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Sharing Space: The Social Lives of Cats

Many people mistakenly believe that cats are loners who don't need or want any kind of social interaction with other felines. One look at a feral cat colony or a cat room in an animal shelter will reveal the truth, which is that cats can and do band together like tribes. Mother cats will nurse others' kittens, kittens from different litters play and frolic together, and sometimes you'll even see pairs of cats snuggling together or grooming one another.

That having been said, though, cats do like to spend time alone as well. The subtleties of space sharing among cats are often lost on people because they simply don't understand what they're looking at.

  • The most important thing to understand about feline space-sharing is that you can increase the amount of territory available to each cat by simply adding levels. Space is vertical as well as horizontal, so adding extra levels will help every resident of a multi-cat household feel that they have space of their own.

  • Cats also need high places where they can escape to feel safe from grabby hands or other intrusions. To add levels, buy or build a cat tree – or more than one cat tree, even. You can also add window perches or even empty a cubby or two in your bookshelf. An extra armchair makes a perfect territory addition because it provides four spaces on multiple levels for cats to occupy: the seat, two arms, and the back.

  • Cats' social lives and territorial relations are heavily dependent on time sharing. Cats work out agreements between themselves about who will get to occupy the pillows on your bed or the sun puddle in the living room and when. For example, the top cat may lay claim to a fleece blanket on the right-hand side of the sofa, but both the top cat and the lower-ranking cats understand that they can use that space whenever the top cat isn't there. Favorite spots can change, though: if a lower-ranking cat has been sleeping on the bed while you get dressed in the morning, but the top cat decides one day that she wants to have your attention while you're dressing, the other cat will have to go somewhere else.

  • If you have more than one cat and you have a chance to stay home all day, watch space and time sharing in action. Observe where the cats sleep and relax, and when, and by watching how they interact with one another, you'll also figure out who is the top cat in your household. It's not necessarily the biggest or the oldest cat!

Advice from Other Cat Owners 

How to Stop Kittens from Playing too Rough

Get your kittens used to having their claws trimmed now. Ask a vet, a vet tech or a groomer to show you how to trim their claws. If you start now, they will be used to it by the time they are adult cats and won't fight you. Also, understand that you are now the "mama cat."

When the kittens start going at it and you see it's getting rough, separate them even if you have to put one in another room until it calms down. When they realize they will be separated from the fun, they'll think twice before being so rough.

You can also wear them out by playing with them yourself. This is important in socializing them. Get a feather teaser pole or a laser light and play with them. You can also try furry catnip mice, and other toys to keep them occupied. They'll get tired out and won't be so rough on each other.

~Joy W., owner of Maine Coon mix

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