How do cats use space? Part 2: Multiple and Separate Key Resources

By Dr. Mikel Maria Delgado

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In my latest blog post, I covered a study that looked at how 14 cats in a home environment used their space. As you may have noticed, the space was a little “tight” for 14 cats, and some resources were lacking in numbers (notably, 4 litter boxes are not considered enough for 14 cats, so let’s assume we we’ve come a long way). in our understanding of how to care for cats since 1981).

There is no doubt that the behavior of the cats participating in the study was influenced by the size of the house and the resources available. The more cats there are, the greater the risk of conflict or stress, as illustrated by the cat Lily, who spent much of her time on the refrigerator.

Continuing the thread of the space, I wanted to touch on a few key principles we can follow to ensure our cats are set up for success (read: reducing stress and behavioral issues). Several years ago, a consortium of cat experts developed the Five pillars of a healthy feline environment. These are guidelines that ensure that we provide our cats with an optimal environment that enhances their well-being and recognizes natural feline behaviors.

One of these pillars is: Provide multiple and separate key environmental resources. Key resources would include necessities like food and water, litter boxes, scratching posts and areas to rest or play. It should be noted that this pillar is important whether you have a single cat or… fourteen.

Let’s break it down: MULTIPLE means more than one of each. Ideally, for each of these key resources, you have at least as many as you have cats, plus one extra (we call this the N+1 rule). Yes, that means a cat needs two litter boxes and two food bowls, and the fourteen kittens in the aforementioned research should have had at least 15 litter boxes!!

SEPARATED means that each of these resources must be in a separate zone. These litter boxes should not all be lined up side by side, but should be in different areas or rooms, ideally several feet apart. Litter boxes should be away from food dishes and scratching posts etc.

Cats in the corner

I have visited many clients’ homes where they have a “cat room” or “cat corner”. Often they were very proud that their cat had a dedicated area with their food, water, litter box and a scratching post – everything they needed in one convenient place!! Then I would have to burst their bubble and tell them it was time to give the cat a little more space.

Have you ever moved into an apartment or house when someone has already been living there for years? They probably had pictures on the wall, books on the shelves in the living room, the pantry was full of pots, pans, spices and cooking utensils. Even if the room you were going to move into was empty, the rest of the house was already “lived in”. Books and jars could be put aside, but it’s really hard to feel like you live somewhere when it feels like someone has to make room for you, and the only space that’s there for you. belongs is the room you are renting. I imagine that’s kind of how our cats feel when we designate a corner as their “place”.

Why Cats Need Space

So why do we have to scatter their stuff? A few reasons that come to mind:

  1. To simulate natural behaviors: Free-roaming cats have a large home range, with multiple, separate areas they use for hunting, resting, and eliminating. They don’t naturally do all of these things together.
  2. To reduce conflict: In multi-cat households, resource separation means cats don’t have to wait to eat, they can choose to avoid cats they don’t get along with, and they can always access everything they need. survive.
  3. To prevent cats from being forced to do things that are not pleasant. We use the saying “don’t shit where you eat” in a different context, but cats take that phrase literally.

A self-assessment exercise!

You can assess your own space by drawing a map. This is an exercise that I have most of my clients do for several reasons. This helps me assess the home environment and we can determine where some of these key resources could be increased or moved to optimize the use of space (hopefully in a way that humans can live).

Start by drawing the outline of your house. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but all rooms, with all major furniture, should be drawn and labeled. Here is my own house as an example.

Now add your litter boxes and your food and water dishes. Do you follow the N+1 rule? Are your litter boxes located in different places? Do you have separate feeding areas so your cats can eat on their own if they wish? (The yellow boxes in the graphic below are litter boxes, the X’s are feeding areas, and the blue waves represent water fountains).

Now you can add cat beds, cat trees (all with sisal posts for extra scratching), and cat posts. In this diagram, the bold circles are cat trees (I have four) and the bold squares are scratching posts, while the purple “B” squares are cat beds (there are 8). Hatched rectangles are notepads.

Now try this exercise and let me know what you find – feel free to leave me a note in the comments! How did you do? Have you discovered any areas where you need to separate some cat stuff? Windows that could use a cat tree? Running out of litter boxes? Are your cats eating too close to be comfortable?

And if you feel a little irritated about having to make more space for your cats – as my dear friend Jackson Galaxy said in our book Total chat mojo: “You have just realized that cats are not the only territorial animal in your household.”

In my next blog post, I’ll explain how we can further evaluate this map to see what it tells us about multiple cat relationships!

The references

Ellis, SL, Rodan, I., Carney, HC, Heath, S., Rochlitz, I., Shearburn, LD,… and Westropp, JL (2013). Guidelines on the environmental needs of felines from the AAFP and the ISFM. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 15(3), 219-230.

Kitts-Morgan, SE, Cairos, KC, Bohannon, LA, Parsons, EI, and Hilburn, KA (2015). Free-ranging farm cats: home range size and predation on a breeding unit in northwest Georgia. Plos a, ten(4), e0120513.


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