If you put the cats together to “work it out” or take away their opportunities to choose the pace and distance, you raise stress levels and it keeps them in high-threat mode. They should decide how much space they need between each other. Your job is to make sure to start out well within their comfort zones and proceed in baby steps so each cat feels comfortable. If you force them to share an uncomfortably close space, you’ll have basically just hit the feline panic button.
When doing a new cat introduction, give them a reason to like each other by creating positive associations. All the while, give them the choice of how quickly to proceed and how close they want to get to each other. Each cat needs the option to retreat to a safe zone.
Your Cat’s Social Interaction with People
It’s totally understandable to want your cat to enjoy being around guests in the home. Be careful though that in your effort to show him he has nothing to fear, you don’t increase anxiety.
I’ve seen cat guardians pull their cats out from under the bed in order to place them in the arms of a cat-loving visitor. From the cat’s point of view, he has just been abruptly dumped into a highly dangerous position. He is being held by someone who doesn’t smell at all familiar and he hasn’t had time to determine whether this stranger is harmless or threatening. When social interaction such as this is forced, it raises the cat’s reactivity level which may lead to unwanted aggression. It certainly will make him more reluctant to come out of hiding the next time the doorbell rings. If you take away the cat’s choice of how to handle his own personal space it may result in him needing even more in the future.
Give your cat the choice of whether he wants to be a social butterfly, a bystander or not present at all. If your cat reluctantly enters the room, don’t scoop him up and force the issue. Instead, instruct your guest to completely ignore him. This gives the cat the option to tip-toe closer and do a scent investigation or to stay on the perimeter of the room. When your cat feels he has control over his space, it becomes a stepping stone that sets the tone for future visits.
Your Cat’s Litter Box
It may not seem as though concern for safety is something an indoor cat would have to worry about when in the litter box, but how and where a box is set up can create a sense of security or a concern for safety. How do you provide personal space in terms of a litter box? Start by having enough litter boxes so cats have a choice to use the one in a location where they feel safest. In a multicat household, a lower ranking cat may not feel safe enough if he has to cross an opponent cat’s preferred area in order to get to the box. Offer choice by having more boxes than cats. Typically, the boxes should outnumber cats by one. Spread the boxes throughout the house to ensure each cat’s safe zones are covered to address personal space security.
Your Cat’s Vertical Territory
Cats live in a world of vertical territory. For some cats, the vertical location is desirable because it enables them to have a good view of things happening outdoors. For others, it provides a visual advantage to see if something or someone threatening enters the area. Having access to the highest perch can be a show of status and may reduce actual aggressive encounters in a multicat household. For a fearful cat, having an elevated, out of reach area can provide safety from small children or dogs.