This is a topic that we frequently educate new cat owners about when they adopt a cat or kitten. Often they already have another cat at home, and want to give both their cat at home and their new cat the best chance possible for a successful cat friendship!
I may have said this before, or if not, you will probably hear me say it again: cats are control freaks.
It is important when introducing two cats, that they both feel like they are in control of the situation at all times (in other words just letting them loose in the house together straight away is not going to make them feel like they have control over the situation, and may result in an unsuccessful introduction…)
Here are some tips to help ease the stress of introducing a new cat into the home, which hopefully leads to a successful adoption and long-lasting (or at least tolerable) friendship!
Initial arrival at home
Create a safe and separate area for the new cat to settle into
Undoubtedly, your new cat is going to be a little stressed about moving into a new environment and may feel the need to hide for at least a couple of days following arrival.
Set your new cat up in a separate room or bathroom with the door closed at all times so they can’t interact with your resident cat. Ensure the new cat has all of the essentials – litter tray, food bowls, water bowls, comfy bed and lots of hiding spaces!
Feel free to sit in the room quietly as much as you like, so the new cat can get to know you. If they want to hide, do not force them to come out of their hiding place – they will come out to greet you when they are ready.
Allow the new cat to settle into this separate room for approximately a week, before attempting to progress with any of the next steps. It’s important that they feel comfortable in their new space before introducing any new stressors.
Start introducing each other’s scents and pheromones to each other
Wipe down the new cat with a towel, and leave the towel around the house for your resident cat to smell in his or her own time. You can also do the same for the new cat, by providing a towel with the resident cats smell on it too.
Once your new cat feels comfortable and relaxed in their separate space, it is time to do a room swap!
Without letting the cats visualize each other, put your resident cat into the new cats room, and allow the new cat to explore the rest of the house. This may need to be done multiple times, until the new cat is comfortable and relaxed about being in the rest of the house. You want the new cat to know where the best places to hide or sit are in the house when you do finally introduce them, in case it becomes overwhelmed!
Feeding outside the door of the new cats room
Place your resident cats food bowl outside of the new cats room, just near the door. By this time, your resident cat will likely know there is another cat in there. The main aim of this exercise is to associate being near the other cat with good things (food!). Ideally when doing this, feed high reward food (i.e. your cats favourite food) such as wet food, meat, treats, etc.
After 1-2 weeks, if both cats are coping well with the prior steps, its time let them see each other!
Temporary fly screens can be purchased for doorways from your local hardware store or online. These screens are ideal for a controlled introduction – it allows the cats to see each other but they still have a physical barrier between each other. Alternatively, pop-up domes can be purchased for Kmart which you can place the new cat in. If you are using the pop-up dome method however, ensure that the dome contains a hiding place (cat carrier, or an upturned box with an opening cut out of it) for the new cat to hide in if they become scared or overwhelmed by the presence of your resident cat. The pop-up dome method can sometimes make worried cats feel trapped!
Over the next few days, continue to bring them closer together through the screen/pop-up dome with the use of rewards (treats, toys, etc.)
Once both cats are comfortable with viewing each other through the screen and/or pet dome, we need to start thinking about resource availability.
Once again, we need to remember that cats are CONTROL FREAKS so they need to feel like they have constant and uninhibited access to all the things they want and need.
The number and locations of litter trays is very important! Not having enough litter trays in appropriate positions can lead to a lot of tension between cats. You must ensure that the number of litter trays equals the number of cats in the household plus one. So for example, if you have 3 cats in your household, you need 4 litter trays in total.
If possible, have litter trays in two separate rooms (e.g. litter trays in the laundry and a bathroom) to allow private access to litter trays if one of the cats is already utilizing one. If you are only able to have litter trays in one room, ensure they are spaced out as much as possible. If litter trays are too close together, often cats will view it as one big litter box.
Food and water stations
As with litter trays, food and water stations do need to be separate from each other. I recommend multiple water bowls throughout the house, and food bowls separated from each other by at least 2 metres.
Multiple safe places to sleep and hide
Cats love to view their world from above, so ensure access to at least two cat scratching towers. You can also create sleeping places within cupboards or free-standing shelves, or if you are in a position that you’re able to within your home, you can install cat shelving.
Spending quality time with each cat
Whilst it is important to create a bond with your new cat, it is also important to make an effort to maintain a close bond with your resident cat. Spending quality time with your resident cat can be done by ensuring the two cats are separated into rooms, and feeding your original cat treats, playing with a cat wand, etc.
Supplements and pheromones
Feliway – A synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone. This is the pheromone that cats leave naturally when they feel safe and secure in their environment (this is what they are leaving behind when they rub their face on furniture, your hands, etc.)
This may help ease the anxiety of a new cat in the household
Feliway have also released a “feliway friends” pheromone, which is targeted at reducing conflict in multi-cat households, however it is yet to be released in Australia.
Zylkene – a supplement (contained in a capsule) for cats that contains a natural product derived from casein, a protein in milk. It is a molecule well known to promote the relaxation of newborns after breastfeeding.
It helps pets cope when facing unusual and unpredictable situations and can be used before, during and after occasions such as a change in their normal environment (i.e. a new cat moving into a new household, or the resident cat experiencing a new cat in the household).
The best way to administer to cats is by opening the capsule and sprinkling onto their wet food. It is well known to be very palatable!
What to expect
- Don’t expect them to be friends immediately – the process takes time and patience! On average, cats will take 6-8 months to form a ‘friendship’ of sorts.
- There will be hissing, stand-offs, tail swishing and the occasional bops over the head – this is fine! Just as long as it does not progress to biting, scratching and kicking.
- Not all cats will progress to a friendship in which they groom each other and cuddle in the same bed. Even if they just go about their daily lives tolerating each other without any signs of aggression or resource guarding, it’s a win!
- Not all cats will tolerate another cat in the house. If you have tried all the options above, and your cat still isn’t coping with having another cat in the house, it may be time to re-consider your options. This is particularly necessary if either cat is having medical problems as a result of the stress (see my previous blog post on idiopathic cystitis).
Thank you for taking the time to read, and hopefully these steps help your new feline friend transition seamlessly into your household!