There’s a reason we recommend certain things when adding a new cat to a home … we’ve been down this road quite a few times and we kinda know what we are talking about. No, seriously … of the 10+ adoption counselors, we have something like 75 cats amongst us. We’ve “been there, done that” and we have the range of adoptable cats from “hey, whatever man” (awwww, Bubba-C) to “I’M THE PRINCESS OF THIS INDOOR CASTLE AND YOU ALL SHALL BOW TO MEEEEE” (all capital letters on purpose, thank you Siren).
All kidding aside, there is a process that can make the addition of a new cat into a home go smoothly. Follow these 5 steps to a successful cat addition:
- Start the new cat in one room with food & water, bedding, litter box.
- Bond with the new cat, in the room, for a few days.
- Let other animals in the home adjust to the smell of the new cat – feed treats or wet food on opposite sides of the door.
- Swap bedding so the new cat can investigate the current animals’ smells and vice versa.
- With supervision, let the new cat explore the home – paying close attention to all the animals’ reactions. Separate if tensions escalate beyond the normal hissing.
And here are the details to hopefully avoid this:
Even if the cat you are adopting is good with other cats, there is always the possibility of problems when introducing strangers to each other. There are several steps that you can take to reduce the likelihood of problems. Before bringing your new cat home, create a separate “territory” for him/her. This area should be equipped with food, water, a scratching post, a litter box, access to natural sunlight, and comfortable resting places (a hiding spot is normally a great idea too).
Your other cats should have their own separate territory. Make certain that both areas (the space for the new cat and the space for the other cats) contain multiple hiding places so the cats can easily retreat if necessary. Large cardboard boxes with holes cut in two sides make great hiding places. The second hole allows a cat to escape if cornered by another cat. The boxes will come into play once you start allowing the cats to interact directly, but it can be helpful to introduce the boxes first, so that the cats become accustomed to using them. Keep in mind that cats like to hide in high places, so remove fragile items from large shelves or block access to the small/knick-knacky shelves.
Place your new cat in the designated space as soon as you arrive home, and spend a minimum of one hour with him/her (and the other cats in the household) per day. Play with them regularly and watch them closely for signs of stress or anxiety, such as hiding, aggressive behavior, decreased appetite, and/or excessive vocalization. If you see any of these signs, your cat MIGHT be having a stress reaction to “the change”. Breathe, relax, take a step back. But, if the signs persist for more than several days and/or if your cat stops eating, consult with your veterinarian.
If any cat is showing mild signs of stress, give him or her time to acclimate to the new situation. If all the cats appear comfortable in their spaces, place the new cat in a different room after two days (equipped with the same amenities), and allow your other cats to enter the new cat’s original territory. This will allow each cat to become accustomed to the others’ scent in a non-threatening way. Allow the cats to acclimate to their new areas for at least one day.
Caveat: If your new “cat” is really a tiny kitten (say, less than 4 months of age) … as soon as they are accustomed to YOU, their new litter box and their new food … LET THEM MEET THE OTHER CATS. In general, introductions with kittens can go much faster as older/established cats usually do not look at a less than 4 lb kitten as a threat. A nuisance, well maybe, but not a threat. Let the hissing happen … let the established cats have their say and raise their paw. The kitten will quickly learn who is boss and will, typically, adjust their behaviors.
Here’s an additional way to introduce cats to each others’ scent: Cats have glands in their cheeks that produce pheromones. When your cat rubs her cheek against a wall, chair, or your leg, she produces pheromones, which are chemical substances that can help to relieve anxiety and provide information about the cat who is producing those pheromones. Exposing each cat to towels that were gently rubbed on the new cat’s cheeks may be a good way to introduce them. Some cats respond very well to a synthetic pheromone (a spray or diffuser) – these can be purchased online or in pet supply stores.
Next, you can start allowing the cats closer access to each other by placing them on either side of a closed door so that they can smell each other directly. The next step is to allow them to see each other through a baby gate or a door that is propped open two inches. If the cats are interested in each other and seem comfortable, allow them to meet. Open the door to the rooms between the cats and observe them closely.
If any cat shows signs of significant stress or aggression, separate them again and introduce them more slowly. Once the cats have acclimated to being allowed to sniff each other through a door, bring each cat into a large room, on opposite sides. If you have a willing helper, each person should play, pet and/or give food treats to one of the cats. If you do not have a helper, place the more comfortable cat in a cat carrier with a bowl of canned cat food to keep him occupied and play with the other cat. Over multiple sessions, gradually bring the cats closer to each other. This exercise teaches the cats that they get special rewards in each others’ presence, and that nothing bad is happening. With time, the cats will learn that they are not a threat to each other.
Remember, an anxious cat is much more likely to behave aggressively than a cat who is comfortable and relaxed. If you use patience in the initial stages of the introduction process, you will increase your chances of a harmonious household. One of the keys to success: YOU have to be comfortable and relaxed too! Fake until you make it!! 😉
The above recommendations are guidelines to increase the likelihood that your new cat will get along with the existing cat(s) in your household. If you have tried these techniques and your cats are still not getting along, please seek the help of your veterinarian or a behaviorist … none of your cats want you to give up on them, they just want you to understand and adjust accordingly.