Tips to keep the fur from flying

Mutts

December 16, 2007|By Denise Flaim | Denise Flaim,Newsday

The more the merrier? Some cats are inclined to disagree.

Cats who don't get along can wreak havoc, from litter-box lapses to the proverbial cat fight.

"Whether you have two cats or 20, the secret is to have plenty of territory," says Dusty Rainbolt, author of Cat Wrangling Made Easy: Maintaining Peace and Sanity in Your Multicat Home (Lyons Press, $14.95).

Vertical creatures that they are, cats have a less expansive interpretation of the term. "Cats can have little sub-territories within a room," Rainbolt says. "One cat's territory may be a cat tree. Another's, the window perch."

The trick is to provide as many cubbyholes and perches as possible, so less dominant cats have places in which they can hide or survey the goings-on.

Litter boxes are a frequent flashpoint for conflict. The rule of thumb is to have one box for every cat, plus one extra.

If one cat stops using the litter box, the first step is a visit to the vet to rule out a medical issue, such as a urinary tract infection. Next, reconsider the litter-box substrate: Cats generally like a sandy texture, unscented please. Rainbolt recommends World's Best Cat Litter (worldsbestcatlit ter.com), which is corn-based, as well as Cat Attract (pre ciouscat.com), which contains a natural herbal attractant. Covered boxes are often problematic, as cats prefer vistas to tight quarters.

Also consider the access issue. "Sometimes you have a dominant cat who wants to protect his resources - and litter boxes are resources," Rainbolt says. "So he'll stand there and say, `None shall pass'" - prompting the more submissive kitties to head to the nearest corner.

Zero tolerance toward bullies is also crucial. "If you have a cat that tends to get picked on, it's time to separate him in a different room," Rainbolt advises. "If they start fighting and you let them work it out, they won't. It will just cement this pattern and create a victim and a victor."

To slowly bridge the gap, feed each cat on either side of a closed door, so they can smell each other and begin to associate the scent with positive things. Another possibility is using a product such as Comfort Zone Feliway, which simulates the pheromone cats release when they are rubbing faces in friendly greeting.

But the best way to deal with strife in a multiple-cat household is to prevent it to begin with. Sequester the new arrival in another room for no less than a week - in this case, more is more - and implement the door-side feeding ritual. When the resident cats seem amenable - no hissing at the door - put the new cat in a carrier and reward the former with delicious treats (a pea-size piece of deli turkey, say) for being in the new cat's presence and not staring or stalking. Soon, Rainbolt says, the reigning thought becomes, "When I'm with that new guy, good things happen."

Denise Flaim writes for Newsday.

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