The New Kitty In Town
There are certain problems I encounter quite often in my effort to help people enrich their relationships with their animal friends. The introduction of a new cat into an established household is a frequent one. Whether kitty is coming in to a home with other cats, or dogs, the issues are similar. Cats are very territorial beings, often distressed by change. They need, on a very deep level, to “own” their space. Many of the problems people have when adopting a new cat stem from the insecurity a kitty feels when nothing in his new environment is his.
Then, there is the complication of established kitties (or, to a lesser degree, dogs) seeing the new individual as a threat to their own territory.
If a new cat is simply thrown into the mix, nine times out of ten, chaos is going to break loose.
Many behaviorists, both professional and those of us who have simply made animal behavior a lifelong avocation, recommend setting up a safe room before bringing a new cat in. This territory allows NewKitty to get used to the smells (first and foremost) and sounds of the established pets before having to encounter them (next) visually, and (lastly) face to face. Note the order: Smells and sounds, visual, and only once the cats are relaxed when they can see one another, the actual physical meeting can occur.
You also want to associate the smells and sounds of “The Other” with good things. Feeding all of the pets where they can hear and smell each other is an important part of the introduction process. This is first done on either side of the safe room door. Keep the dishes back far enough that the animals are all relaxed enough to eat, and then very gradually move them closer to the door. Once they able to eat very close to the door and still remain relaxed, you begin the visual process. This can be done by opening the door a bit, very carefully, with supervision on both sides. Another option is to install a screen door or a high baby gate, also in a supervised fashion. Cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy recommends inserting an additional step, by putting a towel or other barrier over the gate or pinned to the screen, which can be gradually raised.
Supervision is key, at all times. One false move, one accidental encounter, one fear-inducing moment, and you will have to back the process up and move forward again from an earlier point of progress.
Once the cats have heard and smelled one another with a safety barrier between them, it is also important to do site swapping. This means choosing a time each day where NewKitty is out and about in OldKitty’s territory, and OldKitty is in the NewKitty’s safe-room exploring scents on a more intimate level.
Only when it’s obvious that the pets are relaxed in one another’s presence, should the actual physical introductions be made.
The entire process can take a week, or take a month, depending on the cats. Most dogs adapt to a new kitty faster than cats will, though if Fido is inclined to chase, you will very likely have to add some clicker training and careful maintenance into the mix. The key in every situation is patience. Rushing the process frequently backfires, even though it’s understandable that people will want to see their new friend welcomed as part of the family. Taking the introductions step by step, and only progressing to the next step after all pets are relaxed with the current one, is the best path to a successful integration.
Jackson Galaxy’s Advice:
Sidebar: Anitra Frazier, in her book The Natural Cat, has another fairly good method for situations where there really is no place to set up a sanctuary for the new cat (such as small city apartments). She recommends that a friend bring in the new cat, pretend it is their own, and then “forget” to take the cat with them (the new cat still in the carrier at that time). The owner then shows no interest at all in the new cat for some time (though they “feel sorry for him” and let him out of the carrier once the existing cat is showing no sign of aggression). They communicate to the resident kitty that they are just waiting for Friend to remember their cat and come get him. Then, when it is clear that the existing cat has begun to relax around the new one, the message becomes, “Well, if you like him, I guess we’ll let him stay.” I, personally, recommend this method only if there really is no way to set up a separate space for the newcomer, due to the potential of things going astray. However, if done right, it at least provides an option in a limited environment. Anitra’s book also has other great cat-care and diet advice, and I recommend that every cat owner keep a copy on their shelf.
Helping The Animals
If would like to support a not-for-profit organization that does a great deal to help animals, please consider making a donation to New York Wildlife Rescue/Northeast Llama Rescue. Wes Laraway and his family and volunteers help hundreds of animals every year, with no funding except your donations and what comes out of their own pockets. You can support their efforts by visiting their website and clicking the “Donate” button. You can also look at their “Other Ways To Help” page (found under several of the top level drop-down menus) for more ideas. They can’t do it without the support of friends like you!
More Resources on Introducing a New Cat to the Household
Here is some very helpful information (there’s a lot of it out there, as you can see) on introducing cats the best possible way.
Jackson Galaxy, has a good article on his blog about introducing dogs and cats, but much of it applies equally to cat-on-cat introductions:
And one on introducing cats to each other:
And setting up a base camp:
Pam Johnson-Bennett has some excellent chapters on introducing cats and maintaining peace between them in her books Think Like a Cat and Starting from Scratch. (Note that Ms Bennett and I disagree on nutritional information, but her behavioral knowledge is outstanding.)