While there is never a guarantee that two cats will get along, proper introductions are the key to creating a harmonious relationship between your resident cats and the newcomer. Cats are territorial creatures, and more often than not, bringing a new cat into a home creates at least temporary stress for everyone. Doing your homework before bringing a new family member home greatly reduces the likelihood of problems down the road.Continue Reading
new 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!
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.
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.
Until Buckley came into my life in 2006, I’d been an “only cat” person.
I didn’t get my first cat until I was in my twenties. Feebee was a grey tabby cat who was born in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to a cat named Blue, who belonged to a childhood friend of my former husband. We were living in Germany at the time, but knew we would be moving back to the Washington, DC area shortly, so Walt’s friend saved one of the kittens in Blue’s litter for us. Meeting Feebee was love at first sight for me. We took him home as soon as we had moved into our new house in Northern Virginia, and for the next fifteen and a half years, Feebee was the one and only feline love of my life.
After Feebee passed away following a lengthy battle with lymphoma, Amber came into my life. She was a stray who was brought to the animal hospital I worked at with her five kittens. I did not think I was ready for another cat yet. The wound from Feebee’s passing was still very fresh and raw, but coming home to an empty house was becoming increasingly difficult, so I took Amber home, “just for the weekend.” I really liked having her quiet, gentle energy around, and decided I was going to foster her. She became the classic “failed foster,” and for almost ten years, her gentle, loving, wise presence, not to mention her almost constant purr, brought love and affection into my life until she passed away after a sudden illness last May.
With both Feebee and Amber, I had occasionally thought about bringing another cat home with me. I worked at various animal hospitals, so there were always a cats that needed homes, and some touched my heart more than others. But I held off. I intuitively knew Feebee was the classic “only cat.”
And then Buckley came into my life in the spring of 2005. Those of you who’ve read Buckley’s Story already know this story, but for those of you who haven’t, here’s the abbreviated version. She was brought to the animal hospital I managed after being rescued from a farm in Southwestern Virginia. I took one look at her and fell in love. Hard. And fast. She became my office cat at the animal hospital. In 2006, I left the animal hospital to start my own business, and the thought of leaving Buckley behind was more than I could bear.
Everybody said I was crazy to try to introduce two adult tortoiseshell cats to each other. If you know anything about torties, you know about “tortitude.” They’re known to have some pretty distinct personality traits, and they’re not always known for getting along with other cats. I won’t go into the details of what I went through to introduce Buckley to Amber, but I also won’t spoil the book for you if you haven’t read it yet, because it’s no secret that they ended up getting along beautifully.
For the first time in my life, I had more than one cat – and I really loved it. A year and a half after Buckley died in November of 2008, I adopted Allegra to join Amber and me. Sadly, Amber passed away suddenly only five short weeks after Allegra joined our family, and it took another year before I had worked through my grief and was ready to add another cat to our family. Ruby joined us in April of this year.
I’ve been lucky. Amber and Buckley got along very quickly. Amber initially wasn’t too thrilled when Allegra joined us. She was twelve years old at the time, Allegra was seven months old. On paper, that’s not a great match. It’s usually better to match up cats who are close in age and temperament. Amber and Allegra were neither. But Amber was laid back and mellow enough to accept the rambunctious newcomer after just a few days.
Allegra and Ruby were a perfect match. They were well matched on paper, they’re about a year apart in age and have similar temperaments. I knew all along that Allegra needed a companion – she came to me with some behavior issues, and even though I worked with her successfully on my own, we would probably have made faster progress if I had added another kitten to our family sooner.
Even when the match sounds good in theory, you still never know until you get the two cats together whether things will work out. With Allegra and Ruby, it was magic. 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. They love to play with each other, chase each other around the house, and they both sleep with me at night.
The biggest benefit of having two cats, in the case of Allegra and Ruby, has been for Allegra. She has blossomed since Ruby’s arrival. She’s become more confident, her behavioral problems have all but disappeared, and while she certainly wasn’t an unhappy cat before, now she’s far more relaxed and content.
As for me, I can no longer imagine not having two cats. It’s been such a joy to watch Allegra come into her own, and to watch Ruby and Allegra together. Do I regret not getting another cat sooner? Sometimes I do. But if I hadn’t waited, I wouldn’t have Ruby, and if the past two months are any indication, Allegra and Ruby are truly a match made in heaven.
So are two cats better than one? When they get along, absolutely. But like so many things with cats, it’s an individual decision. What may be right for one cat or one person may not be right for the next one. By doing your homework, knowing your existing cat, and learning as much as you can about the cat you’re thinking about adding to your family, you’ll make sure that you get the best possible match. And if that’s the case, then two cats are, indeed, better than one.
This post is sponsored by the Pets Add Life campaign and the American Pet Products Association. The Pets Add Live campaign spreads the word about the benefits and joys of pet ownership. Visit PAL’s Facebook Page, post pictures of your pets, and join the conversation!
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You may also enjoy reading:
New cat introductions: breaking all the rules
Keeping your single cat happy
The joys of adopting an older cat