Watching my cat Phoenix curled up next to me on the couch, her paw tucked delicately under her chin and a gentle, irregular purr rolling from her throat, it’s hard to believe the same animal was screaming, flailing on the rug, and trying to murder Salvador the kitten only a few hours ago.
Phoenix looks like a gentle creature; she’s round, fluffy, and white, like the feline version of Santa Claus. But if you mess with her, you’ll quickly discover the hidden dynamo within. No one can arouse Phoenix’s wailing inner demons quite like Salvador.
But it’s not like Salvador is innocent in all of this. Being a kitten, he never stops moving. In fact, it seems impossible the way he bounces from place to place, like he must be capable of apparition. One moment he’s on top of the bookshelf; then he’s knocking a picture frame off the windowsill; then he’s on the couch, nibbling at my toes.
And then, of course, he’s wrapping his adorable striped legs around Phoenix’s neck, biting her ears while she howls. This seems to happen most frequently while I’m trying to watch Law & Order or take a nap. It makes me feel unhinged, like I’m living in a horror movie sound-effects studio.
Since my boyfriend and I rescued Salvador from the streets last summer and introduced him to the established two-cat hierarchy of Phoenix, age 7, and Bubba Lee Kinsey, age 15, my house has felt as much like a battleground as a refuge. Because my cats differ in age by more than a decade, it’s been a challenge to accommodate their various needs in terms of playtime, dietary requirements, and duration and intensity of midday naps.
But out of necessity I’ve slowly figured out how to integrate cats from multiple generations into the same tiny household — and for the moment, all is quiet. Here are five things that have helped.
When one cat is constantly harassing another, the kitty who is being picked on can begin to feel victimized and overwhelmed if she doesn’t have an escape. By introducing vertical territory in our home in the form of a cat tree, we’ve given Phoenix a place to perch when she’s feeling threatened. Not only does it offer her reprieve, the vantage point makes her feel more powerful and in control of her environment.
In my home, multiple litter boxes have been absolutely essential to ensuring a peaceful environment. When Salvador moved in, he didn’t feel comfortable using the litter boxes so oft-frequented by his older siblings, so he pooped in my shoes. This quickly alerted me to the fact that with three cats, we needed more than two litter boxes. I have since added two more — it’s frequently recommended to have one more litter box than you do cats. I also placed one box in another room where Salvador has a clear escape route if he feels threatened. Everyone deserves to feel safe while pooping.
Walking through my living room feels kind of like conquering an obstacle course. Once you’ve successfully dodged the maze of toy mice, you have to jump over the feather toy like a hurdle before plopping down on the couch — the finish line — only to discover a strange, pink, furry toy has been abandoned on top of the blanket you just washed. It sounds chaotic, but trust me — having multiple toys on hand to distract Salvador in his more rambunctious moments is worth it.
When one cat is being a jerk or puking on the floor or licking my yogurt while I’m not looking, it can be easy to respond with annoyance and favoritism. Now, maybe I’m overestimating my cats’ sensitivity and ability to read my emotions, but I’m quite certain it hurts their feelings when I push one away in favor of snuggling with another. I try to give them all equal attention, ensuring each is offered enough treats and chin scritchies to stay happy.
Even though my kitties fight daily, they’re gradually growing more tolerant of each other. When Salvador arrived, he and Phoenix couldn’t stand to be in the same room together, but now I occasionally catch them snuggling on the couch. Despite their dramatic age difference, even Salvador and Bubba seem to have bonded over their shared love of granola bars and the rug in the bathroom. Every time I catch my kitties sharing a cuddly moment, it gives me hope for a more peaceful future. In the meantime, I’ll keep the feather toy handy.
How have you made peace in a home with several cats?
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About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her three cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey, Phoenix, and Salvador.