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Feline Introductions

 

Inappropriate Elimination

 

Indoor/Outdoor Cats

 

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How We Got it Wrong

Why Is It So Important?

Choosing a New Cat

 

How to Introduce a New Cat
Getting the New Cat Settled Reassuring the Resident Cat A Slow Introduction The First Meeting More Tips

 

 

Introduction

Many people think that introducing a new cat into the family is simple. You just bring the cat in, right? If only it were that easy! We learned the hard way with Tanya and Harpsie that it is essential for the wellbeing of every family member to introduce cats properly.

 

Tanya and Harpsie - How We Got It Wrong

Because Harpsie was a laidback, confident kitten, we introduced him to Tanya pretty quickly. In fact, we introduced them the evening we brought Harpsie home! Tanya advanced on Harpsie like a howling, hissing banshee, and Harpsie just sat his ground. This confused Tanya, who had hoped to intimidate Harpsie.

 

We did have the sense to only let them meet each other for a couple of minutes on that occasion, and we set Harpsie up in his own room (a spare bedroom) overnight, and left him alone in there whenever we went out. However, we let him out into the rest of the home fairly quickly, and we let Tanya into his bedroom too.

 

Initially all seemed well. Unfortunately, about three weeks after Harpsie arrived, we went away for the weekend. My parents were popping in two or three times a day to feed the cats, and when we returned, they told us Harpsie had not been well. In fact, the bed in the spare bedroom was covered in diarrhoea, and also pee. We thought poor Harpsie had been ill, so we comforted him, washed the bedding, and though nothing of it.

 

What we didn't realise was, this was only the start. Harpsie was not ill, he was stressed. His peeing (and occasionally pooping) became worse and worse - you can read all about it on the Inappropriate Elimination page. Unknown to us, Tanya was terrorising Harpsie, usually when we were away. One day my mother popped into our house while we were at work and found Tanya casually perched on the bottom stair, with a Dick Dastardly smirk on her face, and Harpsie halfway down the stairs, all his paws crossed, unable to reach his litter tray, food or water. No wonder he'd been peeing and pooping on the bed! And all of this could have been avoided if only we'd introduced the cats properly.

 

Why Is It So Important?

People often think cats are simply small dogs, i.e. a pack animal, and that once cats work out their place in the hierarchy, all will be well.

 

This couldn't be further from the truth. Cats are actually solitary predators. This means they hunt alone for their food, and, far from being part of a cat's pack, other cats are actually competition for any food resources. If there are sufficient resources, cats can learn to share territory, but they still do so in a very different way to dogs - studies have shown that cats tend to "time share" their territory, and try to avoid actually meeting each other.

 

Compare this to how we often introduce cats. We do as we did with Tanya and Harpsie, and just place a new cat in the middle of the living room floor! This is stressful for both cats. The existing family cat feels his/her territory is under threat, and is likely to react aggressively. The newcomer already feels stressed by being in a new, unfamiliar environment, with strange humans, and then to top it all, s/he has an aggressive strange cat to deal with, from whom s/he cannot flee. Imagine how you would have felt as a child if your parents had suddenly come home one evening with another child you did not know, and had informed you that henceforth this stranger would be sharing your bed, bathroom and parents. I doubt you would have been too impressed, and cats are no different.  But the good news is, there are ways to make this process much easier on all concerned; and a proper introduction also increases the chances of harmony all round. Plus it also reduces the risk of the new cat passing on infections such as cat flu to your existing cats.

 

Choosing a New Cat

If you're like me, cats just tend to turn up in your life and you don't really get much choice as to who joins your family. But assuming you do get to choose, it will increase your chances of success if you follow some basic guidelines.

 

Cats International has some very helpful advice on choosing the right cat for your particular circumstances.

San Francisco SPCA has some information on choosing a cat.

 

How to Introduce a New Cat

 

For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to assume you are introducing a male cat in this section, but the same advice applies to a female cat.

Getting the New Cat Settled

  • Set up a room for the new cat, with bedding, a litter tray, food and water. You may also want to use Feliway - you can buy Feliway plug-ins and simply leave them on in the new cat's room, and perhaps also put one where your existing cats are. Petguys sells plug-in Feliway for US$23.99 in USA, with refills costing US$11.99.

  • When you bring the new cat home, immediately place him in this room and keep him in there.

  • Talk to the new cat and reassure him. Try to spend time with him several times a day.

  • If your new cat is shy, allow him to hide under the bed. Simply sit in the room talking to him but don't try to force attention on the cat, allow him to come round in his own time. Perhaps leave a radio on in the room when you are not present.

  • Leave your new cat in the room for several days at least. He is already overwhelmed trying to get used to you and his new territory (the bedroom), so it is better not to try expanding the territory to include other rooms too quickly.

Reassuring Your Resident Cat

  • Make sure you spend time every day with your existing cat. He will be able to smell the new cat on your clothes, which is fine. Give him lots of treats when he sniffs you.

  • Your cat will know there is a newcomer (those great feline noses), so will also probably be spending time sniffing at the door of the newcomer's room. This is fine, but if you suspect the new cat may be developing an illness, restrict your existing cat's access to sniffing (e.g. put a towel at the bottom of the door).

A Slow Introduction

  • The cats will begin to know each other's smells from under the door. Next, you can take this a step further and swap bedding over. i.e. put bedding the new cat has used in one of your existing cat's beds, and vice versa.

  • Some experts recommend gradually moving your existing cat's food bowls closer to the new cat's room, because feeding is a positive experience. I don't feel this is essential, and in fact I tend not to do this, because I feel changing as few routines as possible is important for the resident cat.

  • After a few days, if your new cat seems relaxed in your company and in his new room, you can gradually expand his territory. Lock your resident cat somewhere safe, perhaps in the kitchen with a plate of food, and allow the new cat out of his room to explore for a few minutes. Gradually increase the amount of time he spends doing this.

  • If you can do it without the cats meeting, you can also allow your resident cat into the new cat's room to have a good sniff around. Give your cat treats while he is in the other cat's room.

  • The next stage is to open the door of the new cat's room just a couple of inches (you may have to wedge it in some way), so the cats can see and smell each other but not actually touch as yet. Don't forget those treats!

The First Meeting

  • Eventually you are going to allow the cats to meet (you need to follow the steps outlined above first). You want to do this just for a few minutes initially, and if the cats are well behaved with each other, give them treats.

  • A little hissing and sometimes posturing is normal, but you do not want full-blown aggression.

  • If a fight breaks out, try to separate the cats if you can do so without getting hurt. Do not wade into the middle of the fighting cats yourself - you could get bitten, and cat bites can easily become infected. Instead, try making a loud noise to distract them, or throw water over both cats.

  • These days I use a cage for feline introductions. You could also use a carrying basket for short introductions. I put the newcomer in a cage, and place the cage in a busy part of the home (the lounge in our case). The cats can see and sniff each other, but cannot hurt each other. Initially I leave the new cat in the cage for about 30 minutes, depending upon how stressed he appears, but I gradually increase the time. Once the new cat is returned to his room, the resident cat is allowed to check out the cage, which of course contains a few tasty treats.

  • There is no fixed timeframe for introductions. If you suffer a setback, simply go back a step or two in the process and take it from there. In almost all cases you will be successful eventually.

The Indoor Cat Initiative at Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine has some information on free access cagetraining, which is somewhat different but the basic principles are similar.

Dr M Milani also has some information about the benefits of free access cages forcats.

More Tips

  • At all times use treats and positive reinforcement. People often only react when their cats are acting badly, but it is really important to reward good behaviour. If the cats sit civilly in the same room, give them both treats.

  • Try to make your existing cat feel secure. Do not make too big a fuss of the newcomer in front of your resident cat initially. 

  • It is considered a good sign if your cats are prepared to share their food bowls. However, don't make them do this immediately - always have a bowl of food for each cat, and let them decide if they want to share. The same goes for litter trays, you need at least two for two cats, ideally three (see Inappropriate Elimination).

Cats International has an excellent article on how to introduce cats properly.

Stanford Cat Network has tips on introducing a new cat, including how to deal with existing canine family members.

Denver Dumb Friends League also has tips on introducing a new cat to other cats and to dogs.

San Francisco SPCA has information on introducing a new cat.

 

And finally...

 

Don't give up hope. We were almost at the end of our tether, but even effecting introductions in our awful way, Tanya and Harpsie did eventually become friends, as evidenced by the photo left (and in case you were wondering, as you can see from the photo below right, Tanya is actually washing Harpsie!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This page last updated: 13 February 2008

 

Links on this page last checked: 2 February 2008

 

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