Guest post by Jackie Roberts
Finding a companion for an older cat requires some forethought, and is frequently not quite as simple as finding an adorable kitten at the local shelter, bringing her home, and introducing her immediately to the older resident cat. Kittens may not be a good match for many senior cats, especially cats who are dealing with health issues. If, after careful thought, you decide to have a kitten join your older feline in residence, slow and steady introductions will ensure a smooth experience for everyone.
Beyond the unsure nature of socialization between cat and kitten, there are also potential health concerns with an immediate introduction. When taking a new kitten home, the first stop should be a veterinarian’s office to make sure he is feline leukemia and FIV negative, free of parasites, and otherwise in good health.
The following tips will help you introduce your new kitten to your older cat.
A kitten and an older cat aren’t necessarily going to play together even after they’ve been introduced. The two are at different life stages, and the older resident may not have the same energy levels as the younger, or the same personality. If you are looking for a playmate for your older cat, aim for an animal that is the same age or temperament of the current feline. If you still want a kitten, consider getting another kitten at the same time so the two younger animals can entertain each other.
The best way to introduce a new kitten is to create a “safe room” as a way to get her used to the smells and sounds of her new home without getting overwhelmed. The ideal safe room will have a separate litter box, food and water bowls, a bed, a scratching post, a few toys and possibly a place to hide, as well as a door that closes firmly. The kitten will have everything that she needs in one cozy, familiar space, and won’t have to face the vast openness of a single family home or apartment yet.
Creating this safe room allows the two cats to meet each other indirectly by sniffing each other through the closed door. Promote this indirect interaction slowly but steadily and monitor the effects for any negative reactions on either side.
With the new kitten still in the “safe room,” numerous methods can be used to get the two together in a positive atmosphere. Older animals can be quite territorial, and it is possible that the resident may take a few days to be within sniffing distance of this intruder, even for eating. Don’t force the situation if your older feline is reluctant to be introduced; let it progress naturally.
After a few days, you can try feeding the two cats on opposite sides of the safe room door so that they associate each other’s presence with a positive experience. You can also exchange scents by sharing combs or washcloths or even swapping spaces (while the other is not present) to get the animals used to each other.
Once the two are comfortable with each other’s scent, it’s time for a face-to-face meeting. The first face-to-face interaction is often cautious sniffing and posturing. Don’t give up at this point. Let the animals retreat to their own spaces and come back when they’re ready to.
Introducing a young kitten to an older cat does not always go as expected. Many older cats have never been around kittens before and often can be quite afraid of them. Don’t expect the “parenting gene” to kick in if your elder cat has not been around kittens.
If there is more going on than just sniffing and posturing, carefully separate the two to their respective areas of the house. Try the process again later, and go slower if necessary.
Introducing a kitten to an older cat is not always easy, but it can be rewarding if you go slow, and allow the two cats to get used to each other.
Photo ©Dan Powers, courtesy of Zee & Zoey’s Chronicle Connection