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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
This page last updated: 13 February 2008
Links on this page last checked: 2 February 2008
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