We get many questions about introducing a new pet. Today I’ll talk about introducing a new cat to a resident cat; in the future I’ll also talk about introducing two dogs and introducing cats and dogs.
Every cat is an individual and there are no guarantees, but for the most part planning ahead allows cats adjust to a new arrival with a minimum of fuss. In my opinion the important things about introducing a new cat are:
- Do not rush or force interactions. While some cats barely seem to notice a new cat in the home, most cats do not like change and need plenty of time to adapt and feel at least partially in control. Go at your cat’s pace.
- Provide plenty of resources, as competition is a common source of stress in multi-cat households. This includes not only the essentials like food, water, and litter boxes, but also things like sleeping or hiding spots and perching spots.
- Keep your own expectations in check. The cats may become friends or they may simply coexist peacefully, and trying to force a relationship to look like what we think it should can backfire.
- Try to choose a new cat who has lived with other cats or who is friendly or neutral towards other cats. Very generally speaking, an adult resident cat will be more accepting of a new cat who is younger and of the opposite sex. Obviously exceptions exist, but keep this in mind.
The nuts and bolts (how quickly you proceed through these steps depends on how the cats react to one another; for two very mellow, relaxed cats it may take only a few days, but always err on the side of going slowly):
- Have a room set up for your new arrival with food, litter box, bed, and hiding places. Keep the cats completely separate for at least a few days (or until your new cat’s vet visit if s/he isn’t already up to date on routine care). Don’t be surprised if you see and hear some hissing or growling at the door; this is normal.
- Next, “swap” the cats’ living areas for 10-15 minutes, a few times a day. Smell is a very important sense for cats, and this allows them to become more familiar with each other’s smell without face to face confrontations. You can also allow them to smell each other on your clothes as you spend time with each cat.
- When the cats become relatively relaxed with step 2, you can start to allow them to see each other. Crack the door to your new cat’s room and let them peek at each other, or allow him/her out of the room for 5-10 minutes a few times a day. Again, don’t be worried if you see some hissing, growling, etc. This is normal and doesn’t mean the cats will never get along.
- As the cats continue to adjust, you can allow them more and more supervised time together. For a period of time, you may want to continue to separate them when you are not home.
- It is ok to use toys or treats to distract cats who are showing mild signs of stress, but I do NOT recommend making the cats eat their meals side by side or on either side of a closed door. This can backfire badly and create a great deal of stress around mealtime.
I have only ever known a few cats who absolutely would not allow any other cat in the home. The vast majority of the time, cats adapt well as long as you have a plan in place, go at the cats’ pace, and if in doubt go slowly.
As always, if you are having trouble adding a new cat to your home or have additional questions, please feel free to call the clinic and speak to one of the doctors!
Karen Christopherson DVM CVA