Dear Beast Mode,
We have three cats, and they coexist well. We live in a large, three-story old farmhouse with plenty of room. When our daughter and her wife visit, they bring their two cats. One is sweet and good-natured, but the other is an 18-month-old terror (when here; he’s fine at home!). Our cats know and get along with the older cat, but the younger has gotten into claws-out fights with our three and chases them all over the house. He’s especially hard on our elderly cat.
We separate the two parties at night and put the visitors in the basement. I don’t mind having them here. Really! But my daughters will be abroad for the holidays, and I plan to babysit, so I desperately need advice on how to help us all cope!
—Playing Host to a Hellion
Dear Playing Host to a Hellion,
Like long lines at the post office or Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime,” obnoxious houseguests are an annoying but unavoidable part of the holiday season. Fortunately, your problem visitor is a cat and not, say, a flatulent and opinionated uncle. The cat will not be offended if he’s separated from the rest of the family, and he certainly won’t post about it on Facebook.
“Cats are territorial,” says Mikel Delgado, a UC–Davis School of Veterinary Medicine postdoctoral researcher and certified animal behaviorist. “The real issue is having unrealistic expectations of how cat introductions can go.” While the other cats in your extended family may get along swimmingly, this young rascal has no desire to share in the holiday spirit. He’s not evil; he’s under stress in a strange environment and acting out. (OK, he might be evil, but if that’s his thing, so be it. We all have hobbies.)
Integrating cats of varying ages and personalities can be a long process, and you shouldn’t put them through it unless you’re preparing for a permanent (or near-permanent) living situation. “I don’t think it’s worth it, given what they’re describing,” Delgado says. “If they were going to get along, they would have just gotten along. Nobody seems happy.”
Ideally, your daughter could hire a cat sitter to stay at her house while she’s gone. If this solution is prohibitively expensive, the best alternative is to simply keep the cats separated. “I think she solved her own problem,” Delgado says of your decision to put the visitors in the basement. This should be their ’round-the-clock habitat when they stay over. Set it up with everything they need (litter boxes, food and water, toys, obstacles to climb, etc.) and visit the kitty sublet for scheduled playtimes to keep them active and engaged. This situation is perfectly fine for a week or so. It’s certainly better than forcing your cats to deal with their belligerent cousin.
It would be great to enjoy the festive season in loving harmony, but you can’t force holiday spirit. At least your daughter’s cat is upfront about being a Grinch. Finding a present for him will be easy. All he wants is some territory to call his own.