator (a courier and diplomat of the cat world), you can create the group scent and ease your home into a happier and healthier environment for yourself and your cats.
Litter Box Issues
There is no doubt that it is frustrating when your cat takes to urinating outside of her litter box, not to mention destructive. You may find yourself questioning what you have done to make her soil your favourite pair of shoes. Despite how it may seem though, cats are not spiteful creatures. Assuming your cat is healthy, she is simply behaving like she would in nature and communicating to you that something in her environment isn’t right.
Each year, millions of cats are surrendered to already-overflowing shelters due to litter box issues. Ironically, with a bit of patience and care, litter box problems are some of the easiest to solve. As cat owners, we tend to place litter boxes in locations that are most convenient to our own lifestyles. This becomes a problem when our convenience relegates litter boxes to basements, closets, and other dark or unwelcoming locations. To raise healthy, happy, box-abiding cats, we must learn to see the world through their eyes and create environments that fall in line with their natural instincts.
It’s imperative to make your cat’s litter box as alluring as possible. First, be sure that you are providing enough litter boxes. In multi-cat households, I recommend at least one more box than the number of cats in your home. The boxes should be placed in locations that are both easy to find and easy to access. Your cat should be able to spot the litter box immediately when entering the room, and not feel cornered or threatened when using it (by other animals in the home, children, loud noises, etc.). Covered litter boxes are preferred by many cat owners, but can cause problems in multi-cat households. By keeping the box uncovered, you give your cat several ways to escape if she feels threatened, making it less likely that she will urinate where she feels safer (under the dining room table, for instance). Keep the boxes tidy by scooping at least once per day.
It’s not uncommon for my clients to say “But they were fine with all of the litter boxes in the laundry room until recently. What happened?” Social maturity happened. Cats enter social maturity between the ages of two and four. At this point, they begin to look at their environments through a territorial lens. In a multi-cat household, this is when cats will begin to structure their flexible social hierarchy and begin to work out time sharing arrangements with shared resources such as food, water, perching areas, and litter boxes.
Many cat owners group all of the litter boxes in one room. This practice, though common, causes territorial thinking and can lead to tension and fighting in multi-cat households. To make the boxes as alluring and accessible as possible (and eliminating your cat’s desire to create a new one elsewhere), place the litter boxes in several different locations throughout your home. Think upstairs, downstairs, and on each end. Simply creating an environment that allows your cats to easily and safely time share these important resources will ease tension and put an end to litter box problems.
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