Adopting Two Cats

A friend asked:

my mom is going to get 2 cats. She wants ones older than kittens. Any advice?

I thought this would make a good post. The short answer is to go to your local shelters and let them help you find the right pair. They will know the cat’s personalities and should be able to help you find the right pair. Here’s some of what the shelter people will be thinking.

In general, cats are social and it is kind to them to have feline companionship in the house. This is especially true for young cats who wan to play. But it is also true that cats are territorial and have a social hierarchy and that not all cats will get along so it is important to choose the right pair. If you choose a pair where there is a clearly dominate and clearly submissive cat this will help create peace. Two cats of similar social standing may end up constantly fighting for dominance. As a rule altered females are more dominate than altered males so:

  • A female and male is the best option
  • Two males is good
  • Two females could be trouble

(Unaltered cats are a different matter and not recommended for several reasons.)

Of course it really comes down to the individual cat’s personalities and there are plenty of exceptions to these guidelines

Often at PAWS we have bonded pairs and we really try to adopt them together. A strongly bonded pair would be truly unhappy if they were split up. Other pairs are just two cats that get along but would also do OK apart. Many of these pairs grew up together but there are examples of two adults who became fast friends on introduction. Pairs can be a little harder to adopt. Many potential adopters want one cat, either as a solo or as a companion for an existing cat. If you know you want two adult cats looking for a bonded pair is a good choice and a kindness to the pair.

If you can’t find a bonded pair you feel drawn to you can choose two cat-friendly cats you do like. There are plenty of stories of two cats becoming good house mates and even play buddies in their new home.

If you are going to adopt a kitten it is good to pair it with an older cat. The older cat will teach the kitten how to be a cat. It is just good for them to have mentors. All kittens want to be friends with other cats. As they go through the latter part of their first year they start to notice and then become engaged with social status. There is always the risk that a growing kitten will eventually challenge the older cat’s dominate position. Again, it is probably best that the older cat either be clearly dominate or the kitten be able to clearly take over that role.

One of the biggest uncertainties adopters face is finding a cat that will get along and even become friends with their current cat, dog, or both. The shelter often knows which cats are more likely to get along with a resident cat or dog. There may be history from the person to surrendered the cat, from foster parents, or from observation in the shelter. Still, there is no way to know until you bring the new cat home and introduce it to the resident, a process that can take weeks or months. That said, I believe there is a good chance to make a good addition if you let the shelter staff guide you in selecting the new cat and carefully introduce the cats.

On the topic of introductions there is a lot to say and it is worth it’s own posting. There is plenty of good information about it on the web, here’s one sample from PAWS.

One option for finding a good companion for a resident cat is to foster for a local shelter. You will have the opportunity to introduce cats to your resident with out the commitment of having adopted them. I only recommend this if you have some honest wish to help the shelter and it’s cats. There are some difficulties with this route. Many of the cats are sent to foster because they are ill, stressed by the shelter, or need work with some behavioral problems – they are not the most adoptable cats. If you are willing to work with these cats you will help them, the shelter, and may soon find yourself with a great new companion.

There are some cats who just don’t like other cats. These are somewhat harder to find homes for. If you know that you intend to only have one cat it is a kindness to choose one that wants to be an only cat. Ellen Leach, a Seattle cat behaviorist, suggests that singleton cat may be a result of increasing indoor-only cat policies. This limits their contact with other cats and opportunities to learn cat to cat social skills. Now, every time I adopt out a solo kitten from PAWS I wonder if they will be creating a cat-intolerant cat. PAWS always has several and they are a little harder to adopt. On the other hand, cats that started as feral have good cat to cat social skills and tend to like other cats.

More than two cats increase the chance of cat to cat trouble. Cori Gross, the behaviorist we are working with, said that most of her calls are to households of 3 or more cats. It can work out, it is just that with three you have created a cat society where conflict is more likely.

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