Cats are very different from dogs. They don’t live in packs under an alpha, instead carving out their own schedules based on resource-sharing and how many other cats are in their space.
Within the house, these schedules are referred to as time-sharing, as the cats naturally work out a program where each one has a chance to take advantage of areas where they can access the things they need, such as food, water, and the litter box.
In a multi-cat household, timesharing usually comes about when certain resources are limited, or if there are a lot of cats. For example, if food can only be found in the kitchen, one cat may lay claim to the space in the early morning, another may lay claim to the afternoon, and so on. In that time, whichever cat ‘owns’ that time oversees the space and may chase others out. The same goes for the other cats throughout the day.
While our cats are domesticated, their instincts still run strong. Memorizing where important resources are, and when they can access them, is important to them. Cats like stability and do not like confrontation. If there is too much confrontation, your cats might ‘unfriend’ each other.
This is different from how we unfriend a person online. In the cat world, this means there will be fights or avoidance. Neither of these outcomes are good. Fighting is bad for obvious reasons, but avoidance can take the shape of hiding, sometimes for days and days at a time. This is bad for your cat’s mental health – imagine living in total fear every hour of the day.
How to Fix a Bad Situation
Sometimes all it takes for cats to mend fences is the feeling of independence. As solitary beings, cats don’t like being forced to share space with other cats. They love their owners, but other cats will stress them out in ways we wouldn’t anticipate.
If your cats have unfriended each other, and are having trouble figuring out time-sharing, you need to take action. The best solution is to feed them in different areas. If you live with another partner, get them involved at mealtime for the cats. Have them prepare food for one cat, and while you prepare for the other, then go to either side of your home to feed each cat.
The same goes for bowls of water. As a species, cats like to explore and find it rewarding to discover new sources of water. If you have multiple cats, try placing water bowls around your home at a rate of 1.5 per cat, rounding up. 1 cat = 2 bowls of water, 2 cats = 3 bowls of water, 3 cats = 5 bowls of water, etc.
When it comes to litter, it can be hard to place it around your home if you are tight on space. It is okay for litter boxes to exist relatively close to each other but do your best to separate them. Litter boxes also are best kept with the 1.5 per cat rule but in this case, you can round down. 1 cat = 1 litter box, 2 cats = 3 litter boxes, etc.
While all cats are different, they do have a lot of common behaviours – wanting space and to feel independent is one of the most common ones. As a result, they’ve worked out a natural system to handle things like food, water, and the litter box. Sometimes though, we humans are unaware of how we can make life easier for them and reduce their stress. If you live in a multi-cat household, be mindful of how your cats are time-sharing at home and try your best to spread around important resources for them. This keeps stress down, and happiness up – resulting in more snuggles from your cats!