Since I adopted Zeus, a mixed-breed puppy from a local shelter, I took an interest in the lives of stray animals and the adoption process.
Bringing a new cat into your home can be a stressful process for your family and pets. Cats are famous for being inflexible and resisting changes in their environment. Although most of them enjoy the company of a fellow feline, it takes some time for these animals to feel at ease with sharing their space and resources.
There is a common myth that dictates that cats should be left alone after a short introduction so that they can establish dominance and settle into a hierarchy. This system often results in fights and stress that can cause injuries and a damaged relationship between the two pets.
With some simple advice and lots of patience, the introduction process between two cats can be simplified and improved. In this article, I present some steps that can be useful to any owner trying to introduce two felines.
Step 1: Avoid Direct Contact
The first time you bring in your new kitten, make sure the other cats are locked away, preventing any eye contact between the animals. Keep the newcomer in a kennel as you enter your house and go straight to an enclosed area that will be designated as its provisional territory.
Step 2: Give the New Cat Its Own Space
Once the new cat is separated from your other pets, open the kennel and let him roam free. Do not pressure it to leave the kennel until it feels comfortable doing so.
Make sure you keep an eye on the cat as it exits the kennel and finds a new hiding space. It is not unusual for new cats to hide for a few days after they arrive at a new home. You can provide your new pet with safe options to take cover, like cardboard boxes covered by sheets or an old T-Shirt, making sure you leave a small opening for the animal to enter and exit the makeshift cave.
Put containers with water and food in the room and a sandbox. Remember to check the levels of the plates to make sure the cat is getting enough food and water.
If the cat does not come out in a few hours, try leaving the room. It is perfectly normal for cats to mistrust new environments. As long as it is eating and using the sandbox regularly, let it be.
Step 3: Build a Routine Around Food
If the new cat remains hidden in your presence, restrict its access to food (leave the bowl with water in place). Start bringing in the food only when you are in the room. Encourage the cat to come out of hiding by gently tossing food towards it, or making a path of food that leads to you.
Once your cat feels comfortable enough to eat in your presence, being petted or playing, you can move on to the next stage. Try to synchronize the feeding schedule of your other cats with the new pet.
Place the food bowl for your new cat on one side of the closed door and then place another bowl of food for your other cats on the other side. If any of the cats show signs of aggression (hissing, curving their bodies, hair pointing upwards) try to increase the distance between the food bowls and the door.
On the contrary, if you notice that the cats are eating peacefully, approach the bowls through the closed door, so that they would be closer to one another. Eventually, the goal is for them to eat as close as possible to each other while holding the door as a barrier.
Step 4: Smell Swap
This next step has some variations, so try to experiment and adjust them to the personality of your cat. An easy way to start introducing your cat to another feline’s smell is to give them a blanket or an object that has been marked by the other animal.
As you offer the piece of cloth for them to sniff, try to reward them with food or pets, so that they will begin to associate the scent with positive reinforcement. You can also try to rub a piece of fabric with the smell of one cat and then gently pet the other animal with it.
You can also take a different approach, interchanging the cats' spaces. First, you need to seclude the newcomer in a kennel and transport it to a third bedroom. Then, you let the other cats enter the room and roam freely. Meanwhile, you can take the new cat and let it explore the house. The most important thing you should keep in mind while trying this swap is that the animals should not cross paths or see each other. You should also offer some treats or pets to create a feeling of positive reinforcement linked to the other feline’s smell.
Step 5: Replace the Door With a Screen or Gate
Once the cats are eating confidently with the door as a barrier, it is time to move forward, replacing the door with a screen door or gate that allows them to see each other. If hissing starts, you can take a step back and block their view to the other room.
If you don’t want to invest in a special door or gate, you can use a wooden pallet or tulle fabric to create a curtain. During these face-to-face interactions, both cats should be offered food, moving the bowls closer until they manage to eat side by side.
Step 6: Remove the Barriers Between Cats
This is the crucial step in the introduction process. Engage each cat in play or treats and then remove the barrier. They should be allowed to sniff and approach each other but try to keep up the distraction.
If you notice they seem fixated on each other, try to gently coax them into another activity. If they don’t show signs of aggression, reward them with treats. In case they hiss or try to attack one another, interrupt the interaction and go back to the previous step. Try to finish off each encounter with a positive moment before any aggression takes place.
Step 7: Prepare Escape Routes
When you feel comfortable letting the cats play with each other, make sure that you give them different surfaces to flee when they need some space. For example, one cat can choose to stay on the ground while the other moves on to a cat tree or shelve.
Step 8: Buy the Adequate Supplies
Most cats do not need separate food or water bowls, but it is preferable to acquire individual litter boxes for each of the felines. If cats are not comfortable sharing the litter box with another animal, they might avoid urinating or do so in other places of the house which can lead to infections and other health issues.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2022 Carolina Mejia