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cat behaviour >>INTRODUCING A NEW CAT INTO THE HOUSEHOLD

Congratulations on the new kitty!  Many people get another cat hoping that the two cats will play and bond well and entertain each other.  I have been quite fortunate with my cats pictured left with Callie giving OC a little massage.  
Sometimes cats get along without any help from us humans.  Other times though, they just really don’t like each other.  Consider if you were confined in a house with some random person.  What are the odds that this random person would turn out to be someone you were thrilled with.  Even consider how many of your best friends you would get along with 100% of the time if confined in a small area.  Remember that in nature, cats would roam a lot larger area than a household.  If there was conflict, they would have the option of leaving the area.  So , when you think of it this way, our hopes and expectations may not always be realistic.  Fortunately, gradual introduction and several other methods can help improve the likelihood that pets will get along.  I have tried to create a very thorough guide for your benefit.  The ‘Keeping the Peace..” article has many tips as well on how to set up your home to have the highest likelihood of happy cats.

First, consider the health issues with introducing a new cat.  Ideally, all cats should be tested for Feline Leukemia and Immunodeficiency Virus.  If the new cat is a rescue, it should not be brought into the home until it is deemed to be healthy by your veterinarian.  Both cats should be dewormed and up to date on their vaccines. 

Tips on introducing a new cat:

  • Consider purchasing a Feliway dispenser and set it up in both the main area that the resident cat likes and a confinement area that is for the new cat.  Setting up a week or two ahead of time is suggested.  You can order one through your veterinary clinic.  This product releases a spray that has calming affects.
  • Set up the new kitty room with everything your new cat needs.  A couple good sized litter boxes in quiet areas, a feeding station or two away from the litter box areas, scratching posts, toys, hiding spots and high and low perches.  This room should have a door.
  • For one week, confine the new cat in the new area with the door closed and a towel under the door. 
  • Spend some play time (See “Fun Things to Do with Your Cat”) with each cat every day and vary who you play with first.  This will allow them to get used to each others’ scent.
  • On day one take a cloth and rub down the resident cat first and then the new cat second (unless this stresses them or they react badly too it… it should be enjoyable).  This will spread the scent around.  The next day, do the new cat first.  Continue to use the same cloth and after a few days also use the cloth to rub down areas that each cat uses a lot.  Basically, you are spreading the cats’ scents around.
  • On week two put a dumbbell like toy under the door or tie two cat toys together under the door.  The cats can then sniff and play at the doorway.  Switch the other toys from the confinement room to the main area and give the confined cat the resident cat’s toys as well.
  • Continue the play sessions with each cat and also take some really tasty treats and try to feed each cat near the doorway, hopefully at the same time.  Leaving little treats near the doorways and under the door a few times/day can also encourage this.
  • On week three, switch cat locations.  New cat now gets to explore the house, resident cat gets to hang in the cat room.  Continue the play, treats and scenting exercises as above.
  • On week four, switch the cats back again but now secure the door so there is about a one inch crack.  Play and give treats near the opening.  Reward any relaxed calm and playful behaviours near the doorway.  Hang a toy on the door handle on each side so they play near the opening.
  • Also, now start introducing the cats.   Have each cat restrained with either a leash or harness (they will need to be desensitized to them) or in kennels. Then allow them to see each other from a distance.  If there is hissing or any signs of stress like dilated pupils, fur up, cowering etc. then increase the distance or just give them an extra week with the door cracked.  If they seem OK give both cats treats and pets as reward for friendly behaviour.  Play their favourite game with each cat as well.  Do this for a few minutes 2 – 3 times/day.
  • On week 5 consider putting baby gates (from floor to ceiling) or a screen door at the doorway of the confinement room so the cats can see each other and start to interact and smell each even more.  Continue all the above recommendations.
  • On week 6, let the cats out together supervised and continue rewarding happy behaviours.  Have a couple large boxes or a big blanket available.  If the cats fight, you can place the box or blanket over one cat to stop the fight.   Never try to separate two fighting cats as they will often display redirected aggression and bite the owner!  If there is fighting separate the cats again for one week and then try again.  It can take up to a week for a cat to calm down.  Do not handle an aroused cat and don’t try to comfort either cat.  Stay calm and neutral.  Never punish either cat or this will worsen the issue.
  • If all is well after this, then allow them to be together but monitor for signs of stress.  If you cannot be watching them, consider confining one cat when you can’t monitor them.

If you have more than two cats then modify the above program to suit your needs.  Although I’ve done the above schedule on a weekly basis, you can progress slower or quicker depending on the response of the cats.  If you do see signs of stress or aggression though, you can use two week intervals or even longer.  If, despite your best efforts, your cats still don’t get along well then you can use your confinement area and switch cats back and forth on a weekly basis.  Over time, you may see indications that they are settling in. 

Hoping the introduction goes smoothly and you have happy healthy kitties who get along well. 

Dr. Liana Mawer