Bringing a new cat or kitten into your home and allowing them to meet your resident cat can be quite a nerve-racking experience. It always helps to be well prepared and you’ll want to give the introduction process quite a lot of thought beforehand to ensure that it goes as smoothly as possible.
Introducing too quickly with little preparation will often lead to cats feeling threatened and scared, which increases the chance of aggressive behaviour being shown. Once cats feel this way about each other, it can be extremely difficult to change their minds. A slow and careful introduction using this leaflet as a guide will hopefully prevent this from happening at all, and should lead to a peaceful co-existence for all concerned.
Cats have very different social needs compared to dogs and people. Although they are capable of forming friendships with their own kind, they are unlikely to feel the need for a companion and are often happy being the only cat in the home. This is not to say that they can’t get along with other cats – as long as there is no competition for important resources such as food, litter trays or sleeping areas, then many cats can learn to accept each other peacefully and some will even form close bonds.
How you introduce a new cat or kitten into your home can, however, make a difference.
Choosing the right cat
A kitten might be less of a threat to a resident cat than an adult, because it is still sexually immature - however introducing a playful youngster can be stressful for an older cat who prefers the quiet life, so an adult might be a better choice. Consider your own cat’s personality and age when deciding on what sort of cat to introduce. Cats who have lived alone for many years or those who have lived with cats unsuccessfully in the past will find it harder to adapt to living with another, so think carefully about whether introducing a cat into your home is the right thing for your existing pet. If you already have two or more cats that get on well, another addition may destabilise the group. You will have to make sure that there is enough space and resources available to allow all the cats to share peacefully, and a very slow and careful introduction will be needed.
Preparing your home
You will need to set up an area for your new cat or kitten away from your existing pet – a spare room is ideal for this. It is best to choose an area that your existing cat does not use very much. Everything your new cat needs should be placed here; a bed, food and water, scratching post and a litter tray. It is a good idea to install Feliway diffusers in your home one or two days before you bring your new cat home - ideally one in the area set aside for your new cat and one in the main area of the house. Feliway products emit pheromones that cats leave when they feel secure, so their use may help smooth the introduction process for both cats.
If you are introducing a kitten, then a large dog crate within this area will help facilitate the initial introductions. It should be big enough to contain all the necessities above. Make sure you allow your kitten to get used to the crate before you use it for the early introductions, by leaving the door open so they can explore.
It is also important to ensure that your home has plenty of high places that a cat can easily access. Cats naturally like to rest and hide in high areas, especially if they feel worried. This will be particularly important when you have more than one cat as it will give them the opportunity to go up high should they feel the need to.
The importance of scent
Scent is the most important of the cat’s senses for communication. You can integrate the new cat into your home more successfully by making sure that your new pet smells of ’home’ before being introduced to your resident cat. You can start this process even before you bring your new cat home by exchanging bedding between the cats if this is possible.
When you bring your new cat home, avoid the temptation to let them explore your home at first, as they will need a few days to adjust to their new surroundings. This will also give you plenty of time to carry out the important process of ‘scent swapping’. To do this, stroke each cat without washing your hands to mix scents (separately!) and swap bedding regularly. Also gather scent from the new cat’s head and cheeks by gently stroking with a soft cloth and dabbing this around your home and furniture to mix with your existing cats scent. For this reason, it is useful to delay the cats from meeting for several days or even a week. During this time, keep them in separate areas, but allow each cat to investigate the other’s room and bed without actually meeting.
Problems can arise if initial meetings are rushed or if the cats are allowed to fight or chase. The best way to avoid this is to use a barrier such as a tall stair gate for initial introductions. Stair gates are extremely useful as they will allow the cats to see and smell each other without being able to directly meet.
Where this takes place will depend upon the lay out of your house, but choose an area that is relatively neutral to both and ensure that the cats have easy access back to their individual ‘safe’ areas. Cats prefer to be able to watch from a distance and approach in their own time, so avoid handling or picking either cat up to bring them closer. You can provide both cats with some tasty food at this point (which will distract them and help create a positive association), but make sure there is plenty of distance between them at first. Keep these initial interactions short at first and try to end on a positive note.
Hopefully both cats will eventually sniff each other through the bars (their individual scents should be familiar at this point, which will make this interaction a bit less scary), but you may find that they hiss or moan at each other. This isn’t unusual, but it is an indication that things will need to be taken slowly. With small kittens, a stair gate won’t be practical as they will easily be able to slip through the bars, so for safety reasons introductions are best carried out by keeping the kitten in the dog crate. Pop a blanket over one side which will help the kitten feel safe and allow the adult cat to approach. Tasty food can be used as above but remember to give your kitten and cat lots of space. Take care not to overwhelm either the kitten or your existing cat and take regular breaks.
If either cat or kitten appears frightened or displays aggression, go back a few steps and keep them separate for a while longer. Continue scent swapping regularly and try again the next day. If carried out slowly, you should see a gradual reduction in fearful behaviour and the cats should start to become more familiar with each other’s presence. As things progress in the right direction, you can open up the rest of the house. The time it takes to reach this stage depends on the individual cats – with some it might only take a few days, whereas others may take several weeks / months. During this time, both cats should have their individual areas that they can access easily.
Remember that all cats are individuals and you’ll have to work at the pace that they are comfortable with. It’s important not to rush things – take things slowly and carefully, and this will hopefully result in your cats living together peacefully.
Maintaining the peace
Cats naturally find it difficult to share important resources such as food, sleeping areas and places to toilet, even if they are good friends. Although cats may come together to feed and sleep, it is usually because they have to and this can unfortunately create unnecessary tension. To make your home as harmonious a place as possible, provide several feeding areas, places to drink, hide and sleep and always ensure that there is more than one area to go to the toilet privately. The general rule of thumb is one toileting area per cat, plus one more. If cats feel that there is a plentiful supply of these things, it can help prevent any problems developing.
If you are experiencing any difficulties with this process the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors or the Animal Behaviour and Training Council will help you to find a reputable behaviourist or trainer local to you. If your cat or dog was rehomed from the Blue Cross, then please contact the centre you rehomed your pet from and we will do our best to help you.