Bringing a new cat home can be a nerve-racking experience - for the new cat, the old cat and you! But it doesn't have to be. First, determine whether introducing another cat is a good idea. Evaluate your old cat's current health status and previous experiences with other cats. Even if both check out - and even if you want another cat specifically to keep your old cat company - the newcomer is unlikely to be welcomed with open paws.
Some cats eventually become friends with a newcomer; other may never accept one. Still others merely tolerate the newcomer's presence. But a well-planned introduction can go a long way toward smoothing the path.
What's the first step on that road to feline harmony? "Go slow!" emphasizes Tracy Kroll, DVM, a resident in animal behavior at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, "Cats have complex interactions that we don't always understand."
Try to see the situation from your resident cat's point of view. Cats, by nature, are more solitary creatures than pack-oriented dogs. A new cat is an alteration in your old cat's safe, familiar environment - a potential invader of territory and competitor for limited resources.
The less competition you can create, the better. Consider in advance how you will arrange space for your feline family. Plan to provide each cat with its own litter box, food and water bowls and places to sleep. Spreading the litter boxes out makes it harder for a territorial cat to ambush another cat trying to use the box. Multiple boxes also increase the likelihood of having at least one clean box to use.
A kitten represents less of a threat than an adult cat. An opposite-sex kitten or adult minimizes competition as well. "Putting two unneutered male adults together is just asking for problems," cautions Kroll. "Likewise, a female in heat will put everyone on edge." Spaying or neutering both animals helps smooth cat introductions. If you are adopting, choose the most easygoing, well-adjusted kitty you can find at the shelter.
Separate but Equal
Bring your new cat home at a time when there are no parties, blaring TV sets or visiting relatives at your house. Both cats will need all the calm reassurance they can get. Do not let the cats see each other! Keep the newcomer in a separate room for at least the next week. Set up the room with food, water, litter box, toys and a place to sleep. Go in and play with him or her as much as possible. But be sure to minimize jealousy by also spending plenty of quality time alone with your resident cat. Your pets will get whiffs of one another under the crack of the closed door.
While the cats are separated, make the new cat less alien by getting it to smell more familiar. "First rub one with a towel, then use the same towel to rub the other," advises Kroll. Also, alternate sleeping blankets between the new and resident cat. Finally, allow the new cat to explore the rest of the house for a few hours while the resident cat is confined to one room. Then switch them back again. By this time, they should be quite familiar with one another's scent.
A stormy first encounter between the cats can have long-lasting effects. One way to prevent that initial meeting from deteriorating into a catfight is to place the new cat in a large dog crate or cat carrier. Then let your resident cat come into the room, praising and petting him all the while. Allow the two cats to see and sniff each other through the bars. If your old cat runs away, don't force the issue. If they begin to hiss or growl, distract them with soft noises and treats. Begin placing the treats closer to the carrier door on both sides in order to get the cats to associate each other with the pleasant experience of eating. "Over the next few days, feed the cats at the same time, with the resident cat right outside and the new cat inside the carrier," says Kroll.
Getting to Know You
When the time is right for a face-to-face meeting, food again provides a useful distraction. Make sure both cats are hungry. Put down the resident cat's food and then let the new cat out to eat on the opposite side of the room. (Choose a room with plenty of hiding places, just in case!) Stay calm and reassuring, and keep an eye on the cats to gauge their comfort level. Then return them to their separate quarters. After a few days of common mealtimes, they may finally be ready to share the house. Keep them separate when you are not at home until you're certain that the cat treaty has been paw-printed. At that point, give them both the run of the house.
Turning Tigers Into Pussycats
A certain amount of initial tension is normal. If a fight breaks out, do not try to pull the cats apart. Instead, blow a whistle, squirt water at them or toss a blanket over them and deposit the angry little bundles in separate rooms until they have clamed down. Then re-introduce them gradually. Never physically punish your cats - this only elicits further aggression, which makes the problem worse.
Daily play periods with your cats will reduce the rivalry and increase their tolerance for each other. Play gently with one, then the other, then with both cats together. Afterwards, groom, stroke or simply relax with the cats.
Successful introductions require time and patience. Don't expect perfection overnight. Eventually both cats will find napping spots and routines that allow them to peacefully coexist in your home. And you will have not one, but two furry faces to come home to.