Cats are essentially independent and territorial animals, but quite often they can enjoy the companionship of another cat. It is advisable to start with two at the same time, as introducing a new cat into an established cat's home takes extra time and care. If you think you're ready to take on the pack, there are ways to prepare for a multiple-cat household.
But if you already have a cat, and would like to add another to the household, there may need to be a transition period. It is harder for an older cat to adapt to a new companion than it is for a younger kitten, but not impossible - and there are ways to ease the process for both the new cat and the established cat.
First, create a safe, separate space for the new cat, where there is water, a litter box and toys. Experts at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University explain that when introducing a new cat, the cats "need time to get familiar by smelling one another without coming face to face."
They recommend giving each cat a towel to lie on, and then swapping towels after a couple of days. Once the cats have had time to get acquainted with one another's smell, begin feeding them on opposite sides of the closed door that separates them. They will soon make a positive association between feeding time and the scent of the other cat.
Once the cats appear to have accepted each other's scent and are eating comfortably at the door, introduce visual contact for short periods of time, gradually building up to cohabitation.
Once two or more cats are established in the household, you'll want to keep harmony in the home - and in the litter box. According to the article "Kitty Litter Preferences" on the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University's Web site, "inappropriate bathroom habits are the number one reason cats are surrendered to animal shelters." If, after consulting with your veterinarian, you rule out medical causes for the behavior, you have to look at the problem as a behavioral issue.
Behavior specialist Linda Case suggests that stressors caused by living with multiple cats can lead to litter box problems. "Recent literature suggests that even though one cat may not be being kept away from the litter box, there may be anxiety that is manifested in inappropriate urination," Case explains. Her suggestion is to provide litter boxes for each cat - plus an extra one. After the boxes are in place, the next step is the golden rule: keep them clean.
Litter boxes are one example of the essential issue at the heart of any shared living space, whether it's pets or people: territory. Give your cats their own toys, their own beds, and their own food and water dishes. Make sure they have options for some "alone" time too, because sometimes, just like us, they just need a little space.