How to Introduce a New Cat to your Pets
Bringing a new cat home to a house with a resident cat requires planning and patience.
Keeping the cats separated at the beginning and allowing them to meet gradually are the best ways to ensure a successful period of adjustment and integration.
Consider the following:
- It’s usually easier to introduce a cat of the opposite sex into the family (both pets should be spayed or neutered).
- It’s generally easier to introduce an already socialized cat to an older one.
- Don’t bring the cat home as a holiday or birthday gift, or any other time when your house is full of noise and people. Everyone in the household, humans and animals, will need time to adjust and get to know each other.
Understand Your Resident Pet’s Personality
- Your resident cat, who loves to cuddle on your lap, purring contentedly, may not take kindly to the “new kid on the block” moving into her territory!
- Perhaps, on the other hand, your cat is a friendly soul, and would be happy to have a new housemate to spend the day with.
The Newcomer’s Trip Home
Your new cat (let’s call him Rufus) will be leaving familiar surroundings, and, depending on his age, perhaps his mother and litter mates, too. Minimize his stress by placing Rufus in a secure carrier lined with his previous bedding, so that he is comforted by his own scent during the drive.
DO NOT introduce Rufus to your resident cat (we’ll call her Twinky) upon arrival. Place Rufus in a separate room and close the door. Twinky will know “something’s up” and probably be curious. Rufus may be shy and fearful.
Allow Rufus to use his room as a refuge for the initial period of adjustment, furnishing a comfortable and secure area with:
- A “hiding spot” (cardboard box or tented area)
- A litter box
- A water bowl
- A food bowl
Make sure to separate the new guests’ food area from his litter, as cats don’t like to eat near their litter boxes. If Rufus is hesitant to leave his carrier once you open the door:
- Don’t rush him!
- Never reach in and try to take him out.
- Let him calm down and begin to explore his new territory on his own terms, making sure he can’t get behind or underneath anything that may be dangerous.
- Allow him space and time to acclimatize.
Be gentle, patient, and reassuring
Twinky may feel jealous with the newcomer, and perhaps a little miffed with you, too, for introducing Rufus into her domain! Reassure her that all is well—praise her, buy her a new toy, or offer her more one-on-one play time.
Animals act out just as humans do, and your aim is to make their adjustment smooth and drama-free.
Cats rely heavily on scent recognition as they adapt to their surroundings, and we all have “favorite places”, even our pets. Begin the introduction by taking advantage of these facts by:
- Rubbing a towel against each cat’s cheeks (where their glands secrete a “friendly” hormone) and allowing each cat to smell the other’s scent (scent swapping).
- If Twinky loves to sit near the chair by the fireplace, introduce Rufus’ scent by placing his towel close to the chair, hopefully creating a pleasant association for her.
- If Twinky begins to spit, hiss, or swat, leave Rufus’ towel far away from her sleeping area and food bowl. You don’t want to summon the diva in Twinky, causing her to develop behaviour issues!
- Take Twinky’s towel and place it in Rufus’ room.
With each meal, gradually move the scented towels closer and closer to the feeding bowls.
- As long as Twinky continues to eat normally, move Rufus’ scented towel closer to her food bowl with each feeding.
- Do the same for Rufus by moving Twinky’s scented towel closer to his food bowl.
Your goal is to be able to swap their food bowls and have them eat without any fussing.
Once the cats are comfortable and secure enough to eat from each other’s bowls without any drama, they are ready to meet.
They should still be in separate rooms, if possible separated by a screen door, allowing each to see and sniff the other without being able to attack. If this is not possible, keep the door between rooms open very slightly, so that they can sniff but not harm each other.
Play with the cats while they are in this “sniffing/discovery” stage, and offer them treats if they remain calm.
If it looks like this first meeting is going downhill quickly, don’t yell or punish either cat.
Both are merely trying to deal with a new experience according to their nature, which is to defend their territories and give each other space.
Now move each cat’s feeding bowl closer and closer to the open door.
This will help associate the pleasure of meal time with each other’s company. Hopefully, you should soon see signs of acceptance—rubbing their noses through the door, playing, or rubbing against the door itself.
Hi Twinky, I’m Rufus!
You can now open the door and allow each to explore the other’s domain. If possible, allow them to work out their relationship themselves without interfering.
If all out war ensues, startle them (throw some keys on the floor, or spray with water), separate them, and reintroduce slowly.
They may play independently of each other, or they may become best of pals. Never pick them up and force them to “play nicely together”. Allow them the space to be themselves, interacting on their own terms.
Each cat should still have its own litter box, bed, hiding area, and food bowls. They may eventually choose the same litter box and food bowl, but you must allow them to do so freely.
Remain vigilant for a while. Twinky or Rufus may still exhibit signs of aggression:
- “Standing guard” near their favourite spot or food bowl (territorial defense)
- Staring at each other in an intimidating fashion
- Hissing, bristling, or spitting at each other
Should this happen, separate them again, and go back to scent swapping.
Remember, this type of behaviour is not “cute”. The stress from being the bully or being bullied may cause your cat to develop chronic or dangerous stress-related illnesses.
Home Sweet Home
Within a few weeks to a month, you should find that both cats are comfortable with each other, each having found their unique places in your heart and home.
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