Cat to Cat Introductions

cat-to-cat-introductions

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.

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37 Comments on Cat to Cat Introductions

  1. Drew
    February 26, 2017 at 9:08 pm (6 months ago)

    Hi, I have recently moved house and I have a male cat as do the new housemates. We are slowly introducing the cats but the resident cat keeps hissing and swatting the new cat. It’s only been two weeks but is there anything else I could do?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 27, 2017 at 6:20 am (6 months ago)

      You may want to slow things down, possibly even back up a step in the process. It can take months for some cats.

      Reply
  2. Michael
    February 14, 2017 at 3:22 pm (6 months ago)

    Hi, i have a male cat desexed 4yo, and i adopted a new kitty female 45days, she was on the street abandoned and blind, we already took care of the eye and now im im trying to introduce them both, first weel she was separated and i exchanged smells, now they see each other phisically, the new baby cat just plays non stop with the dominant cat watches, he still hisses at her when she is to close but never attacked… But now he is hissing and growling and he runs from where she is and comes back after 1 minute and just stares while she plays… Im just afraod that he kills her?? Or.. Should i continue doing this?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 14, 2017 at 3:52 pm (6 months ago)

      Back up a step and slow introductions down, Michael. It sounds like the cats were not quite ready to see each other. You want to make it a positive experience when they see each other.

      Reply
  3. Meagan
    January 21, 2017 at 3:25 pm (7 months ago)

    Hi there!
    I’m moving into my girlfriends house with my 3 month old kitten, Luna.
    She has a cat already, Champ, who is approximately 1.5 years old.
    I was staying over at their place for the weekend, and brought Luna along. Champ initially was intrigued, smelled her, and then hissed at her. Her went to smell her crate, hissed at it. And whenever we have introduced them, he hisses at her. His body language does not appear threatening, so I think it is territorial. He scratches at the door to try to get into the room her and I were staying in at night.
    Luna just stays by me and crouches down with her ears back when he hisses. She seems more intrigued by another cat, and wanting to make friends.
    Champ has done really well when he has gonever away and is the “new cat” at a place while visiting.
    Just looking for some advice

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 21, 2017 at 5:47 pm (7 months ago)

      Keep Luna in a separate room and follow a slow and gradual introduction protocol, Meagan. This is Champ’s house, and Luna is the newcomer.

      Reply
  4. Rowena
    January 11, 2017 at 11:04 pm (7 months ago)

    Hello Ingrid,
    I am very glad that I have found your website.
    I really need some advice.
    We have a 8 year old (approximately) female desexed cat. We have had her for 5 years. She came to us as a stray.
    Recently we have been “chosen” by another stray. This little one is a male approximately 2 years old.
    He was hanging around our house for about 1 month before he injured himself. I then had to take him to the animal shelter.
    We have really fallen in love with this little guy and would love to adopt him, however we are very concerned about how this would impact on the quality of life of our resident 8 year old cat.
    Our resident cat has stress related cystitis and is very sensitive to stress and changes in her environment. She loves people, but is not a fan of other cats that venture into her territory.
    My question is, would we be cruel to adopt another cat and disrupt her life? Are cats really just as happy when they have to share their home with another cat?

    Thank you so much.

    Rowena

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 12, 2017 at 6:26 am (7 months ago)

      Since your cat is already sensitive to any changes in her environment, bringing a new cat into your home is probably not going to be a good idea, Rowena.

      Reply
  5. Basant
    December 27, 2016 at 10:55 pm (8 months ago)

    Hi, I have a male cat who is 10 months old, and 2 days ago I adopted a female cat who is 2 years old (smaller in size than the male) unfortunately her owners left the country and can’t take her with them, both cats are very calm in nature ( they both are not nurtured) I didn’t have any background on how to introduce new comers until I started reading about it after adopting the female cat didn’t know it will be that complicated, on the first day I placed both cats infront of each other my male resident cat was surprised and alert (No hissing or growling) the female cat though started hissing and growling, didn’t know what to do until I started reading about it. I live in a one bedroom apartment and the whole house belongs to the resident cat he’s got favorite spots in the bedroom and the living room, however I still placed the new female cat in the bedroom and the resident cat usually spends most of his time in the living room anyway. My residant cat started hissing at the newcomer when he sees she’s invading his favorite spots or trying to use his scratcher, so I bought the new comer a new scratcher, they both have separate food bowls, separate litter boxes, I tried to keep them in the same room with supervision of course and sometimes they can stay in the same room just chilling without anyone hissing at the other, and other times one of them hisses at the other. Should I just not let them see each other at all for a while? I feel sorry I sometime for my male resident cat as he’s got one favorite spot in the bedroom where he usually likes to chill during the morning and afternoon in (he starts crying and meowing when he can’t get access which breaks my heart) I’m I doing the right thing in keeping the new comer in the bedroom and not giving my male residant cat that much access to one of his favorite spots ? Is it a good sign that they both sometimes do not hiss at each other at all and just sit there and relax ?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 28, 2016 at 6:07 am (8 months ago)

      Some hissing is normal, but if they hiss at each other all the time when they see each other, you’re better off keeping the cats separated and only slowly and gradually introduce them, Basant. I know it’s challenging in a small apartment like yours, but it’s the best way to ensure that they eventually get along. Would it be possible to keep the newcomer in a bathroom rather than the bedroom so your resident cat has access to all his favorite spots?

      Reply
  6. Annie
    February 13, 2016 at 7:09 pm (2 years ago)

    I have an old cat, he just turned 18! He is a neutered male, beloved friend and companion to Jake who passed away two months ago aged 9 after a short illness. A week ago I adopted Willow, a 10 year old neutered female from a close friend who needed to rehome one of hers. She is a delightful cat, friendly and loving like the old cat but so far the introduction has gone far from well. She spends the days hiding in the most difficult to find places and when she does venture out at night CK, the old one hisses and spits which terrifies her. I have tried all the tips, keeping a ‘safe’ room and swapping them over, trying to feed them in the same room- worked only once, and tried petting them on opposite sides of the room with my son helping. It is a slow process and sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it but after hearing CK howling every night after Jake died and watching him searching for him I thought getting him a new companion was the best thing to do. If anyone has any experience of trying to adopt such an old cat as a companion to another even older cat I would be glad of some advice! Thanks, Annie.

    Reply
    • Sharon AJJ
      February 15, 2016 at 11:00 am (2 years ago)

      Hi Annie. A week is much too soon to allow the cats to have direct interactions. CK doesn’t see Willow as a replacement for his beloved Jake–he just sees her as an interloper. I would slow things way down, since both cats are showing signs of stress. Keep Willow in the safe room for at least another week or two, and don’t allow any contact between the cats. Let them get used to the scent and sound of one another and let Willow start to gain some confidence while CK accustoms himself to another cat in the house. The scent transfer tips in this article are good. Also, in terms of letting the cats see one another, use stacked baby gates in the doorway for at least another week after your 1-2 weeks of no visual contact. Keep Willow in her room and keep CK out, but allow them to see one another. If they can look at each other through the gate without hissing or hiding, give them treats, cuddles or whatever is positive reinforcement for them. Again, don’t rush any of this. You may well have Willow living in “her” room for a month or more, and that’s okay. Remember that every negative encounter adds to the time the two cats will take to get used to each other. It doesn’t mean they won’t get along one day, but it means you need to be patient and minimize opportunities for negative interactions. CK may never love Willow the way he loved Jake, but if you’re careful and patient, there’s a good chance the two cats will eventually tolerate one another’s presence. Good luck!

      Reply
  7. Ed
    June 6, 2015 at 1:30 pm (2 years ago)

    Hello! I was wondering if anyone had some feedback/suggestions for my situation. I just adopted a female cat (1.5 years) and have been going through the step by step introductions with my male resident cat (6 years). Today is day 9 and the cats are currently at a stage where they can eat next to one another twice a day. They are also able to play next to one another in the same room. They have even started to touch noses, lick each other’s faces, and groom each other – all of which I understand are positive signs. I’ve been reinforcing all the positive behaviour with praise and treats. I’ve been trying to keep the interaction times short and gradually increase the amount of time they spend.
    Eventually, anytime the two cats are together, my resident cat ends up biting the new cat’s neck (it appears “playful” and not too hard) but this quickly escalates to the new cat running and the resident cat chasing it under the bed. At this point I separate the two cats by making a loud clap or noise and then closing the bedroom door.
    This has been going on for a few days. I was hoping for some tips/suggestions to move forward. Thank you!!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 6, 2015 at 1:40 pm (2 years ago)

      You may need to slow things down a little bit, Ed. Shorten the time you have them out together and separate them before the behavior escalates. You may also want to try to distract your resident cat with an interactive toy just before he starts the behavior.

      Reply
  8. Kim
    January 14, 2015 at 9:19 pm (3 years ago)

    Hi Jackson – BIG fan of yours!!! Introducing 6 month old shelter male who we brought home yesterday to our 13 month old male who we took in as a stray when he was about 8 months. Cedar (the older one) bites me a lot although much, much better than he was thanks to your strategies. Jayco is really a lovey dovey guy and is currently sequestered in his own room. I think things are going as they are supposed to but I’m very concerned that when we get to the face to face point, that alpha male Cedar is going to chomp on Jayco like he’s a live bird! Of course, both are neutered (Jayco only 2 days ago) and have their claws. Please advise. Thanks! – Kim

    Reply
  9. Lucy
    July 18, 2013 at 2:35 pm (4 years ago)

    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.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm (4 years ago)

      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.

      Reply
  10. Cindy
    December 19, 2012 at 1:05 pm (5 years ago)

    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!

    Reply
  11. Cindy
    December 19, 2012 at 2:28 am (5 years ago)

    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.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 19, 2012 at 8:46 am (5 years ago)

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Cindy. It’s always good to hear that in most cases, patience does pay off.

      Reply
  12. Hairless Cat
    October 31, 2012 at 3:43 pm (5 years ago)

    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 =^-^=

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      October 31, 2012 at 3:47 pm (5 years ago)

      Isn’t Jackson’s show fabulous? I’m glad this post was helpful.

      Reply
  13. rachel
    September 8, 2011 at 8:37 pm (6 years ago)

    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

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 8, 2011 at 10:14 pm (6 years ago)

      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.

      Reply
  14. Elaine
    September 8, 2011 at 7:59 pm (6 years ago)

    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?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 8, 2011 at 10:12 pm (6 years ago)

      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.

      Reply
      • stephanie
        April 17, 2013 at 11:30 pm (4 years ago)

        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!

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          April 18, 2013 at 6:43 am (4 years ago)

          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.

          Reply
  15. Esme
    August 20, 2011 at 3:31 pm (6 years ago)

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

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 20, 2011 at 5:29 pm (6 years ago)

      I’m so glad I was able to help, Esme.

      Reply
  16. maru
    August 15, 2011 at 4:18 pm (6 years ago)

    🙂 🙂 thanks, I will need plenty… the 3 years old, is a tough guy… 😉

    Reply
  17. maru
    August 15, 2011 at 12:32 pm (6 years ago)

    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 😀 and enjoy.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 15, 2011 at 3:07 pm (6 years ago)

      Good luck with the introductions, Maru!

      Reply

4Pingbacks & Trackbacks on Cat to Cat Introductions

  1. […] 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 […]

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  3. […] 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 , […]

  4. […] 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. […]

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