How to Introduce Cats

For families looking to add a new kitty to their ‘pride’ of felines it is important to know how to properly introduce them.  Improper introductions lead to increased stress and tension (for both the cats and humans), dramatic stand offs and hissing fits, and an overall destruction of household peace.

Fortunately, cats are resilient when it comes to learning to coexist with one another. Some cats love other cats, while others prefer to spend their time alone.  But more often than not they can live happily ever after in the same household, even if they are not best friends.  It is extremely rare that cats are so incompatible that they cannot live together- so you have plenty of reasons to be optimistic!   Just keep in mind, cats don’t like change, so you’ll need to be patient and give them an adequate adjustment period.

Bring Home the Newbie

The best course of action is to start the new addition in a separate room or closed-off area of the house.  This could be a spare bedroom, office, bathroom, laundry room, etc. For the first few weeks, the new cat will need their own litter box and food dishes (depending on the number of cats, you might want to keep the extra sets anyway).  Keeping the cats initially separated allows them to smell and hear one another, without the stress of a face-to-face confrontation.  Don’t worry- they will have no trouble sensing one another’s presence.

Be prepared for hissing, it is an expected reaction.   After a few days (though sometimes longer) the hissing through the door will begin to subside.  Your cats may become curious and paw underneath the door.  It’s a good idea to swap their bedding or toys so they can really get used to each other’s scents before officially ‘meeting.’  If they are still doing a lot of hissing and growling, feed the cats their favorite wet food on either side of the door.  They will start to associate being near one another with being fed- a positive first impression!

Face-to-Face

Once you’ve noticed that through-the-door interactions are becoming more relaxed, you can allow them to have supervised visits. These are most successful if done when both cats are likely to be calm, such as after a meal or post-play session.

Though you probably won’t need to use it, keep a spray bottle handy in case of a serious fight (no need to spray for hisses, growling, or swatting).  Open the door and allow them to sniff.  Have a bag of treats ready to toss to both cats (remember, tasty rewards = positive first impressions!) If things are going well, allow them to keep exploring; if not, put the new cat back into the bedroom and try again later (keep up the feeding by the door technique).

Remember that hissing, standoffs, and paw swats are common- and they will get past this stage, but you need to be patient.  Some cats adjust in a matter of days, for others it will take weeks.  Don’t punish them for reacting; they need to adjust at their own pace, and punishments will only reinforce their fear that the new cat = negativity.

Over the course of the next few weeks, you should notice some progress.  It may be slow progress, at a baby-steps kind of pace, and there’s a good chance you’ll take a step or two backwards, but again, this is normal.   Allow your cats to eat from separate dishes and have their own sleeping area until they are comfortable sharing.  Continue feeding, offering treats, and playing with the cats when they are together.

More notes about adopting a new cat:  There are certain feline characteristics that determine who they are most compatible with.   Adoption volunteers can help you find that new addition that is most likely to be a good fit.  It usually depends on the personalities of your current pets and the household dynamic.  For example, do you have an older cat with a low energy level, or a younger cat who needs someone to roughhouse with?  Is your current cat dominant around other cats? Or perhaps they’ve never been around cats before?  These kinds of questions will help us to suggest candidates from among our cats that would be compatible with both the people and pets in your family.

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About Marissa Weber

I graduated with a BA in Communications from Monmouth University, and am thrilled to combine my passions with writing. I have been vegan for over a decade and am a board member of a pet rescue/adoption agency, so my day is filled with animal activism from sunrise to sundown! I wouldn't have it any other way. I also enjoy working on my yoga practice, world travel, and getting tattoos.

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