How to Successfully Introduce Cats

2 cats in a basketI’m in this “introducing a new cat” boat: the last of our original group of rescue cats died at 19 years of age. The house was empty for about 5 minutes, when we simply had to take in a cat from a risky situation. We were a one-cat family for a few weeks when another at-risk cat presented herself, and now you’re up to date.

The simple answer to how you successfully introduce cats is: slowly. Keep the new cat separate and allow the two to meet gradually over time.

Keeps Cats in Separate Rooms

Bringing a second cat into your home means that new cat is encroaching on your first cat’s territory. So, all concessions should be on the part of the new cat.

Keep as much of your daily routine as you can the same for your resident cat. Don’t change the litter box locations or the place where you feed him (yet). Maintain the same feeding schedule, and play and cuddle as before. He knows (by smell and sound) that there’s a new cat in the house; nothing else is necessary in way of introductions for the first couple of days.

Spend Time With the New Cat

The new cat should be in a room by herself, with food, water and litter, for the first several days at the very least. The length of this segregation can go way up to weeks or months, depending on how long it takes for the two cats to at least tolerate each other, and hopefully become great friends. So, make sure you’re set up for the long haul.

My own situation isn’t perfect: we don’t have a dedicated room where the new cat could go. She’s in our master bedroom, which has an ensuite where I’ve put her litter box. Hopefully she’ll get comfortable soon to be able to use the litter boxes in the basement.

Make sure you spend time with your new cat. It doesn’t have to be long periods: short, frequent visits are great. You can play with her, clean the litter, pet her and feed her. If she’s shy, you’ll need to put in more time in order to socialize her. Get other family members in there too.

Trade Cat Scents and Sightings

Your hands and clothes will pick up the scent of each cat, and introduce it to the other. You can let them sniff each other vicariously by trading cat beds and toys too. They’ll get used to each other’s scents without having to be physically present.

If one of the cats hisses or spits at the other’s bed or toy, just remove it and try again the next day. The best place to put it is where the other cat spends a lot of time. You can even place the toy near the other cat’s food dish, moving it closer as long as the cat tolerates it.

Swapping food dishes is another idea of getting the two cats used to each others scents. This can work very well if you’ve got a real “foodie” a cat who loves to eat. By associating a pleasant activity with the scent of the other cat, you’re moving towards visual contact.

cat in the raftersYou can also swap the cats themselves. Put your resident cat in the new cat’s room, and let your new cat out into the house. This can be a bit risky with extremely timid cats. If your new cat gets freaked out, she may hide in the basement rafters and you’ll be reduced to enticing her to come out with multiple cans of tuna and other treats.

The next step in the introduction process is to leave the door to the room open, but gated. A baby gate is perfect in this instance: it lets the cats see each other, and probably hiss and growl at each other, but at a safe distance. By this time, your resident cat knows the new cat has claimed this room, and your new cat feels secure in there.

Let the New Cat Explore the House

When the new cat seems quite comfortable in her room, and both cats are doing well in terms of behavior (eating normally and using their litters), it’s time to let the two meet. This is where you’ll have to trust the cats and stay out of most of the interactions. Cats are pretty dramatic and you’ll likely see them chase each other, spitting and screaming. It usually sounds a lot worse than it is.

In my situation, I’ve alternated. One night, I’ll leave the bedroom door open for the new cat to explore the house when it’s quiet; the next day, I’ll close the door at night so our resident cat doesn’t have to do “guard duty” all night. You may hear a few altercations in the middle of the night when both cats are out. Once my new cat came sailing up onto our bed, running from our old cat. She’s a pretty big gal, and nearly knocked the wind out of me. I closed the door for the rest of the night so I could sleep without fear.

Sometimes the cats will actually fight. If that happens, just interrupt them by clapping your hands. This will usually separate them, and they’ll run for cover. You can decide if you want to close the door for another day or two, and do some more scent swapping to give them a bit more time.

If the hissing and swatting doesn’t dissipate, try feeding the cats at the same time, both in close proximity to the door. Keep the door open with the gate separating the cats, and move their bowls slightly closer over time.

The Cat Introduction Process Takes Time

Be patient. If you’ve got a timid new cat (or a bit of a bully resident cat), the whole introductory/separate bedroom period may take much longer that you anticipated. Look at the long term: these cats will be living together for the next 15-20 years. If it takes three months for them to really get used to the idea of living together, it’s actually not that bad.

I’d love to get that litter box out of my bathroom, but I’ll just keep holding my nose. I’ve been in rescue a long time, and only once did I experience a foster cat who was honestly unable to live with other cats. He was a great guy and had no problem with other cats himself. It’s just that enjoyed hunting them and struck terror into the hearts of my group of timid cats (who all got along with each other). Thankfully, he was adopted into a perfect family with no other cats.

Tips that Ease the Cat Tension

Cat friends
Cat friends Floki and Arthas. Photo by Levi Hilliard, used with permission and thanks!

It never hurts to calm cats in any new situation, and one of the products I’ve used is the synthetic pheromone replica, Feliway. Animals naturally produce the chemical (pheromone) in their glands which allows them to communicate to each other. Synthetic pheromones are produced specifically to send messages like “you are safe here” or “you belong here.” You can plug in diffusers around the house and also spray bedding directly to help calm anxious cats and modify fearful behavior.

I’ve also heard of a trick that involves using your own cat’s pheromones. Rub a clean cloth on your new cat’s face to get her pheromones. Then, just as you did with the cat beds and toys, leave the cloth near your resident cat so he can get the scent. You can also leave your old cat’s pheromones for the new cat to get a whiff of.

Bach Rescue Remedy is another product I’ve used to reduce fear and stress in cats. The pet formula is alcohol free, using glycerin made from sunflowers to preserve it. Bach flower remedies are made by infusing wild plants and flowers in boiling water. Just add 2-4 drops into your cat’s drinking water or wet food. You can also add a drop to a treat or rub it directly onto his paws or ears.

When to Ask for Help for Your Cats

If the introduction is not going well, with one of the cats not eating or using the litter box as usual, or is hiding all the time, you may need expert advice.

For example, read what Pam Johnson-Bennett, cat behavior expert and author of “Cat Wise,” has to say on her site CatBehaviorAssociates.com about not having enough resources in a multi-cat home. You’re just setting yourself (and your cats) up for problems. “It’s not just about having six litter boxes for six cats – it’s about where the resources are located. Provide resources in each cat’s preferred location so that a more timid cat doesn’t have to cross the path of a higher ranking or more intimidating companion cat.”

And in her book “The Cat Whisperer,” cat behaviorist Mieshelle Nagelschneider says that pairing desirable activities is more than just getting cats to eat near each other. It includes playing. “Keeping a cat in an animated state of play prevents him from feeling fear, for cats simply cannot engage in play behaviors and feel fear at the same time.” You can book a consultation with her at TheCatBehaviorClinic.com.

You can also find directories of animal behavior consultants online:

  • The Animal Behavior Society has a directory of board certified applied animal behaviorists.
  • The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants has a list of IAABC certified consultants who use an evidence-based approach to manage and modify problem behaviors.
  • The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists currently lists 79 Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorists (called Diplomates) of the ACVB located throughout the world. These veterinarians who are specialty trained to advance the behavioral health of animals through clinical practice, research, and science-based behavior education. They have extensive knowledge of psychotropic medications, their uses, potential side effects and interactions with other medications, and are licensed to prescribe them when indicated.
  • Best Friends has a few pet behavior helplines listed, including a free one at Dumb Friends League. Once you’ve selected a day and time that is best for you, you’ll be prompted to fill in a questionnaire describing the issue you’re having with your cat, which includes details of how you’ve introduced the cats and an in-depth description of the behavior. A trained behavior counselor will call you.

Although it’s too soon to tell for me, my two seem to be slowly adapting. The pounce attacks by the resident cat are fewer; the new cat isn’t quite so timid, and the hissing and growling seems to be more pro forma than serious. I am quite sure they’ll learn to peacefully coexist; what I’m really excited to see is whether they become great friends, grooming each other and curling up in front of the fire on a long winter’s night. That’s my New Year’s wish, anyway.

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