Reasons you should buy a second cat

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel like I need to share the fact that I'm a huge fan of doing things in pairs. First, a black cat and black dog. Then two dogs, brother and sister. Next? Two cats. They weren't intentional, and we really had to decide if we wanted to bring a second cat into the house. More importantly, though, we needed to decide if she wanted us to bring a second cat home. It's not always a matter of, well, kittens and rainbows, and some cats are perfectly fine on their own — but some aren't.

How do you know if your cat needs a friend? How can you be sure there's going to be more adorable cuddles than claws and flying fur? Let's talk science and cat psychology, and look at some adorable cat duos to find out!

Perfect matches

The first time we saw Cat #1, her name was Veronica and she was in a little metal cage at PetSmart. She looked like she was a kitten, and she'd been passed by for a few months at that point. We learned later that she'd been rescued from a hoarder home, and was in such bad shape that she'd been completely shaved to get rid of the parasites that were infesting her. She'd also had her last litter of newborn kittens taken away from her to be hand-raised, and we couldn't imagine how heartbreaking that had been for her. We brought her home and continued our tradition of sci-fi inspired naming trends. Veronica became Myka (from Warehouse 13), but we kept calling her by the nickname we gave her while we settled on a real name. MomCat.

She settled in, she liked the dogs well enough, but she still seemed… melancholy. Like something was missing. So, when a friend of a friend found a litter of 4-week old kittens abandoned on her property, MomCat got her BabyCat. It's undeniable that Cat #2 filled in the family, and he filled in the space that was missing for her, too. He needed a momma, and she needed a baby, and it worked. That was years ago, and that means we've had plenty of time to come to the conclusion that sometimes, cats need friends, too.

Cats get lonely, too

Myka settled in immediately, and it was clear from the first day she was loving sleeping in a comfortable bed for what was probably the first time in her life. From hoarder home to shelter, she hadn't had an easy life. We knew that needed to change for her, and it did. But after a few failed attempts at curling up to sleep next to the dogs — who are still way, way too hyper to not be pushed into play mode — we started to think maybe she needed a companion. When I talked to Conrad Rossouw of Pet Gear Lab, he confirmed that he'd had some of the same experiences.

"I definitely think that cats (and dogs, for that matter) experience loneliness and other emotions, like empathy, more so than what we might think," he says. "I don't know about you, but I can tell when my pets are feeling under the weather or just down. A cat looking like they're sad, or meowing for no reason, might mean that they're lonely."

While he also stresses that a vet can rule out any health-related cause for distress, he says some cats are just more social than others. While one that emerges during feeding time and spends the rest of the day alone might be perfectly happy on her own, a cat that roams might be looking for a friend, and a cat that shines when company's over might need some extra attention.

Friendly cats need friends

We got lucky, and got a first cat that was pre-programmed to not only tolerate another cat, but allow him to share my lap at night. We assumed part of that was because of her pretty tragic childhood: she was used to the chaos of having other animals around, she'd had her own kittens (and successfully raised at least a couple litters by the time she was rescued), and she's pretty friendly.

The Veterinary Centers of America say that's one of the key factors in determining just how much your cat really, really wants a sidekick. How friendly is she? Not just whether or not she sits on your lap, but how she does with other cats, too. Does she hiss at the cat outside the window? Or does she not care at all?

Partners in crime

When we made an international move, it was two years after we brought the littlest cat home. When things were packed into boxes and what had to be a nightmarish plane ride happened, it was more than a little stressful. They couldn't fly in the same carrier, but they made the last leg of the trip cuddled together in one crate. They accepted their new home as soon as they realized all the familiar faces were there, but when boxes started showing up again? Oh, heck no. They knew what boxes meant.

Commence, the protest pooping! It wasn't fun for anyone else in the house, but when you bring a second cat into the home and they really hit it off, they're going to have a partner in crime for life. Twice the poop, and twice the brainpower when it came to finding the best places to hide said poops. Myka's not much for the whole jumping thing, but the little one? He's a ninja, and once he was armed and ready to go, she could dispatch him anywhere she wanted (that was on top of the bookcases, if you're curious).

We all know cats love to make their desires perfectly clear, and what better way to make your voice heard than with a second cat, locked and loaded and ready to protest poop right along with you! Fortunately, that stopped as soon as we unpacked, and the scary boxes disappeared. They probably think it worked — and they're right.

Backup when hatching cunning plans

It's popular belief that cats aren't social creatures, but they can be — especially when it means being twice as diabolical. Our two are experts at this.

One of the most effective of their cunning plans is to send one — usually the little one — to distract. That's either being cute and adorable, or pestering the dogs and causing not chaos. While we're distracted, that leaves the other one free to open the cupboard where they know the treats are kept, and make off with the bag. Usually, that's a bag of dog treats, because go big or go home, amirite? We're not sure what the signal to rendezvous is, but they're pretty good at getting the bag open and grabbing at least a mouthful (or an entire sausage) before they get busted for being the sneaky little thieves they are. Without a second cat, who would cover the cat burglar?

For a long time, everyone thought that lions hunting in packs were the exception to the cat rule rather than the rule itself, but more studies have found that's not entirely true. Even feral cat colonies — which were thought to exist solely because that's where the food and shelter was — have been found to have a matriarchal social structure. Female ferals will even help raise each other's kittens, nurse them, and be there for births. When it comes to the social structure in multi-cat households, it's even more complex. They stake out their own territories and their own boundaries, and most importantly for those thinking of adding another cat is the finding that cats will often pair off and spend most of their time playing or cuddling with their best friend. Cats have besties, too, and if that's not an awesome reason to get two, I don't know what is!

Two heads are better than one

We're not sure how old Myka was when we got her. The best guess the rescue could make was that she was only a couple of years old. If she was older, lazier, or even more dominant, we might have thought twice about bringing in a little whirlwind of fuzzy kitten fur. When in doubt? Ask the SPCA, and they agree that while you shouldn't rule out getting a second cat, taking some things into consideration might help prevent a huge number of problems that no one wants.

Gina Browning is the Director of Public Relations at the SPCA Serving Erie County near Buffalo, New York. She — and her staff — have seen countless cats come through their doors, and have a ton of practical experience with all sorts of personalities.

"There is a reason the phrase 'opposites attract' is a cliche," she told me. "In my 26 years at the SPCA, speaking with people before, during, and after adoption, one thing I know… if there are two animals in a household with a burning desire to be dominant at any cost, the adopter has quite a bit of work ahead! Things run a little more smoothly if at least one just can't be bothered with who's boss, and is more concerned with dinnertime."

And it's absolutely true. Myka loves a warm bed and a spot of sun. BC is convinced he's Batman.

You just might learn something about relationships

It hasn't been all catnip and sunshine with these two, far from it. Since BC was raised as much by our dogs as by Myka, he's ended up being something of an odd duck that's just as happy to spend an hour playing fetch with pens, clothespins or hair ties as he is doing more normal cat things. Since that means he can drift between the two worlds, well, sometimes he forgets that Myka's not as big a fan of being ambushed from under the table as his best dog-friend is. Then, it's a lesson in tolerance, forgiveness, boundaries, and personal space.

Dogs might be on the top of the list for emotional support animals, but according to Linda Chassman of Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of Colorado, cats are actually the perfect role models for human relationships. Dogs will love us rather unconditionally, and that's why we love them back. But cats have no time for your shenanigans.

Chassman says when she was working with children, it was her cat that started teaching them all about what's acceptable behavior. A cat won't put up with yelling or tail-pulling, and they'll let you know just where their boundaries are. Cats are the ones that assert themselves when there's something going on that they're not comfortable with, and she says that watching your cat's behavior can be a powerful indicator when it comes to your own life and relationships, especially if you're never sure when you should assert yourself. Watch your cats, and they'll show you exactly how it's done.

Watching BC and Myka made me realize how absolutely true that all is, and that includes the most important part of human relationships: forgiveness. He can be the most obnoxious cat on the planet, but at the end of the day, they still curl up on my lap together, no matter how much fur has flown that afternoon. If you want a constant reminder of just how important forgiveness is? Get a second cat.

So, should you get a second cat?

If you're considering it at all, and you think it's going to work, I say, "Absolutely!" Granted, I'm a little impartial. I'm not sure what's been better, seeing Myka settle down and be content that she could raise this little kitten (who we constantly remind of the fact that he was destined to be coyote food, so he'd better behave), or seeing that helpless little kitten grow up into a handsome young guy that throws a temper tantrum if no one picks him up when he demands it.

There's a ton of advice out there on how to introduce a second cat so you're minimizing conflict and making sure they're not just going to peacefully co-exist, but that they might become best buddies. Most shelters will be able to give you some great advice on how to introduce a new cat, it's a situation they deal with all the time, after all. The RSPCA gives guidelines like letting the second cat settle into his or her surroundings first, before throwing them into a room together. The Animal Humane Society agrees, giving tips on how to make what's essentially a major life change for both cats a little less chaotic. they say to do things like swapping the cats' bedding before they meet, and allowing the newcomer to explore the house separately, so they can both get used to the idea that they're not alone.

Conrad Rossouw over at Pet Gear Lab gave me what might be the most awesome advice, and it's more of a practical consideration than a bit of how-to. He says to make sure your first cat and your new addition have a reason to like each other. Make hanging out together fun and comfortable, whether it's shared treat-time or play-time. After all, how many times have you bonded with a new friend over a drink or the buffet table at a party?

Your chance to change the world

Are you still thinking about it? Don't just consider it from your side. Consider Cat #2, who's out there waiting right now.

According to the ASPCA, 3.4 million cats are put into the shelter system every year, and 1.4 million cats are euthanized. More die in shelters than are adopted from them, and those are some seriously heartbreaking statistics. When we picked up BC, he rode home curled up in one of my shirts, so little his head support was even a little questionable. Now, he's the family clown, alternating between cuddle bug and superhero. If he had ended up at a shelter, who knows what would have happened to him. He made me think of a meme I'd seen, that said something along the lines of, "Rescuing one cat won't change the world, but it'll change the world for that cat." So why not change the world for two cats? They might just return the favor.