Conscious Cat

August 15, 2011 22 Comments

Cat to Cat Introductions

Posted by Ingrid

two cats touching paws

Guest post by Jackson Galaxy

The common wisdom in introducing a newly adopted cat to a resident one in the past was to open the carrying case and “let them work it out.” We most definitely have a new way of looking at things; from the cat’s perspective. Cats are, after all, about territory. Bring a new, utterly alien scent of the same species into the house, and more times than not, we’re asking for chaos. Of course everyone has a story about introducing two cats that went smoothly doing the old fashioned technique. The point to stress is, if it goes poorly, this one meeting is the association that these two cats will hold onto for quite a long time and make a peaceable kingdom a difficult task. It is, ultimately, better to be safe than sorry.

Base camp for the newcomer

A slow and steady introduction starts with the establishment of a base camp for the newcomer. Once you’ve set up his or her space, you’re ready to start letting the cats make positive associations between one another. This is key, and will be repeated ad infinitum; all associations between the cats during this critical period have to be as pleasing as possible to reduce possible friction when they finally have free access.

Use food as a motivator

Let’s start with one of the most pleasing motivators-food! Feeding time will happen at the door of base camp until introduction is complete. If the resident cat is not on a scheduled feeding diet, it might be best to put him or her on one for now. Or, if you leave dry food out and supplement with wet food, greatly decrease the amount of dry so that wet feeding time is looked forward to more. Remember that the only time either cat gets wet food is during these “meet and greets” at the base camp door, which can be divided into two daily sessions. Place food bowls on either side of the door with a couple of feet of breathing room for each cat. Ideally, there should be a family member on either side of the door to praise each cat as they eat. The idea is that they are rewarded with food for being so close to the scent of the unfamiliar cat, and also rewarded by you with praise for eating. At this initial point, the door should be closed; the cats can smell one another just fine. If they don’t devour their food at first, that’s okay. They will eventually eat. Don’t give in and move the food.

First eye contact

The next step is to open the door just a tiny crack, giving the cats limited visual access to each other. How soon do you move on to this step? As with all steps in introduction, pay attention to the cats; let their body language tell you when they are comfortable enough to move on. Remember that proceeding too quickly will force you to jump backwards by anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Slow and steady definitely wins this race. We need to remain safe, so use rubber doorstops on either side of the introduction door to prevent any more than visual accessibility. If the door is too high off the ground to use stops, or if one or both cats are muscling the door open, try using a hook and eye setup. Instead of using it to lock a door shut, you would employ it backwards, to give us just a couple of inches of cracked space between the door and the jamb.

Again, the time required in moving from step to step is determined by your observation and the cats’ level of comfort. Keep cracking the door further until each cat could, if they wished, bat at one another-first up to the elbow joint then all the way to the shoulder, just making sure not to leave enough room to let a head get through. The object of “the game” is to give them enough rope to succeed. If they fail, just go back to the previous step.

Scent and site swapping

Other tricks to use during the introduction period are “scent swapping” and “site swapping.” In scent swapping, we take a washcloth per cat and rub them down with it, making sure to go across their cheeks, head, sides, and around the base of the tail. Then, present the other cat with the scent of the washcloth in a conspicuous part of their territory, perhaps near a favored sleeping spot or near (but respecting the space of) their food or water. This will start getting them accustomed to the new facts of life; their space will have to be shared with one another, and better to have this fact introduced by scent than sight.

Site swapping relies on more paws–on physical exploration of one another’s space. Once a day, switch the two cats. The new cat gets to explore the house while the resident cat is base camp to freely explore the scent of new arrival without the fear of retribution. This process is best done with a human partner just to make sure the cats don’t inadvertently get in each other’s way while trading places; but if you don’t have help, try putting the resident in, say, a bedroom. When the new cat heads for the kitchen or other area out of sight, move the resident cat into base camp. Both cats should get the praise and encouragement they need/deserve in bravely going where they have not gone before!

Play therapy

Don’t forget, during this entire process, to play with the cats! This may seem elementary, but remember, they are just energetic balloons naturally, and even more so during these intense times of stress. Of course, you will have separate play sessions during the introduction phase. Once they’ve met and cohabitated for a bit, group playtime will be another wonderful way of diverting aggression they might have towards one another into a positive route. Refer to our article on play therapy to learn the ins and outs of keeping them both as happy as possible during the period of adjustment.

Flower essences

Additionally, consider flower essences to help both (or all) cats get through the initial introduction period with the least amount of stress and anxiety. Spirit Essences has many formulas to choose from, depending on the personalities involved, including “Peacemaker” and “New Beginnings.”

Supervise initial interactions

When you think it’s time to let them be in the territory together at the same time, take precautions. If a fight breaks out, do not try to break it up with your hands! Unfortunately, this is most of the time our first instinct. You are almost sure to be clawed and bitten, and it will not be pretty. In the heat of the moment, the cats will not be able to distinguish between your arm and each other, and they will have no inhibition about attacking whatever is handy, even if it’s you. Instead, have an immediate barrier like a couple of large, thick towels or blankets at the ready. You can toss them over the cats to disorient them, and immediately relocate them by scooping them up inside the towel (to protect yourself). There is no need to follow this up with a scolding. That will not do anything except increase the cats’ agitation, which is just what you don’t need! Let the event pass with each cat in their own “time–out”, and start again fresh tomorrow–at the very beginning. Also make sure that when the two cats meet, they have escape routes from one another. Getting cornered is a sure recipe for a fight in the mind of a defense–minded animal like a cat. Keep a close eye on all interactions for the first week or so, not letting the cats have free access to one another when nobody is home.

Litterboxes: 1 box per cat + 1

Finally, keep the food and litter setup established in the base camp room, at least for the next while. The accepted “recipe” is three litterboxes for two cats (to be precise, 1 box per cat + 1), so bear that in mind. Also bear in mind escape routes from the boxes, as the last place we want a skirmish to erupt is while one of the cats is having a “private moment.” They should be able to see as much of the room around them as possible when in the litterbox, which is why uncovered boxes would be highly recommended.

This should pretty well cover the bases for the initial introduction between your cats. Of course there are always variables, but the broken record theme should get you going; do it slow–there’s always tomorrow to make another positive impression. They can, over time, learn that every time they view or smell the other, something good will happen. Do it too quickly and that negative first impression might very well be the one that lasts.

Jackson Galaxy, cat behaviorist and host of Animal Planet’s new show, My Cat From Hell, has been reading about, writing about and working hands-on with cats for 15 years. For more information, please visit Jackson’s website.

You may also enjoy reading:

Up close and purrsonal with Jackson Galaxy

New cat introductions: breaking all the rules

Are two cats better than one?

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22 Responses to “Cat to Cat Introductions”

  1. maru says:

    I am exactly at the beginning of that process, with two resident grown ups and a four months kitten as newcomer.

    Not easy… but we will survive :D and enjoy.

  2. maru says:

    :) :) thanks, I will need plenty… the 3 years old, is a tough guy… ;)

  3. Esme says:

    Great article-I know as you helped me through a rough patch.

  4. Elaine says:

    I have 2 cats & I tried to adopt a third one, but my 2 would not accept him. are there steps I should follow if I decide to try again?

    • Ingrid says:

      Elaine, I recommend you follow the steps outlined in the article. Go very very slowly. If things don’t go well, back up to the previous step, and start again. Some introductions can take months.

      • stephanie says:

        Hi.great article! I am currently taking care of two stray cats one whom is pregnant and living in my basement. I rent an upstairs bedroom. My question is this,I don’t have an extra room for new comer. So I can’t feed them each on either side of a door. Currently the new cat is caged in my bedroom with my cat.needless to say there’s a lot of hissing. from my cat
        How can I get them to accept each other when I only have a one room house? I’m at a loss.I want to keep them but if they won’t get along I cannot. Please help!

        • Ingrid says:

          Do you have a bathroom you could use as the “safe room,” Stephanie? The way you have things set up is creating a lot of stress for both cats.

  5. rachel says:

    I have a unique apartment and have a window I can leave up and bring down to shutdown the bedroom if I need to. Helps when I have to move things around, I can Lock them in one room and they can still see that I am there.
    I use this twice to introduce a new friend- they can see each other, even swat a little at each other under the bedroom door and then I will bring the new child out in a carrier and let the other roam around and watch, but the new one doesn’t get hurt. And then I will swap them out shut the current resident in the bedroom and let the newbie roam the other areas and all this time I am making sure I am spending plenty of time with both, playing and cuddling.
    this also helps with the older kids getting used to the new scent because it is all over my clothes and then I will slow leave them alone together for short periods of time and increase that each time I leave.

    It always make me laugh the first time I see them groom each other, at first they act like they don’t like each other and then I will see them cuddling with each other and things work out pretty well

    • Ingrid says:

      Rachel, that window sounds like a great way to get the cats used to each other without actually being together. For people who don’t have that kind of set up, sometimes, a screen door can work, too.

      I agree, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing two cats groom each other or cuddle for the first time.

  6. [...] There are things you can do to help ensure that everything goes smoothly. Proper introductions are key to convincing your formerly only cat to accept a new friend. On rare occasions, you can just bring the new cat into an existing situation without following a protocol of gradual introductions. With Allegra and Ruby, I went on gut instinct and against all the traditional recommendations of how to introduce two cats to each other, and within a few hours, the two of them were comfortably hanging out in the living room together. They bonded incredibly fast. I don’t recommend this approach. Nationally known feline behaviorist Jackson Galaxy tells you how to do it right in Cat to Cat Introductions. [...]

  7. [...] of how you choose your new feline companion, introduce the newcomer slowly. Proper cat to cat introductions will go a long way toward ensuring harmony in your home. Tags: cat to cat introduction , [...]

  8. [...] careful thought, you decide to have a kitten join your older feline in residence, slow and steady introductions will ensure a smooth experience for [...]

  9. Hairless Cat says:

    Hi Ingrid and Jackson,

    Love your show on Animal Planet, Jackson.

    I agree that a new cat should be introduced slowly and carefully.

    We do the base camp set up every time and it works really well. Your version is more complete and has some good additional tips and steps.

    Love the bit about putting wet food on each side of the door and over time slowly cracking open the door more and more. Learned a good new tip, thanx.

    I also like the “feel” how long each step should take by observing the cats. It’s been our (DH and my) experience that this time will vary and observance is the best guide.

    Wow, scent swapping with a dry washcloth – that’s something I’ll have to try. Good one.

    Another tip I liked and haven’t tried yet (I’ve been using my bare hands and not without injury to myself) is tossing a towel over each of them if they get into a bad fight.

    Thanx, I’ll be incorporating some of your tips next time we introduce a new cat.

    Super helpful!

    =^-^= Hairless Cat Girl =^-^=

  10. [...] start reintroducing the two cats to each other. Follow the same steps you would follow with two cats that have never met. Depending on your cats, and how severely triggered the aggressor was, this can take weeks and [...]

  11. Cindy says:

    Hang in there….it took 8 months for our spayed female to accept our new neutered male….although for the next year or so she still blamed him for any unexpected loud noise with a quick punishing chase and wack. Thankfully our new male is very mellow and he won her over. For those 8 months we had a large kennel cage in our living room and switched them every 2 hours with them taking turns sleeping in kennel every other night. They hated it but, it was worth it. They became best friends….and our female remained the alpha. Sadly she passed at the end of October so, we are beginning to think of a new companion for our little guy.

  12. Cindy says:

    Forgot to mention, the kennel cage was very large and allowed for play room, sleeping, a small litter box, food and water. And, of course, each cat got the run of our 1 bedroom apartment when out of the kennel. Once they permanently shared the house the thing that got them to start playing together was a little game our alpha female loved. She would sit on the edge of the bathtub and we would throw her q-tips. She would swat them back or catch them mid air like prey. Our male saw this and he sat at the other end of the tub with the shower curtain between them. They could each play and sneak behind the shower curtain to observe the other……in the case of our female it was to supervise! And, it was well worth the effort!

  13. Lucy says:

    I am in desperate need of some help on this topic. About a year ago I found a 2 year old tabby male who was virtually on death’s door. Over the past year I have fattened him, had him neutered and he is doing really well. Unfortunately he does not get on with my other two females and so he lives in our bedroom and bathroom, permanently seperated from the girls. We let him outside during the day and this seems to help him greatly, he seems to be cordial with my male cat outside.

    Not sure how to introduce them at all as it just turns into a tumbling mess of spitting, clawing cats! I applied for Jackson’s help but sadly they are not casting for Washington State.

    Any help would be much appreciated.

    • Ingrid says:

      Short of following the steps Jackson outlines in this article, I don’t really know what to tell you, Lucy. Start over, and go very slowly. If there are issues, back up a step and start again. It can takes weeks and sometimes month to properly introduce cats to each other.

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