Cats have a reputation for being independent, and it’s true that most cats will be content having just a human family their entire lives. But you really want to get a kitten, or to adopt a shelter cat, or to provide your cat with companionship. So what’s the best way to go about that? It’s a process, for sure, and will take patience and careful management. The last thing you want is to create two furry nemeses living in a shared space. So take a look through these tips for introducing a new cat or kitten to your home. With a bit of time and a lot of consideration, you can set your cats on the way to becoming best friends (or at least indifferent acquaintances)!
First impressions last, right? Well, it’s the same with cats. Cats are notoriously territorial creatures, so if you just throw another cat into the space of the resident and hope for the best, you’re sure to see some fur fly. Once cats have taken a dislike to each other, or developed a fear, it’s very difficult to undo that. It’s much easier to manage the introductions in the first place. By taking it slow and introducing the cats to each other sense-by-sense, you allow both parties to get used to the smells, sounds and sight of each other in a non-threatening way. This greatly increases the odds of them eventually becoming friends. A word of advice: some cats will never be great buddies, and carefree co-existence is the best you will get. Accept this and don’t push it, and you will still have a happy multi-resident home!
While I will always recommend adopting a shelter cat over purchasing from a breeder, due to the horrible but necessary rates of euthanasia in shelters for unwanted animals, you still need to consider a few factors about personalities. The cool thing about shelters is that they’ll often have a fact-sheet about their cats, telling you their preferences and the kinds of homes they would suit. It’s a lot harder to know with kittens, so you’re not going to be sure what their personality will be like for a while. Your resident cat should be the primary consideration, as you can choose who to bring in to match your cat, but your cat can’t change its temperament to match a newcomer. If your cat is very old, unwell, or super laid-back, then an energetic kitten or boisterous cat might not be the best choice. Likewise, an energetic resident cat might not make an introduced older cat feel at ease. If you suspect your cat to be very territorial or unwelcoming, a kitten can be a better option, as adult cats often take more kindly to youngsters (especially if they’re not sexually mature yet) than to other adults. Talk to the people at your local shelter too. With a bit of information on what your cat is like and likes, they will be able to guide you to a suitable companion.
You’ll need to get set up. Choose a room in your house to section off (just a door will do). Ideally this will be somewhere your cat doesn’t frequent too often, and isn’t used a whole lot by the human residents, or can be done without for a week or two. Set it up with a litter tray, some high perches, hiding spots, food and water bowls. Don’t fill the food bowls yet though! You can even make some tunnels from paper bags or the like, leading from where the carrier will be placed to the food bowl. Make it as comfortable a space as it can be, and ensure there isn’t a way for your resident cat to enter or eyeball through a window. If you have or are inclined to invest in a Feliway diffuser, this can help create a relaxing environment. Feliway has synthetic ‘feel-good’ pheromones to promote a sense of feline well-being. It’s not an absolute necessity though.
When you bring the new cat in, take it straight to its room. Place the carrier on the floor and open the door, but don’t insist on the cat getting out. The carrier will be the only thing in this new environment that smells familiar, so it’ll be a source of comfort. The carrier can double as the new cat’s bed for a while if you wish, to give them an enclosed space to retreat to. The cats will now be able to hear each other and smell each other lightly, and begin to acclimatize to the new situation without sensory overload. This is good advice, even when there isn’t already a resident cat, as a human family is smelly enough for any cat!
Food is the great motivator for cats (and most other animals, ahem, me). Put each cat’s food bowl on either side of the door so that they grow comfortable eating in the presence of each other’s scent. They don’t have to start out flush against the door, as this may be overwhelming and a stressed cat won’t eat. It’s fine for the bowls to be two, four, six feet away from the door to begin with, and then moved a little forward each time. Retreat is also perfectly okay before advancing once more. Go at the pace of the more skittish cat. Once they can both feed next to the door, open the door a crack so they can see each other but not get in or out. You can use a door stopper to prevent the door opening further. Then proceed to a fully open door while you supervise. Close the door after feeding. They will associate each other with food and positive things this way.
To ramp up the scent desensitization, cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett recommends a sock technique. Take a clean pair of socks and rub one along the chin and cheeks of the newcomer. The face is where the relaxed pheromones are emitted and give off the smell of a happy cat. Then leave this sock in the resident cat’s territory (the rest of the house). Reward positive behaviors toward this sock with treats or a portion of the daily food allowance. Even total ignoring of the sock is a positive as it indicates no aggression or negative behavior. With the other sock, do the same in return for the resident cat and leave the sock in the room of the newcomer. This whole process allows each cat to familiarize itself with the scent of the other cat without having eye contact or any threatening body language to contend with.
Once both cats seem chill with the scent of each other and can feed in full view of each other, you can let them play at being tourists. Shut your resident cat in another room, and let the newcomer out to explore the house. It’s best done room-by-room so as to not be overwhelming and encourage hiding. Do this in reverse too, by taking the newcomer out in the carrier and letting the resident cat in to explore. If the newcomer is a kitten, then the resident can explore the room with the kitten in the carrier. Drape a towel over most of the carrier so the cat can only approach from one or two sides, giving the kitten a safer feeling corner.
Encourage play in each other’s vicinity by dangling two toys on separate strings. This way they don’t have to compete for the resource and can play while keeping each other in eye-sight.
Once all is well in cat-town, the door can be left open longer after feeding and then left open for good. Make sure you have at least one litter tray per cat, plus one extra, as well as two scratch pads or posts, feeding bowls, cat towers. Being up high gives cats a sense of security as they don’t have to worry about ambush from above or behind. Have each cat’s ‘area’ in a different place, so they don’t have to be in each other’s zone all the time, or don’t have to feel uncomfortable using their toys or towers in the presence of the other. While there’s a good chance they’ll remain wary of each other for a while, one day you’ll probably wake up to find them both purring happily next to your head. And if any problematic behavior starts, go back a step and let them readjust. If the behavior is persistent or overly aggressive, seek out the help of a cat behavior consultant sooner rather than later.
When we start a new job, we are given an induction period, where we are told how things work around here, who’s the boss, where our desk is, the break-room, etc. When you take your time in introducing your cats to each other, you’re running them through the same thing. They can understand the lay of the land and learn to cooperate without any furry faux pas! With patience and understanding of this process, you’ll make the introduction of a new cat or kitten to your home as stress-free and smooth as possible, for all cats (and people) concerned!