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Hiss! Spat! (10 steps to introduce a new cat to your current cat)

31 January, 2011

I received this e-mail today from a woman who was having problems with a new kitten and a 6-month old kitten:

“… the initial problem was how we introduced the new 3-month-old kitten to the resident 6-month-old.

The new kitten was introduced to her as soon as she was brought home instead of letting the resident kitten get used to the scent etc and gradually introducing them. 

I am now trying something which I found on the internet [Feliway].  The new kitten is kept in a separate room with the resident still getting free rein of the house apart from this one room.

 The last couple of evenings I have been putting the new kitten into a carrier and taking her into a different room letting the resident investigate.

Obviously working full time I can only do this for a couple of hours a day. The hissing has already stopped, the resident is now inquisitive rather than angry. The info given is that this could take up to 3 weeks.

Is there anything else you could recommend??”

I know … I know … like me, you’ve read Anita Frazer who talks about the best gift you can give your cat … a companion.

So you decide to buy a kitten to keep your cat company.  If you recognise yourself in this e-mail, don’t worry – you’re in good company. 

I myself made the same mistake many years ago when I bought in Maya (Bengal – 12 weeks’ old) when Ananda (Maine Coon) was just 16 weeks’ old.  Ananda had been with us for a month and thought of herself as the only cat.  Oh, the expression of surprise and horror on her face when the basket opened and out popped a brash and very confident and very self-centred Bengal.

It’s testimony to Ananda’s very sweet and laid-back Maine Coon nature that she grew to accept Maya without too much fuss.  Unfortunately as they grew older they fell out (but that’s another story and a warning never to mix Maine Coons and Bengals).

Cats are territorial creatures and unless in a feral colony, can have issues with multiple-cat households.  They’re also creatures of habit and hate change.  A new kitten counts as a MAJOR change.

What’s praiseworthy about the e-mail is that at least the owner acknowledges the mistakes she made in introducing the new kitten to the resident kitten and is taking steps to helping them integrate.

In some cases nothing happens after such a hasty introduction apart from a few initial hiss-spats.  However, in most cases the resident cat has come to view home as it’s territory.  It will naturally see the new cat as an invader and try to get rid of it.

So what can you do to minimise such hisstrionics? 

1.  Before the new kitten joins your home, ask the breeder to let you have some of the kitten’s bedding.  This will allow your existing cat to get used to the scent of the new kitten before it arrives.  You could try asking the breeder if you could swap bedding, but it’s a rare breeder that will agree to this as breeders are wary of anything that could spread cat germs.

2.  Do not just open the basket and let the new kitten introduce itself to the resident cat.  Or you could do that and risk WWIII.

3.  Instead, prepare a room for the kitten.  It should contain a litter tray, and food and water bowls (placed some distance from the tray).  This will be the kitten’s home for the next 7 days.

4.  Allow the resident cat to sniff at the door to the kitten’s room.  Better still, feed the resident cat next to the door of the kitten’s room.  This helps it to associate the kitten’s smell with nice things.  You can also swap bedding so they get used to each other’s scent.

5.  After about a week, you can start to introduce the kitten to the resident cat. 

6.  Place kitten in basket.  Place basket in room with resident cat.  Give resident cat something nice, like a cat treat.  Let resident cat get used to sight of kitten in basket.  If the resident cat reacts badly, put kitten back in its room.

7.  Repeat no. 6 on subsequent days, until reaction is restrained.  What do I mean by “reaction is restrained”?  Well, like less hissing.   Sorry I can’t be more precise.  Only you know your cat and will know if it’s being less upset or not.

8.  OK.  Time to open kitten basket.  Make sure that you don’t shut the basket door so that the kitten has something to run into.  Also make sure you have something high for the kitten to jump onto in case it gets thumped or chased.

9.  Be PATIENT.  Don’t shoo the kitten out of the basket.  Let it take its time.  Chances are it’s curious about the resident cat and vice versa.  Have a treat or a cat wand toy nearby so that they can both be distracted.  Not catnip.  Catnip will make them hyper.  It will also help if you play with with both cats together so they see each other’s company as being fun.

Praise both cats if they behave, making extra fuss of the resident cat.

10.  If all goes well, allow kitten the run of the house.  However, you may wish to maintain separate sleeping quarters for the kitten just so that it has something to go back to if it feels threatened by the resident cat.  

***********

Please note that this process is especially important if you have a multiple-cat household. 

Also, don’t expect “and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after” to happen overnight.  Be prepared for fights as the cats sort out hierarchy.  As long as there’s no blood, don’t panic.  Don’t get upset if the resident cat’s position gets trumped by the new cat.

My personal experience is that the Oriental breeds and short-haired cats tend to have more dominant personalities.

Does having two cats of different sexes make it easier?  Not really.  There are cases of two female cats who get on beautifully, or two males.  Or a female and a male pairing.  Or an older cat and a younger cat.  There’ve been cases of mother cat and kitten not getting on after the kitten grows up. 

It all depends on the personality of the cats, which as we know is a mystery.  However, by following the steps above, you can make life easier on your resident cat and the new kitten.

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One comment

  1. Hey, I just got a ten month old kitten. I do not have another cat, as he’s a bit of a loner. He is very big for his age, almost full grown. He is not chubby. I brought him over to the neighbors, who have two cats, so that hopefully one of them would hit it off and he could have a friend. He was in his carrier. I set him down next to Snowflake, a 15 year old white longhair, who hissed at him multiple times. I have a feeling it has something to do with the fact that Bagel (my cat) is nearly as big as snowflake, but isn’t a year old yet. The same thing happened with Rocky, the other cat. FYI: We are not sure whether he is neutered…. It’s kind of a long story. For the past two days all bagel has done is sit at the window and make frequent escape attempts. I think he wants to see the other cats…. But I don’t think it is to make friends. Any ideas?



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