Introducing a New Cat to the Household
By Rita Reimers, Cat Behaviorist
Adding a new cat to your household is a happy and exciting time. Whether you’re adopting a kitten or an adult cat, knowing what to expect from your cat’s first days in your home will help you better prepare for those first new days.
Give New Cats Time to Adjust: Once the new cat is in your home, he may feel overwhelmed and scared, and may try to hide under a bed where you can’t interact with him. He doesn’t know you or this new environment, plus he smells the other cat(s) who already live in your home. Some cats are a bit bolder, and won’t go through this stage, so you can adjust your expectations based on your cat’s unique needs.
The best place to acclimate your new feline is in small room, such as a bathroom, den, or small bedroom, where you can visit with him alone in a quiet place. I call this the “safe space” room, because it will be the place he returns to the most when feeling insecure as he begins to explore the house.
In that room, provide him with cozy blankets, a hiding nook, a cat tree, some toys and of course food, water, and a litter box. As you begin to get to know him, offer him some yummy treats and talk in a soothing voice. This way, he will begin to anticipate good things happen whenever you come around. Be patient while he adjusts to his surroundings before you let him explore the whole house or meet the other cats. This could take just a few hours or several days.
Prepare All Cats to Meet: The best way to help the cats accept one another is through scent swapping. Scent is a big deal in the cat world; it signals everything from territory marking to defining who belong to their clan. The sooner the cats get a combined cat scent established (clan scent) that blends their two scents, the sooner peace and acceptance will occur.
To start the process, keep the cats apart for now, then rub each kitty with two soft cloths or plush toys. Place one of them in the area where each cat spends time. This will help them to get used to the scent of one another without feeling the threat of the other’s direct presence. Swap toys and bedding between the cats, and use the same brush for them if they like to be brushed.
Controlled Play Times: Once your new cat has relaxed and seems to be comfortable with you in his safe space, short supervised introductions can occur. It’s important to help build a memory bank of positive experiences for the cats while in one another’s company. The goal is for them to experience positive energy while in the same room together, even if they are not directly interacting.
At first on each side of the opened door to the safe room, but close enough so they can see one another, play with the two cats at the same time. Put yourself between them, or have another family member play with one cat while you play with the other. Fishing pole type toys or long feathers are good choices to accomplish this type of active play. Gradually bring the cats closer together until they unwittingly start playing together.
Keep these sessions short, 5 minutes or so, then reward them both with a yummy goodie or some extra praise and love. Positive reinforcement goes a long way with cats. As soon as either cat starts posturing for an attack, shut down the playtime and distract the potential attacker by tossing a soft toy or treat for them to chase.
Planned Meal Times: Meal times can be a great opportunity to start blending the cat family. Feed them near enough to each other on opposite side of the door to the safe space so they can see one another, but not feel threatened. Slowly bring them closer together at each meal time, as you notice they are fairly calm eating close to one another.
When you feed them near one another, reinforce your current cat as alpha cat by putting the food dish down in front of that cat first. It’s a subtle thing, but in the cat world, but the alpha cat always eats first. Then, put down the plate for the new cat.
Keep an eye on things as they become a blended cat family though. The Alpha position may well change to the new cat. The two of them will work our hierarchy between them; only they can do that part.
Use The 4 PEGS Routine: Cats love predictability and routine, so take advantage of the fact that the core of a cat’s daily activities center around what I call “The 4 PEGS:” Play/Prey, Eat, Groom, Sleep. You can use this knowledge to help your cats adjust to one another and form a nice daily routine.
P = Play/Prey: Cats in the wild will spend much of their day hunting meal prey. You can meet their need to hunt by offering mock hunts, disguised as Play. Wand toys are excellent for playing with your cat! As they catch the toys, your cats will satisfy the need to hunt and catch their meal.
E = Eat: After cats catch their prey, it’s time to eat. So, right after Play, feed your kitties.
G = Groom: After they eat, cats in the wild will bathe themselves to remove any smells that may draw another animal to them. If your cats are really bonding, you may see them groom one another. (Get excited if you do, they have bonded!)
S = Sleep: Right after grooming, your cats will catch a nap, so that meal can be digested in peace.
It’s a good idea to exercise this routine each morning and evening. A little play and food in the morning, and they will go to sleep while you go off to work. At night, repeat this pattern at their dinnertime. Your cats will be ready to curl up for sleep at bedtime, so you can get some undisturbed sleep, too!
This is when you know they are real buddies; if they follow PEGS together, you have successfully blended your cat family.
One last tip: Be sure to spoil your new cat AND your resident cat with plenty of love and affection. They will soon accept one another if they both feel secure in their place in the home. Only then will they will become one happy cat family.