HOW TO INTRODUCE A NEW
KITTY TO YOUR HOUSEHOLD
(After you finish reading this document, you should also check out this article. But we encourage you to read this article first before going on to anything else. Also of interest may be this article, which is an interview performed by Dr. Karen Becker with Jackson Galaxy, the cat trainer from the hit TV show My Cat From Hell. If you prefer to watch the interview, you can see the video here.)
There are some definite dos and doníts when it comes to successfully integrating a cat into a new home ó whether or not there is already a cat living in the home. Weíve been through this so many times, we know what works and what to stay away from. Iíll write these guidelines assuming you already have a kitty and are bringing home a playmate, but if your new kitty is going to be the only one in your home, you should still follow many of these guidelines. Throughout this document, Iíll refer to your existing cat as Cat #1 and your new cat as Cat #2.
With rare exceptions, cats are by nature skeptical of other cats, so bear this in mind. Donít expect to bring your new kitty home, open the pet carrier door, and watch the two cats begin grooming each other. If this happens, you have my permission to faint.
Itís more likely that there will be some growling and hissing, so be prepared and donít get discouraged if (when) this happens. This is normal behavior and doesnít mean the two will never get along. Hang in there.
It is a good idea to first put away the dishes of food & water so Cat #1 doesnít get jealous if Cat #2 makes a beeline for the food and starts chowing down. After youíve done this, take the pet carrier containing Cat #2 to the area of your existing litter box, take him out of the carrier, set him in the litter box and, using his paw, dig around in the box a bit. This lets the kitty know right away that you expect him to use the litter box when he needs to go potty and just exactly where the litter box is. Stand nearby quietly and let him do his business if he feels so inclined. If he does, in a soothing, complimentary way tell him what a good boy he is. Avoid speaking excitedly. The next half hour is extremely important! You want to do everything in your power to create a relaxed atmosphere, as cats pick up on your "vibe" and the introduction will go much more smoothly if they perceive that youíre relaxed and confident.
After heís finished getting to know the litter box, kitty will step out and begin exploring. Slowly walk around with him, not urging him to go one way or the other. If there are areas of your home that are tempting, dangerous or would make it tough to pick up the kitty (i.e. if he could hide behind or under something and you wouldnít be able to get to him), close off those areas, confining his exploring to the main parts of your home.
Cat #1 will probably be curious about the newcomer and hanging out nearby. If so, thatís good! Curiosity at this stage of the game is a sign that your existing cat is more likely to accept the new cat. If, on the other hand, your existing cat runs away to another part of the house, donít go after him and bring him back to the area where the new kitty is. Cat #1 will come out to observe the newcomer when heís good and ready. Continue to let Cat #2 explore. If he goes to the area where Cat #1 ran, let him, and begin telling Cat #1 in as soothing and relaxed a tone as you can muster what a good boy heís being. Tell Cat #1 that Cat #2 isnít going to steal your affection.......that Cat #1 will always be #1 in your book.
If the two cats get nose-to-nose, youíre ahead of schedule. If they sniff each other, then hiss or growl, donít scold either one or separate Ďem. They will work out at their own pace between themselves whoís dominant and whoís submissive. If one of the cats backs off or rolls over on his side, heís probably the one whoís going to end up being the submissive one.
It is important that Cat #1 not feel slighted or pushed aside by Cat #2, so donít pet or pick up Cat #2. Pay all your attention to Cat #1 so he associates the new kitty with getting more attention, not less. Continue to speak in soothing tones and tell both of them what a good job theyíre doing (even if theyíre not).
Use your good judgment about how the introduction is going. If it seems to be going quite well, roll with it for a little while. If you get the feeling that Cat #1 is NOT a happy camper at all, separate the two kitties and put Cat #2 away in a spare room, bathroom, etc. with his own litter box, food and water so that they can take a break from each other. Itís a good idea not to stay in the room with Cat #2 for too long so Cat #1 doesnít feel slighted. Give Cat #2 a sheepskin, towel or pet bed to lie in.
Leave the room and go spend some quality time with Cat #1, telling him all the while what a good boy he is and how proud you are of him. If he has a special "treat" food (like canned food if he normally eats dry), now would be a good time to give him a little so he feels rewarded for his good behavior. If heís not a big eater, but loves to be brushed, nowíd be a good time to brush him. If he likes to sit in your lap and be petted, do that. The key is to do something to make him feel special and rewarded.
Give the cats an hour or more to regroup and think about each other.
Does Cat #1 have a pet bed, sheepskin or towel he likes to lie on? If so, after an hour or so of separation, take Cat #1ís bed, sheepskin or towel and give it to Cat #2 to lie on. Give Cat #2ís bed, sheepskin or towel to Cat #1 to sniff. If heís curious about it, pet him or brush him while heís sniffing it so he associates it and Cat #2ís scent with positive reinforcement. If Cat #1 chooses to lie down on the item that smells like Cat #2, youíre doing great. If he doesnít take to the item right away, donít sweat it. Itís early! If he doesnít lie on the item, but instead goes and hangs around the door of the room where youíve secluded Cat #2, thatís just as good and means heís curious about his new friend. If they start playfully batting paws under the door, you again have my permission to faint. If so, congratulations are in order; your new family is going to do just fine. If they havenít taken to each other that much yet, no problem. This is normal behavior.
After the cats have had a chance to be apart for at least an hour, if Cat #1 isnít off sulking somewhere and in obvious emotional distress, you can let Cat #2 out of seclusion for another walk around the house. If Cat #1 is sulking, give the separation more time.
If you have a large house with many rooms, donít close Ďem all off, but itís not a bad idea to close off some so Cat #2 doesnít get confused about where the litter box is.
Continue speaking positively in soothing tones and telling both cats what a good job theyíre doing. Do not talk loudly! This would show the cats that youíre insecure about their relationship.......just what we donít want them to think. They are going to get along. Speak in tones that show you accept this as a fact.
This first evening of having the cats together isnít a good time to go out to dinner and a movie. You should plan to stay around the house and engage in a quiet activity like reading, working a crossword puzzle, crocheting, etc. Cooking isnít encouraged because many cats get aggressive & defensive when there is food being prepared. Donít play your drums or watch Terminator 2 tonight. Spend the evening letting the cats explore and get to know each other, separating them periodically if you feel they could use some "time out."
If you have a spouse or a mate, tonight would be a good time for you two to sleep apart, one with each cat so they both feel loved and special. Donít try to force both cats to get on the bed with you at the same time (unless they want to, which is unlikely), because this generally leads to Cat #1 growling & hissing due to feeling as if his territory (both the bed and you) has been invaded. If you do have a significant other whoís going to sleep with one of the cats while you sleep with the other, during the night itíd be a good idea to switch places so youíve each slept half of the night with each cat. This gives the cats a chance to smell each otherís scent and not feel slighted by not getting their "share" of their two parents.
If the new kitty wants to sleep on the floor away from you, thatís ok and you shouldnít force him to get in bed with you. Many times, weíll sleep on the floor with the new cat to show weíre supportive of his feelings during this critical time. If you do this, still speak in positive tones to the kitty and donít speak in tones that indicate to him that heís a "victim." You donít want to encourage him to puff out his chest like a bully, but you donít want to do anything that would hurt his ego either.
If you normally feed Cat #1 in the morning, go ahead, but also put a separate dish of food down a few feet away for Cat #2 so he falls in line with your routine but doesnít threaten Cat #1 by eating out of his dish.
If you have any other morning ritual with Cat #1, go through with it and let Cat #2 explore (but keep one eye on him so he doesnít get into mischief or lost). If Cat #2 tries to horn in, pay attention to how Cat #1 responds. If Cat #1 responds favorably, go with it. If Cat #1 gets spooked or aggressive, perhaps you could sit on the floor and pay attention to both cats. Sitting on the floor more at the catsí level shows solidarity with them and lets them know "weíre all in this together". If Cat #1 runs away with hurt feelings, put Cat #2 away and go pay some attention to Cat #1. Again, though, donít speak in such a way as to make Cat #1 perceive that heís a "victim."
There are no hard-and-fast rules about how long the pattern of sleeping apart, secluding Cat #2, etc. has to go on. You just have to pay attention to the catsí behavior and pick up on how theyíre feeling about the situation. Sometimes weíve seen it take 3 weeks of this routine for the cats to finally settle in with each otherís presence; other times weíve seen cats take to each other within the first two hours.....or even less a few times. If your situation seems to be more like the three week scenario than the two hour scenario, donít give up or let the cats know that youíre losing your patience with them. Youíve made a commitment to both cats to give them all the effort they deserve. Hang in there.
What If Things Just Arenít
If, after giving the relationship sufficient time and assuring yourself that youíve complied with these guidelines to the letter, you feel as if the relationship between your cats just isnít progressing, perhaps itís time to speak with an animal behaviorist. While many of us have years of experience with all facets of cat behavior, an animal behaviorist is someone who actually has professional training in dealing with petsí emotional well-being.
We at Four On The Floor are happy to offer any suggestions we can with regard to animal behavior, but remember that we arenít degreed animal behaviorists and there is a limit to the advice we are able to give. We want to be as helpful as we can be, however, in keeping with one of our mottos: "Helping Pets & People Get Together...And Stay Together." If you'd like to send us an e-mail to see if we might be able to offer you some insight, you can e-mail us by clicking here.
Donít forget, too, should it ever come to this, that many shelters and rescue groups will take back a companion animal who was adopted from them. They agree to do this because they donít want their pets ending up in shelters, pounds, animal experimentation laboratories or dumped at the side of the road.
The Final Word
Please hang in there and give your new companion the benefit of everything you have at your disposal to encourage a successful adoption that will last a lifetime. He deserves it ó and so do you!
Added Information: 11-25-08
We let Gracie and Wendy finally meet Tipper face to face. Wendy showed up first, and while Tipper didn't back down or hiss or get aggressive toward Wendy, Wendy growled and hissed quite a bit. This died down, though, after 5 minutes or so, and they seemed to be settling in. Then, Gracie showed up.
Gracie immediately lashed out at Wendy, then charged Tipper. As we approached to calm them, Gracie ran toward Wendy and beat the living crap out of her. We separated them, but Gracie kept going after Wendy. This lasted for a half hour, with our constant intervention and calming. We ultimately had to separate them for a couple hours (one with each of us, for additional calming). Then, we got out a can of wet food for them to share, each with her own small plate. This seemed to "reset" the relationship and all seemed forgiven. Gracie slept with me, her favorite human, and wanted to push against me all night, as if it grounded her.
By morning, Wendy and Gracie seemed back to normal.
Here's what we learned: When you have an aggressive, alpha-type cat and a submissive one, don't introduce them face to face with the new cat at the same time. Do it individually so there can be no displaced aggression, such as Gracie exhibited to Wendy. Get each of the cats individually to accept the new kitty, then work at introducing them together.
Using the calming treats (see below) can help the situation go more smoothly.
Tip: While we've used Paxil, the human antidepressant, with success with a couple of our pets, recently have had extraordinary success at helping cats get along by giving them calming treats made by Pet Naturals Of Vermont. Cats that formerly tried to tear each other apart, and who were having a peeing contest that wouldn't end, are now lying near each other and eating out of the same dish at the same time. Check with your vet to make sure your kitty is okay to eat these calming treats, and use them judiciously, as they're more a natural medicine than a food. You can buy them at major pet supply retailers, some groceries (Kroger, Meijer, etc.) and online at Swanson Vitamins (our favorite place) or Lucky Vitamin. They also make Calming Treats for dogs. We often will break a treat in half, instead of giving the whole treat, as giving the whole treat can overly sedate some cats. Not that they stumble around; they just sleep more...