Introducing New Cats

by Debbie Sentes, Past President, People for Animals of Saskatchewan

It certainly would be easy to introduce a new cat to your household if all it took was a brief pawshake and a couple of “Hello, my name is…”. But, since we’re dealing with cats, not people, it’s just not that simple! We need to have realistic expectations, and use certain techniques to increase your chances of success. You must never throw your pets together in a sink-or-swim situation and hope they’ll work it out!

Cats are territorial, and generally don’t like to share. A cat who’s unhappy and stressed about a newcomer may express his displeasure by fighting with the other pet and marking territory by peeing on the floor, wall or other objects. Cats also dislike change, and a new cat in the house is a huge change. These two characteristics mean you could have a tough (but not impossible) road ahead.

Some cats are more social than others. An 8 year old cat who has never been around other
animals may have a difficult time, or never accept another pet. But, an 8 week old kitten may be glad to have an animal companion. Sometimes they may learn to just tolerate each other,and never be best buddies.

It is very important to introduce your new cat very slowly so they can get used to each other before a face-to-face meeting. Be aware that the introduction process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, or even a few months in extreme cases. Be patient!!

To allow time for the newcomer to adjust to you and your other pets, keep her in a small room with her litter box, food, water, scratching post, toys and a bed for several days to a week. Feed your resident pets and the newcomer on each side of the door to this room, so that they associate something enjoyable (eating) with each other’s smells. Don’t put the food so close to the door that the animals are too upset by each other’s presence to eat. Gradually move the dishes closer to the door until your pets can eat calmly while standing directly on either side of the door. Try to get your pets to interact with a toy, and be sure to spend plenty of time with your new kitty in her room, but don’t ignore your own cat.

To animals, smells are far more important than appearances, so you want to get your pets used to each other’s scent before they meet face-to-face. Swap the blankets or beds the cats use or gently rub a washcloth on one cat’s cheeks and put it underneath the food dish of another. When they finally do meet, at least their scents will be familiar.

Once your new cat is using her litter box and eating regularly while confined, let her have free time in the house while confining your resident pet to the new cat’s room. It’s best to introduce your new cat to a room or two at a time and increase her access to other rooms over a few days. This gives the newcomer a chance to get familiar with her new surroundings without the other animals frightening her.

Once the cats are face to face, though, there will be some kinks for them to work out. They may do some mutual sniffing and grooming, they may stare at each other, or they might sniff each other, hiss and walk away. This may go on for a few days or so, and then you’ll probably find them both sleeping on your bed.

If they exhibit signs of aggression, make a loud noise by clapping your hands or throw a pillow nearby to distract them. If the standoff continues, very carefully move them to separate parts of the house to calm down. Never try to break up a cat fight by picking one up – you may get hurt.

To reduce tension, have one litter box per cat, and try to keep your resident cat’s routine as close to what it was before the newcomer arrived. Make sure all cats have a “safe” place to escape to.