Mischief was my first cat, who introduced me to the world of cat parenting. After he crossed the rainbow bridge, the void was filled by Catbury, my current cat. Every person who has a cat at home would know that cats have a way of finding their humans; they adopt you rather than the other way around.
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Over the last few years, I have seen many young people gravitating towards being cat parents. What's also contributed to the popularity is the realisation that as compared to a dog, a cat requires far lesser space, maintenance, and most cats are more than equipped to keep themselves entertained.
There’s a quote that is making its rounds on the internet, which says, “Cats are like potato chips, you cannot have just one”. From my experience as a vet, I have found this to be true, as cat parents tend to wish for more cats in their homes after having brought in their first feline. Some believe it will provide a companion to their cat, while for others just enjoy the company of these quirky creatures.
However, this is far from healthy for the cat. Cats are not particularly pleased about having to share. If cats were people, I’m sure they would identify as introverts. Unlike dogs, cats are not pack animals. They enjoy a solitary life. They guard their resources and like being on their own. Yes, they do require the occasional companionship but having another feline flatmate does not go down well with them.
Let’s take Xerxes and Gucci for example. Their well meaning cat parent adopted Xerxes first, and then brought in Gucci as a mate, a year later. Gucci and Xerxes produced many beautiful litters but that was all there was to their relationship. There came a day when Xerxes got a urinary tract infection and was unable to urinate. This condition, called feline lower urinary tract disease, is common in male cats in multi-cat households, and it happens due to stress.
While cats may not overtly show signs of stress, they can be passive aggressive towards each other when it comes to sharing their supplies. In Gucci and Xerxes’ case, Gucci would calmly sit close to the litter tray and prevent Xerxes from using it. Any cat parent would know how sacred toilet privacy is to a cat. Xerxes often would not get a chance to urinate when he wanted to, eventually causing the infection. This ailment can get very serious, very quickly, and can turn fatal. Xerxes, finally, had to go through a life saving surgery to be able to function normally. And all this because Gucci did not fancy sharing her toilet.
While every cat in a multi-cat household may not suffer a fate as dramatic as Xerxes’, some show other subtle signs of stress. Akira, a five-year-old domestic short haired cat, got so stressed about sharing space with a new cat that she resorted to compulsively biting her own fur, and creating bald patches, known as psychogenic alopecia. Ice, on the other hand, started getting a recurrent ear infection associated with stress because his human mom introduced three new cats in his home. Other signs of stress among cats include straining to pee, peeing or pooping outside the litter tray, over grooming or even sleeping too much. Cat parents must look out for such signs in their homes because all of them require veterinary attention.
Most parents in a multi-cat household tend to believe that their cats are not stressed as they play together, and they will. However, when it comes to resources such as food, water, litter trays and places to hide, they can get mean towards each other. Cats do not like a party. I, therefore, have only one cat and advocate the same. Even though she’s alone, Catbury makes her rounds in the whole house every day to mark various objects as her own.
If you are considering a companion for your existing cat, they may still be accommodating of a cat of their own age. The limit, however, must be drawn at two cats, especially if they are to share an apartment space. A single cat is said to require a minimum of 18 sq ft to itself.
If you are someone who could not resist bringing home more than one cat, and now have a lot of cats at home, there are hacks to avert these stress-related illnesses. Ensure you have at least one litter tray more than the number of cats you have. These should be located in different places so that each cat has its own privacy.
Provide for enough and more hiding spots so they can retire there when they feel overwhelmed by the presence of the other cats. Create vertical spaces for all the cats such as shelves to cater to their natural instinct to climb. Place enough food and water trays so that they do not feel the need to fight for their food. Pheromone dispensers which release ‘happy hormones’ for cats are also available in pet stores, which keep stress levels low. Monitor the relationship between different cats and if you notice that one is getting bullied, you may have to isolate that cat.
Cats are strange little creatures. Veterinarians, sometimes, refer to them as potential aliens for the weirdest of illnesses that they come to us with. Cats can fall sick from sheer extra cat company. As far as they are concerned, it is not more the merrier.
Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai, who loves to play the piano in her free time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.
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