Does Your Senior Cat Really Want a Younger Companion?

senior-cat

I frequently get questions from readers who are looking to add a new cat to their family. How do I find a cat that will be a good match for my cat? Should I get a cat who’s the same age as my resident cat, or should I get a kitten? Male or female? Will the resident cat accept the newcomer? I wish I could give definitive answers to all of these questions, but the reality is that while you can do some homework, ultimately, each cat’s unique history and personality will determine the outcome. And these questions are even harder to answer when it comes to deciding whether to get a companion for a senior cat.

Are you projecting your own feelings onto your cat?

A frequent scenario I’m asked about is this: a senior cat recently lost his or her companion. The remaining cat appears to be grieving. No two cats react the same way to the loss of a companion, but there’s no doubt in my mind that cats grieve. And while cats may not show grief the same way as humans do, a 1996 ASPCA study fund that 46% of cats ate less than usual after the death of a companion cat, around 70% showed a change in vocalization pattern, more than half of the cats became more affectionate and “clingy” with their owners, and many of the cats slept more, and changed the location of where they usually slept. Overall, 65% of cats exhibited four or more behavior changes after losing a pet companion.

Watching a cat grieve is hard, especially when the human is also grieving the loss of the companion cat. It’s only natural to want to help the surviving cat feel better.

Will bringing in a new cat help a grieving cat?

Cats are, by their nature, territorial animals, and while slow and gradual introductions are the best way to ensure that two cats get along, there’s never a guarantee. Additionally, most cats are inherently wary of strangers, which also contributes to challenges with new cat introductions.

Accepting a new cat can be even more difficult for senior cats, especially when the new cat is a young cat or kitten. Cat guardians often think that bringing a kitten into the family will “make the old cat act young again.” However, from the senior cat’s perspective, the disruption of his familiar routine may create a significant amount of stress.

Make the right choice for your cat

If you’re considering adding a younger companion to your household, it’s imperative that you ensure that your older cat does not lose anything that he or she already has. Senior cats should not have to compete for resources such as time with you, resting, viewing and hiding places, and food and water. “Your highest allegiance is to the cat who was there first,” says  Dr. Andrea Tasi of Just Cats Naturally, a house-call based, feline-exclusive practice dedicated to a holistic, individualized approach to each cat. “Ask yourself: how do I preserve my older cat’s day-to-day resources as effectively as possible?”

Your senior cat’s health

Consider the impact of a new cat on your senior cat’s health. If you have an elderly cat who is ill, I do not recommend bringing another cat into the home until your resident cat has passed. The stress of a new addition to the family may aggravate your older cat’s condition, and could actually shorten his life. But even seemingly healthy senior cats may be dealing with underlying health issues that haven’t manifested yet. A 3-year study at the Ohio State University found that stress has a considerable impact on a cat’s health. “Many senior cats are what I call tightrope walkers,” says Dr. Tasi. “As long as the rope is taught and the cat’s environment is stable, they do just fine. But if even one thing changes, they may fall into catastrophe.”

How to choose a companion cat

If you truly feel that your cat would be happier with a younger companion, consider your resident cat’s temperament when selecting a companion. If you have a timid cat, she would probably do better with a laid back, calm, mellow cat. A dominant cat will most likely do better with a self-assured, calmer cat. If you’re fortunate enough to have one of those happy-go-lucky cats who loves everyone, she will probably get along with a cat from either end of the personality spectrum. “In my experience, cats who readily accept other cats easily are the exception rather than the rule,” says Dr. Tasi.

Keep in mind that temperament and personality can be hard to detect if you meet a cat in a shelter. Most cats are stressed in that setting and won’t show their true personality until they’ve been in a new home for several weeks and sometimes even years.

Size can also make a difference, especially if you have a slightly dominant cat. The theory is that cats of similar size and build will accept each other more quickly. Try to choose a new cat who is the same size or slightly smaller than your resident cat.

I believe that gender, other than as a personal preference of the guardian, is the least important consideration when it comes to choosing a good match for your resident cat.

If you want to adopt a kitten, consider adopting a pair. Most senior cat won’t appreciate being constantly pestered by an exuberant kitten, and the kittens will have a friend of same or similar age and energy to play with.

If you’ve carefully thought through all aspects of this decision, and you’ve decided to move forward, Dr. Tasi suggests working with a rescue group that allows you to foster a potential new companion. “Fostering gives you a chance to see whether the new cat and your senior cat are a good match,” she says.

If your senior cat seems comfortable and content with his life, this may not be the time to bring in a new companion. Make sure that you’re clear that you’re making the decision based on what’s best for your cat, not what’s best for you.

Have you introduced a younger cat to a senior cat? Share your experience in a comment.

feliway-banner-with-border

19 Comments on Does Your Senior Cat Really Want a Younger Companion?

  1. steve jackson
    December 6, 2019 at 8:02 am (6 days ago)

    First I had Sir PaL. All he would do is sleep during the day when I was at work. A few years later, the person who I got Sir PaL from asked if I would be interested a stray they were fostering. The introduction was iffy as Sir PaL was not amused by her. Seven years later, they play fight and sleep together now.
    Three years ago I took in a friendly stray, Outside Kitty. She keeps her distance from the other two and they do the same.
    Now, a few weeks ago, I took in a friendly feral kitten. I think this has given Outside Kitty a playmate as she is now a bit more active and will play a lot more. The kitten will play with Sir PaL.
    It is all on their personalities.

    Reply
  2. Atlas Johnson
    August 1, 2018 at 6:04 am (1 year ago)

    Our neighbor’s little cat is very happy when it comes to them. I can have a young friend near me.

    Reply
  3. Cynthia
    July 31, 2018 at 11:42 am (1 year ago)

    Minnie Meow here:
    back in 2011 when I was 8 years old a knock on the door and a new addition was added.Her name is China,she is just a wee kitten.
    She seems so sweet,trained,indoor cat,no fleas,healthy,has papers.She has bullseye markings like Shy’s sister Cinnamon had.She was put down in 2010 for health reasons.
    Me and Shy acted up,China has voice.She has remained either at the top of mama’s computer chair or in her lap.She even lets mama cut her nails.She isa BULLY.
    She has the cutest black hair tips at the top of her ears.She hides in the groove of mama’s back and the computer chair.

    In hidesight big mistake.

    After my beloved mate Shy died I was looking for him everywhere.Than Mama let that China come in.

    We did not like each other from the get go.I got stressed and had IBS for 7 years. My last year of life I seemed ok in the poo department but I had a tumor. I made it to my 15 th birthday. I had a stroke on Feb 7 th 2018 and Rainbow Bridge welcomed me on March 7th. Mama cared for me like her baby. I could not walk anymore.
    I hear China loves being in the spot I had for so many years.
    She has mama all to herself now.

    Reply
  4. Ingrid
    July 31, 2018 at 5:19 am (1 year ago)

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments and for sharing your experiences. Such a variety of situations and outcomes – if ever there was a doubt that ultimately, each cat is an individual, your stories definitely support that!

    Reply
  5. Sue Brandes
    July 30, 2018 at 5:12 pm (1 year ago)

    Thanks for the great post.

    Reply
  6. Erica
    July 30, 2018 at 4:05 pm (1 year ago)

    When we lost our oldest boy at the age of 13, I saw a personality come out in our 12yr old boy that had never existed before. He had been timid and only seemed to truly love his big brother. Us humans were just here, to be graced with his presence when he wanted extra attention lol:)
    Now, he’s our daughters best friend and loves everyone, even my sister’s dog when they come visit!
    For me personally, it is now 3 years later and he is super happy and content. He will live out he rest of his days in his happy, confident and cuddly nature:)

    Reply
  7. Tehila
    July 30, 2018 at 3:44 pm (1 year ago)

    When Mommy and me lost our Anna, both of us were sad. I almost completely stopped talking, and cut back on my food – even nosh. I was so lonely that when Mommy would hold up the nail clippers I would jump into her lap.

    Sami Jo had been fostered with two of her siblings, a bunch of other fosters, a huge dog, and some teens. So she definitely wasn’t worried about my being older (six years) and/or stronger and stronger (I’m twice her weight, and 2/3 bigger than her). From day one, we were allowed to be together when Mommy was in the room; when she went to swap us out to let Sami explore the rest of the place, we both escaped and had a good time.

    Mommy tells everyone that she got super lucky with all of our personalities. But she makes special time for each of us together and separately. She says she has two hands – one for each of us.

    Reply
  8. Random Felines
    July 30, 2018 at 2:55 pm (1 year ago)

    we always recommend to people that they pick a cat within a range of the age of their current cat and match personality rather than gender. that said, there was a lady who had a 15 year old cat and wanted a kitten. mom suggested an older cat since taking a kitten into that house would be like unleashing a toddler at a retirement home. unfair 🙂

    Reply
  9. Melody Chambers
    July 30, 2018 at 1:15 pm (1 year ago)

    I introduced a kitten to my then 12 year old male, who was very sweet and calm. While they got along, the kitten definitely wanted to play and wrestle too much for my senior cat’s taste. My senior cat recently passed at age 15 from cancer, and after reading you article, I now wonder if he was one of the above-mentioned “tightrope” cats, and the stress of a new kitten (no matter how well-intentioned) contributed to his manifestation of the cancer. In hindsight, it probably would have been better to not adopt another cat or kitten for my senior cat (ok, really for me), but we live and learn.

    Reply
  10. PurpleLisa
    July 30, 2018 at 12:11 pm (1 year ago)

    There are a decent number of older cats in shelters who need homes. Consider the possibility of an “age appropriate companion,” relative energy levels, etc. as an option. That worked well with my big, older, territorial guy when he lost his companion. If I brought home a kitten, I think my older cat would pack his little kitty bags and left home.

    Reply
  11. Patricia Rockwell
    July 30, 2018 at 11:26 am (1 year ago)

    My 9-yr old male Javanese and my 16-yr old female Persian always had a good relationship so I thought he would enjoy a new companion when we lost her to kidney failure. I adopted a very laid-back Sphynx kitten, but my loving Tobias morphed into a miserable cat that I hardly even recognized. Alas, he hated the new kitten so intensely that I was afraid he might actually kill it, so sadly the kitten went back to the breeder for re-homing with another individual. When Tobias would periodically detect the lingering scent of his lost companion in her special places in our condo he would let out a blood-curdling Siamese howl but he clearly felt that another cat was not the answer to his grief. He became his old happy self again and lived another 5 years as an only cat until he passed away from pancreatitis at the age of 14. If you do decide to adopt another cat as a companion for an older cat I would always make sure that you set up an agreement for the return of the cat to a safe situation in case it does not work out. The elders do get very set in their ways.

    Reply
  12. Gabi
    July 30, 2018 at 11:14 am (1 year ago)

    Yes, a younger companion is great! My senior Mickey was lonely after Lilly died. We went to the shelter and adopted Lola. After a few days in “isolation”, we opened the door and Lola emerged like she always belonged in the house. They were a little curious about each other, but they clicked!(Like people!) It’s been a year already and they love each other. Mickey is 15 and Lola is 2. Mickey has a playmate! I call it the”younger woman syndrome” ! She made him get off the couch and be active. Besides, she is the most loving, sweet kitty we ever had. She is a tabby.

    Reply
  13. Debi
    July 30, 2018 at 10:52 am (1 year ago)

    I loved the buddy system for my cats, but I made the mistake of bringing in a companion kitten for an 11 year old cat. The older cat died 2 years later of kidney failure, which I believed was from the stress of the kitten eventually taking over the dominant position. Then a sweet calico joined our family, and was too often harassed by her older dominant “brother”. When he died of CHF at 16, her personality changed into a more affectionate, outgoing cat. She didn’t have to hide from her annoying brother anymore. I decided not to get her a companion. She will be 20 in January and is healthy and happy! (fingers crossed that she will live forever 😉

    Reply
  14. Jennifer Van de Kieft
    July 30, 2018 at 10:13 am (1 year ago)

    I had 3 cats, and the 2 eldest ones passed away. I waited 3 years before bringing 2 kittens home. My 13 year old really enjoyed watching them, and slowly began interacting with them. I think it was really good for her and I wish I would not have waited so long. I think because it was 2 kittens who could entertain each other and essentially leave her alone was key in making it work.

    Reply
  15. Adrianne Smith
    July 30, 2018 at 9:48 am (1 year ago)

    When we lost our tortie Penelope very suddenly last year, we considered getting a kitten after her passing. And I am so glad that we did not. In addition to Penelope, we also have two Golden Girls, Mischa and Ella. Since Penelope’s passing, Mischa has been diagnosed with CKD, and Mischa and Ella have become very close; this sisterhood they have formed makes them very happy. It is seemingly unfair to introduce a new feline friend when Ella and Mischa are so happy together with the current dynamic. Additionally, as Mischa and Ella grow older, they need more (and different) attention from us as “parents.” The intricacies of feline personalities can be a delicate balance. So, no new additions to our feline family until our Golden Girls pass on.

    Reply
  16. Kelley
    July 30, 2018 at 9:33 am (1 year ago)

    I do rescue, and my cats are used to other cats coming and going. I have had senior cats who LOVE kittens and want to mother them (even the neutered senior males), and senior cats who wanted nothing to do with them at all. It’s so hard to tell, as you say, before you try. If you get a cat from a rescue they will almost always allow you to return the cat if things don’t work out for all involved. Shelters will take them back as well, but if it’s not a no-kill shelter that may not be a happy ending for the cat. Just my thoughts.

    Reply
  17. Janine
    July 30, 2018 at 7:47 am (1 year ago)

    Pono always loved all cats at any age. When I would bring one home, he would go into mothering mode grooming the little ones. And every once in a while he would feel good and they would run through the house or play fight.

    Reply
  18. Pat Wolesky
    July 30, 2018 at 7:10 am (1 year ago)

    I introduced a 2 1/2 year old to a 10 year old, and a 1 year old to an 11 year old. They were both difficult introductions. I think in the first case it was good for the older cat, and did make her life more fun – eventually. In the second case the 11 year old was so playful and young that I thought she’d like the younger cat, but if I had it to do over again I probably would have adopted an older cat. They co-exist in relative peace, but it has caused stress for the older cat (who is now almost 20 years old, so it didn’t shorten her life).

    Reply
  19. Summer
    July 30, 2018 at 1:25 am (1 year ago)

    When my human brought me home, I was for her, not really as a companion for Binga and Boodie. Sparkle was never that close with them – they tended to coexist more than pal around, although they liked each other all right. The funny thing is that I am pals with everybody and even play with Binga, who will be 18 soon! Actually Boodie and I chase each other around too, and she just turned 17. So we are just lucky, I guess! Although if we had not gotten along well, my human would have made sure we all still got what we needed.

    Reply

Leave a comment

First time visitors: please read our Comment Guidelines.