When you have a cat and decide to get another one, just shoving the two animals in the room together and let them get used to each other is a recipe for disaster. They can get themselves upset and stressed over anything new and a new cat certainly constitutes reason to be upset. For the newcomer, being pushed face first into the resident can lead to problems that may never go away. So how do you introduce a new cat to the household?
In the wild, anything new is viewed as a danger and this danger instinct is still present in the domestic cat. This instinct can be stronger in felines that haven’t had good early socialisation, so those who were abandoned as kittens or separated from their parents too early. To these felines particularly, a new arrival is a major threat and will be treated as such.
Cats also tend to stick with their first impressions of things – something was bad when it first arrived and remains in their mental ‘bad’ category for the rest of time. So for instance if their first encounter with the other animal is bad, they will assume every time they see the animal that it will be bad and react accordingly.
The best way to introduce pets is to first not introduce them at all. The sight, sound and smell of a new cat in their territory can bring about the fight or flight mode in the existing resident and frighten the newcomer seriously. Therefore, the best method is to set up a safe room where the new cat can reside. Give them their own cat litter box, water and food bowls and toys and keep the existing cat out of this room.
Keep the door of the room closed for at least a week and watch the cat’s reactions. They will begin sniffing under the door when they realise another cat is present and the odd hissing is normal. The idea is to get them used to the scent of each other before they meet.
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Felines know who is who by scent primarily so they know you are part of their family by your smell. By exposing each cat to the smell of the other mixed with yours, they will come to regard the smell as part of the household. Another trick is to swap food bowls after a meal so they can learn the smell of the other cat and come to associate it with something good – food
Once the new arrival is comfortable in its environment, shut the existing cat into one room for a while and let the new cat explore the house. Cats won’t accept anything if they feel uncomfortable and the new cat needs to feel safe around the house first. Even shut the existing cat in the safe room to continue the smell association.
For some, it is best to have two or more of everything to ensure there is no fighting over equipment. For example, a litter box each, two sets of food and water bowl and plenty of toys. For other cats, they will happily share as long as they are getting enough of what they want, so observation is the key to learning about this.
When you decide it is time for them to meet, don’t make a big fuss. Open the door of the safe room and let them encounter each other naturally. If they ignore each other, fine. It is important to supervise the process completely and should things turn nasty and a fight ensue, have a tea towel handy to grab one of the cats with to separate them gently.
It is important to remember that animals may never like each other. I have four – two sisters and two brothers. The two sisters hate each other and their only interaction is to hiss and have a little fight. The two brothers play with each other but one of the sisters often grooms the two brothers as if they were her naughty kittens. Cat interactions can be complicated and there is often a hierarchy around food and even people but this can’t be altered and must be respected. You can’t tell a cat not to be a cat!