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Let cats think in terms of rewards

By Denise Flaim

McClatchy Newspapers

The more the merrier? Some cats are inclined to disagree.

More territorial than your average crack dealer, felines can cause just about as much disruption to your precincts when they are not getting along, from litter-box lapses to the proverbial cat fight.

"Whether you have two cats or 20, the secret is to have plenty of territory," says Dusty Rainbolt, author of "Cat Wrangling Made Easy: Maintaining Peace and Sanity in Your Multicat Home" (Lyons Press, $14.95).

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Vertical creatures that they are, cats have a less expansive interpretation of the term. "Cats can have little sub-territories within a room," Rainbolt explains. "One cat’s territory may be a cat tree. Another’s, the window perch. And still another’s might be a cushion on the couch."

The trick is to provide as many cubbyholes and perches as possible, so less dominant cats have places in which they can hide or survey the goings-on.

Litter boxes are a frequent flashpoint for conflict in multi-cat households. The rule of thumb is to have one box for every cat, plus one extra. Having a litter box on every floor of the house is also a must.

If one cat stops using the litter box, the first step is a visit to the vet to rule out a medical issue, such as a urinary tract infection. Next, reconsider the litter-box substrate: Cats generally like a sandy texture, unscented, please. Rainbolt recommends World’s Best Cat Litter (worldsbestcatlitter.com), which is corn-based, as well as Cat Attract (preciouscat.com), which contains a natural herbal attractant. Covered boxes are often problematic, as cats prefer vistas to tight quarters. (Rainbolt raves about the new, ginormous Petmate Giant Litter Pan, though she admits it will not win any beauty contests.)

Also consider the access issue. "Sometimes you have a dominant cat who wants to protect his resources — and litter boxes are resources," Rainbolt says. "So he’ll stand there and say, ‘None shall pass"’ — prompting the more submissive kitties to head to the nearest corner.

Zero tolerance toward bullies is also crucial. "If you have a cat that tends to get picked on, it’s time to separate him in a different room," Rainbolt advises. "If they start fighting and you let them work it out, they won’t. It will just cement this pattern and create a victim and a victor, and every time there’s an incident, things will get worse."

To slowly bridge the gap, feed each cat on either side of a closed door, so they can smell each other and begin to associate the scent with positive things. Another possibility is using a product like Comfort Zone Feliway, which simulates the pheromone cats release when they are rubbing faces in friendly greeting. As inconvenient as it may be, temporarily situating a screen door between the rooms allows the cats to see each other without inviting Armageddon.

But the best way to deal with strife in a multiple-cat household is to prevent it to begin with. Sequester the new arrival in another room for no less than a week — in this case, more is more — and implement the door-side feeding ritual. When the resident cats seem amenable — no hissing at the door — put the new cat in a carrier and reward the former with delicious treats (pea-size piece of deli turkey, say) for being in the new cat’s presence and not staring or stalking. Soon, Rainbolt says, the reigning thought becomes, "When I’m with that new guy, good things happen."

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Finally, a tired cat is a happy cat.

"Cats are little predators, and they need to be able to hunt and get exercise," Rainbolt says. "Just like a little kid with nothing to do, an unexercised cat will be harassing his companions and you."

Ten minutes of exercise twice a day will expend his energy, boost his serotonin levels — and hopefully make for a more peaceable kingdom.

Masai collars

These braided leather collars are made in Kenya by female Masai artisans who maintain their traditional rural lifestyle. Each one-of-a-kind collar takes about a day to make, with beads hand-sewn in leather and buckles hand-cast in brass. Collars can be ordered in various colors (primary, earth tone) and patterns (zebra, cheetah), and are made in half-, three-quarter and 1-inch widths. Also available: lurcher, slip and Martingale collars, and 4-foot-long leads (not recommended for dogs over 50 pounds, or persistent tuggers). Prices range from $37 for an 8-inch collar to $80 for a fully beaded lead.

Visit thekenyancollection.com or call (703) 319-7935.

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