How can I introduce my new cat to an existing cat?
Having two cats roam your home can be double the delight and entertainment of having just one. For solo cats who spend long periods of time home alone, a new friend can be a way to fend off boredom or loneliness. There’s also very little as funny as watching two cats play around with each other, pouncing and rolling like goofballs.
Of course, this idyllic scene can take some effort to achieve. Cats are not necessarily renowned for their chill, adaptable nature. Some cats have an easier time than others bonding with fellow felines. Certain cats, particularly younger ones who are more flexible, will take meeting a new friend in stride. For those that are less easily persuaded, it can take some time and patience. By being cautious and thoughtful during the initial introduction, you can greatly improve the chances of a successful, long-term relationship.
First: A Vet Visit
Step number one when introducing a new cat is to get a thorough health exam. Whether the cat is coming from a shelter, breeder, or another source, be sure to protect your current cat by vetting the newcomer. Many cat illnesses are hard to spot at first glance, especially since cats have a tendency to hide their weaknesses. Once you have a clean bill of health, you can safely bring him home without fear of infecting your present resident.
Kittens and Seniors
Senior cats are infamous for being grumpy with new cats. This is understandable when you consider that they are used to their life just the way it is. Having a new presence in the house, especially one that detracts attention away from them, can be unsettling. This is never truer than when the new cat is also a kitten. Kittens who have yet to learn tactfulness will often be too rowdy and bouncy for the senior’s tastes. Younger kittens can also be very needy, not just with people but with fellow cats. This can be overwhelming for an older cat who is set in his ways. If you do find yourself bringing home a kitten to meet your older cat, make sure to provide your senior with a place to escape from the kitty when the need arises.
Prepping the Home Base
Preparation is key when bringing home a new cat. Set aside a designated area of the house where the newcomer will reside. Try to avoid picking a place where your current cat likes to spend time, as this could kick-start initial jealousy and territorial behavior. Keeping the new cat in this closed-off space will allow everyone to gradually get used to the addition, including the newcomer. Allowing the cat to explore the entire home right away would be overstimulating for him, as well as being upsetting for the existing cat. By containing the new cat to one area, you also give your current cat the opportunity to come and go as he pleases. Depending on the personality of the cat, he may be glued to the door in anticipation, or he might want to stay as far away as possible.
The Power of Scent
While both cats remain on opposite sides of the door, spend time with each of them in a positive manner. Offer treats, bring out favorite toys, and generally maintain an upbeat demeanor. You can even feed both cats by the door to give them a happy association with the smell of the other cat. Don’t rush this process, especially if either of the cats seems stressed out about the changes. You can spend several days in this part of the introduction, or longer if it seems to suit your particular pets. Pay attention to the body language and vocalizations of the cats. Scent is very potent and meaningful for cats, so spending time in this part allows them to adjust to each other’s smells.
Once you feel ready, you can let the cats see each other. Remain the authoritative presence here by maintaining control. A screen or baby gate provide great barriers for the first visual meeting. The idea is to let them see and intensely smell each other without being in physical danger. If you don’t have something like a baby gate, you could also use a large dog crate. This beginning barrier is a good way to take some of the pressure off of the first visuals. If it were just you holding both cats apart and hoping for the best, the cats would pick up on your understandable tension. The calmer that you can keep yourself, the better chance you have of reassuring the cats that everything will be fine.
The Full Introduction
Eventually, you have to let the cats get up close and personal. If there’s some initial hissing or other signs of irritation, don’t be too alarmed. This is normal for cats who are sizing each other up and assessing the dynamics of the relationship. They will probably keep a wary eye on each other for at least a few days. Make sure to supervise them whenever they are together. If things seem to grow too agitated between them, go back to separation until it settles again. There’s no magic amount of time that is right for everyone. You are in full control of this introduction, so take it at your own speed. It’s okay if you have to start back at square one a few times.
While some cats do take a hefty amount of time to adjust to others, there are many that grow comfortable with a new friend quickly. Once you are comfortable leaving them alone unsupervised, take a few precautions to ensure continued success. Be sure to provide different perches and “getaway” spots for each cat. If they are cramped in one confined space, they are bound to run into difficulties. Cats are much happier when they have safe zones where they can flee to when needed. They also should each have their own access to food, water, and a litter box. As soon as cats feel the need to fight for their own access to these things, you’re bound to run into trouble.
Don’t overlook the role you play in this new feline relationship. Being animals that are very sensitive to change, cats truly do observe everything. The way you handle yourself throughout the introduction process will affect how they feel. In addition, they will be watching to see how much time you spend with the other cat. Try your best to spend as much time as possible with each cat, but especially your original cat. Your pre-existing cat is the one who will be most emotional and conscious of how you spend your time. It is his home and routine that has been altered by the new cat.
Living with Two Cats
Try not to anticipate the worst when imagining what could happen when you bring home a new cat. While there are challenging kitties, there are many wonderful stories of cats appreciating their newfound friends. It’s rarely a sweet and smooth start, but once you have two bonded cats, you’ll surely find it was worth the journey to get there. Whether it’s curling up next to you in bed, or playfully fighting over the same toy mouse, watching two cats enjoying each other’s presence is always heart-warming.