Cat Introductions: How NOT to Make the Fur Fly

Cat Introductions: How NOT to Make the Fur Fly

Miss Kitty seems lonely and you want her to have a furry friend to play with when you aren’t there. You adopt a new cat who seems like a perfect match for Miss Kitty and take him home. Arriving home, you promptly open the carrier and say “Miss Kitty, meet Master Tom” and expect a harmonious reception. Instead of the anticipated friendly curiosity, Master Tom and Miss Kitty turn into a blur of flying fur, slashing nails, and high-pitched screaming (possibly yours’).

So what went wrong?

So many people believe that cats “will work it out” when introducing a new cat to a home. They may “work it out” but rarely is it in the positive way you had hoped. Improper introductions between cats can trigger problematic behaviours such as not using the litter box. Health issues can arise from stress and injuries occur from fighting. Many times Master Tom will be returned to the rescue after a couple of days because he did not get along with the other cat and Miss Kitty has been traumatized unnecessarily. So what can you do?

PROPER INTRODUCTIONS

Cats are territorial and do not appreciate change so introductions need to be slow and extra attention should always be given to the resident cat, i.e. Miss Kitty. You do not want your cat to feel threatened by the new arrival as if he is going to replace her.

STEP 1: When bringing home a new cat have a separate room set up and take the new cat directly there, not stopping along the way to let your resident cat sniff the other. 

STEP 2: Prepare to keep cats separated for at least 2 weeks. Cats have their own timetables and it could be longer or shorter.

STEP 3: Let the cats sniff on either side of the closed door to get used to each other’s scent. Placing their food bowls or treats here will make the experience a positive association.

STEP 4: Exchange scents by taking a favourite blanket or toy from each cat and giving it to the other. Watch their reactions and provide positive responses possibly with treats or soothing words.

STEP 5: When the new cat seems comfortable with his room and you (perhaps after a week or so), allow him to explore the rest of the house accompanied by you while your resident cat explores the new cat’s room. Always follow up with positive reinforcement.

STEP 6: If you have a baby gate or something similar, the next step is to open the door to the new cat’s room and allow them to see each other. Treats or food on either side of the gate will make them associate the introduction as a positive thing. The timing on this varies.

If step 6 goes well after repeated several times:

STEP 7: You can move on to controlled play in the same room. At different ends of a room each cat can engage with a person in play (if there are at least two of you). Watch for any aggressive moves. If play goes well, it can be repeated at a closer distance next time. 

After step 7 is successful, you can try allowing the cats to interact in a room but only while under supervision. Sometimes having the new cat in the carrier is the safest way to carry this out and gradually over time allow the new cat out.

Always supervise interaction between the cats until you feel comfortable that they can be left on their own for a short period and then extend the length of time until they are out enjoying each other’s company for good.

Doing it right means you only have to do it once

A proper introduction means less stress and less behavioural problems in the future. Cats may be happy enough to skip a few steps but always follow their lead and watch their reactions to each other. We want a loving and happy relationship for Miss Kitty and Master Tom.

For expert advice please check out these famous cat behaviourists:

Pamela Johnson-Bennett http://www.catbehaviorassociates.com/

Jackson Galaxy http://jacksongalaxy.com/

 

Article written by: Patti Jean Altridge
Photo by: Grace Robertson
–Ninth Life Cat Rescue Volunteers

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