A Tale of Two Kitties: Introducing a New Cat to your Home

introducing a new catApril showers bring May flowers, and May flowers bring kittens. Spring is kitten season and often when people succumb to the adorable faces and antics of newborn kittens. Positive that their cat or cats at home will love the youngster as much as they do, they stroll in, place the new kid on the floor in front of the old timers and announce,”Meet your new brother!”  Introducing a new cat should be done in a much slower method so that everyone in the house can adjust.

Seldom is this announcement met with joy and appreciation.

Cats are creatures of habit. They like their places, their spaces, their smells. If you drop a new mewling kitten in the middle of their territory odds are it will be met with resistance, acting out, and sometimes violence. But that doesn’t mean you cannot successfully introduce a new kid to the block. If you take specific steps, slowly and patiently, most of the time you can integrate the new cat into your household.

Before introducing a new cat, make sure you have the cat or kitten tested for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus.  Both viruses are fatal and are spread through cat bites, grooming, and sharing of food and water bowls.  It’s also important to make sure your cat doesn’t have any contagious diseases or parasites that might spread to your resident cat.

Introducing a new cat:

The new cat should be isolated from the rest of the household for the first several days. Keeping the new kitty in a bathroom or office with its litter box, food, water, and appropriate bedding will allow it time to acclimate to the sounds and smells of your home. It will also allow your existing pets the chance to familiarize themselves with the new cat’s smell through the door. Meals should occur on either side of the closed door to allow the cats the chance to learn to associate mealtime (positive event) with the scent of the other animal. Do not place the dishes right up against the door, however. We don’t want to turn it into an ambush situation.

Once the cats have settled into an eating routine, you might also want to put a toy on each end of a shoestring and run it under the door. This allows the cats the chance to interact without a threatening position.

Cats are scent driven animals. Making something new seem normal is the key to accepting a new member of the community. Take bedding from the new cat and place it under the existing pet’s food dish. Confine the existing pet and allow the new one to investigate the house. Swap bowls and toys.

One of the tricks I have used is opening the door and placing a baby gate across the doorway. This lets the animals see each other and further acclimate to each other’s scent. Spend time with both the new cat and the resident cats, allowing each to sniff as much as they want. You are the bridge that will join the members of your household.

The greatest tool for integration is patience. You cannot force cats to accept each other. Ever. You can find ways for them to co-habituate, but you cannot force them to be buddies. While some cats are ready to share the same space within a few days, others may take a week or even longer. Each cat should have a safe space during this transition time, and bullying should not be tolerated. If a cat begins showing aggression it needs to be interrupted and removed from the situation immediately.

One of the key components to any blended household, be it people or pets, is personality. Cats have distinct individual personalities that may or may not take to a newcomer. Consider your cat’s demeanor when choosing a new cat.  A frantic young kitten may not be tolerated by a senior cat who just wants to nap in his chair and watch his shows on TV. A young female cat might not appreciate a bigger, aggressive housemate who kicks all the litter out of the box and hogs the bed. You know your cat. You must be the judge of what it can tolerate.

In the end, by allowing your resident animals and the new cat enough time to acclimate to first the scents, then the sounds, the sight, and finally the behavior of each other you should be able to expand your cat family with minimal distress. Making sure you spend quality time with your resident cats will ensure them that you are still theirs, even if you do smell a little like the new kid. There is no magic formula for successfully introducing a new cat, but there are three very specific components I will leave you with:

  • Patience.
  • Patience.
  • And patience.
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