I have owned cats for over 60 years. Between them and their vets, I have learned a great deal about how they tick.
Cats Are Territorial, So Introductions Take Time
Cats have instincts that help them survive just like their feline cousins, including lions, tigers, and cheetahs. Because of these instincts, cats will fight for their "territory" and the right to mate. Cats, especially unfixed males, will urinate on things (called marking) to identify the areas as theirs. They also rub their cheeks, tongue, and body on everything they come in contact with to identify the area or person as theirs. This causes fights when other cats try to "muscle in" on their territory.
Since they are territorial, bringing a new cat into the home means there will be fights over who "owns" the space and the people in it. Yes, cats believe they own us, not the other way around. The strongest will usually win these fights, no matter who that might be, and then they will mark the home to identify it as theirs. But you can keep the fights from happening and prevent the marking if you just follow a few simple steps.
Keep the Cats Separate at First
Keep the new guy in a separate room at first to avoid injury to you or the cats. This will allow the cats to smell each other but not to hurt each other. They might hiss or growl, which is natural, but fighting is impossible.
You can also use a dog crate, but put the newbie in it and make sure you move him into a separate room when you are gone or sleeping. If the other cats can reach through the cage bars, they might hurt the cat inside, so your presence is necessary for safety reasons.
Fixed Cats and Kittens Adjust More Easily
Fixed cats, those that are spayed and neutered, are easier to assimilate because they don't have as many hormones to tell them to fight for their territory and they have no need to mate. But they will fight for dominance over the other cats, which is why it is so important to be patient when bringing a new cat.
Kittens are easier to introduce because they are babies and don't produce the hormones that identify each one until they are about four months old. Once they are producing hormones, the other cats are already used to their smell. But don't be fooled into thinking you can just put them on the floor and everything will be okay. You have to follow the steps below to keep everyone, including you, safe.
Take Time to Introduce the Cats
The first step you have to do is introduce the animals to each other. Use a small area like a bathroom. Have someone take the resident kitty while you take the new one. Enter the room and sit down with the cats and let them smell one another but don't let them touch. You might want to use thick gloves for this part because you might get scratched as they try to reach each other.
This exercise tells them that you are accepting the new cat into the clan and helps them get used to the smell. Try stroking first one cat and then the other to share the scent. This needs to be done several times but should last only a minute or two unless the cats seem to get along. Once the hissing and/or growling starts, however, separate them.
Provide Enough Supplies for Both Cats
Make sure you have at least one litter box, bed, scratching furniture (I use scratch pads), toys, food, and water bowls for each cat. That way, they have their own with which to identify. Keep the new stuff in with the newbie for the first few days and be sure the other cats have not been in contact with them. This will help the newbie to be more comfortable in less time because a new place is very scary for a cat of any age.
Use Scent to Help the Cats Acclimate
After a day or two to allow the new cat a chance to acclimate, begin switching items like the used litter box of the new cat with the one for the resident cat. Make sure your regular cat has used it at least once so the scent is strong. Even scooping the box allows the scent to remain. Don't wash them first, though, because you need the strong scent on each one.
Switch out their beds or blankets and their toys as well, but not all at once. For instance, switch the litter boxes for a day or so and then put them back and switch something else. This gives each of the animals a chance to smell the other without fighting. Keep switching them so they get both smells and begin to accept the scent of the new cat and, of course, the opposite. During this phase, you should even switch the cats so that the newbie can get used to the new house. Just make sure to put them back after a bit.
Introducing New Cats Requires Patience
Cats acclimate at different levels. They may get along right away, and all is well. Or, you may have to keep them separated for a long time because of fighting. Stay strong. Patience is the key. By switching and moving things around a little at a time, the cats get so used to each other's scents they begin to accept them as part of the clan.
This will generally work for any new introduction. There are, of course, exceptions that may need a little more help. Some cats fight constantly and are mean with anyone and anything. These cats may have a chemical imbalance, so you might want to take them to the vet to see if they can help with medications. And, sadly, some cats just can't be acclimated to a new home. If the animal stops eating and keeps hiding, you might have to take drastic steps and let the cat go to a home where there are no other cats. This is rare, but it does happen. And be sure your resident cat is not having problems which may mean he/she can't mix with others.
Allow the Cats to Interact for Longer Periods of Time
Now comes the really hard part. You have to begin letting the new kitty into your home with the resident cat. You can start after a few days of keeping them separate, but only let them out for just a few minutes. You will know if it is too soon and then just put the new guy back. Make sure you stay close and remove the newbie if there is trouble. Let the kitty out for longer and longer periods of time. If there are lots of fights, don't give up. Just keep trying and be brave about it because it will work.
Tips for Helping Cats to Get Along
- Cats are territorial and will fight, so keep them separate at first and make sure the resident cat gets first rating.
- Kittens and fixed cats are easier to acclimate into a new home, so keep that in mind.
- You have to introduce the cats to each other slowly and wear heavy gloves to protect your hands.
- Even in the same household, cats live by scent. Make sure each cat has its own food bowl, litter box, bed, and toys and switch them, one thing at a time, to get them used to each other's scent.
- If you have covered litter boxes and the cats are fighting in it, remove the cover. This gives the cat inside another way out and prevents blocking. Don't keep the litter boxes close together. Keeping them in separate rooms or on separate sides will help to keep them separate when they do their business.
- Make sure you keep the feeding bowls for each cat separate from each other and move them closer at each feeding. If you need to, put a gate or door between them to get them used to each other's smell while eating. Keep moving them closer until they are eating side by side.
- Be prepared because there will be fights. To stop this, try playing with the cats with long string or toys on a stick while keeping them both in the middle of the room. If you wear them out and get them to play together, you are that much closer to having a quiet household.
- I know the kitties are cute and cuddly, and you don't want them to get hurt, but you have to be patient, strong, and brave.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Cheryl Simonds
I would love to hear from you!
Cheryl Simonds (author) from Connecticut on March 17, 2019:
Thank you for that. Good luck with your new kitty.,
Larry Slawson from North Carolina on March 16, 2019:
Interesting article. Thank you for sharing. My wife and I are thinking about adding an additional kitten to our home. Good information here.
Cheryl Simonds (author) from Connecticut on March 16, 2019:
I am sorry for your loss. If you do eventually get another cat, I hope this helps. Cherylone.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 14, 2019:
This sounds like good advice. We have an older cat now whose buddy had to be euthanized a while ago. She did mourn our Dusty at first but seems to have adjusted now to being the only cat. I think that we will just let her be the "queen bee" for a while.