Continuing our focus on multicat households, we discuss problems that can arise and what to do to prevent them.

"The main drawbacks of a multicat household are the inter-cat stress and territorial disputes that can occur. Cats are highly territorial and solitary animals by nature and, in some cases, keeping more than one in a small area, such as a flat, can result in high levels of anxiety," says veterinarian David Gething, of Creature Comforts (www.creaturecomforts.com.hk).

Sometimes the signs of this can be obvious: growling or hissing at each other, or fighting or hiding away. However, in many cases, the signs are far more subtle. "Inappropriate elimination, where a cat goes to the toilet around the house, is one of the most common signs of inter-cat stress. They will often go in a very obvious place, such as on a bed, a chair or a table, to try to give a very public signal of their displeasure."

Cats will also hoard resources and some felines in multicat households will overeat and become overweight or prevent other cats from eating.

"Lastly, many cats in a stressful multicat situation will over-groom, repeatedly licking their legs or abdomen, resulting in hair loss and sometimes skin abrasions," the vet says.

The best way to avoid these behavioural issues, Gething says, is to make the home as cat-friendly as possible. "The most important starting point is to prevent any competition for resources such as food, water and shelter. Each cat should have their own food and water bowls, and these should be placed in different areas of the house to prevent one cat from guarding all of them." Each cat should have a bedding area to rest, preferably in quieter, peaceful areas of the house.

Cats should also have play areas, such as a cat tree, scratching posts and toys. "Scratching has an added benefit in helping a cat vent aggression and allowing self-soothing," Gething says.

He suggests one litter tray per cat, and possibly one extra tray if there is inter-cat anxiety occurring.

"Although this sounds like a lot of work, it normally is fairly simple, and it's much better than cats fighting or going to the toilet around the house." One product that can help cats settle into a multicat household is Feliway, a pheromone diffuser that is plugged into a power socket and releases a calming pheromone or signalling chemical.

"It has no smell or effect on humans and is not a drug, but does greatly help prevent stress and inter-cat issues developing. I would recommend this for all multicat households."

The sex of the cats can also play a role. "In general, the most successful multicat households are either female cats, or a mixture of females and desexed males - the most issues arise when the cats are all males," Gething says.

The vet does believe that there is a point when someone is keeping too many cats. "Any number I say will upset somebody, but I generally think when the house smells strongly of cats and friends don't want to visit, you've probably got too many. Seriously, though, cats need their own space, and territories are important."

He adds that the chance of a problem increases significantly with each extra cat, so, he says, that for anything except for a large flat or multilevel apartment, two cats is probably ideal.

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